Hardik Patel, Jignesh Mevani and Alpesh Thakor might appear to offer hope, but the real reform is structural.
As a political activist, I am stunned by the mesmerising power of Hardik Patel and the reception he is getting from his community. If the Anna movement created the space for the BJP to bounce back at the centre, now, let us see if the Hardik phenomenon can catapult the Congress back in the saddle in Gujarat.
And, if that were to happen it will open a new chapter in Indian politics. What is most astonishing is the similarity of the two movements and the power of the “political” energy initiated and ignited by the “non-political” actors.
If Anna was known for his social work in Maharashtra, and had a very restricted following, Patel was a small-time activist, and a big fan of Arvind Kejriwal before he rose to prominence. If Anna became a national talking point just four days after sitting on a dharna at Jantar Mantar, Hardik too grabbed national eyeball after holding a massive rally in Gandhi Nagar on the issue of reservation for Patels.
At just 24, he has made life miserable for the two most powerful leaders today – Narendra Modi and Amit Shah.
Two other new actors have also become part of a new emerging narrative — Jignesh Mevani and Alpesh Thakore. With a formidable following among the Dalits and the backward Khhatriyas, these two leaders, along with Patel have snowballed into a force that can mar Modi.
Another political event which had gone almost unnoticed in Delhi is the mammoth rally organised by the Marathas in Maharashtra. Like the Patels, they were also demanding reservation for the community. But what is striking is that without a visibly charismatic leader, the faceless movement of the Marathas organised a crowd of more than a lakh in every district during their march to Mumbai. Leaders from political parties rose from their slumber and rushed to extend their support to the Maratha movement. Most of the local organisers were men of simple origins and united in their resolve to not let politicians hog the limelight.
Kapus in the neighbouring state of Andhra Pradesh are also on the warpath and are not led by any political party or known political leader. They are also attracting large crowds.
In a democracy, it is the job of the political parties and political leaders to represent the interests and aspirations of the people or communities. Political parties are expected to fight for the rights or demands of the people. It is their duty to raise issues which are troubling people, crystallise people’s anxieties and convert them into a bargaining chip either through the legislature or through a movement. Gandhi Ji, under the umbrella of the Congress Party successfully consolidated people’s anger against the British, fought for them, went to jail and finally won independence. After independence, socialists led by Ram Manohar Lohia specialised in street politics. Lohia used to say living communities don’t wait for five years to change regimes.
The JP Movement was led by political parties and big leaders which vanquished Indira Gandhi in 1977. This was followed by V P Singh and his successful campaign against Rajiv Gandhi on the issue of corruption. The BJP experimented with street politics for Ram Mandir. But economic reforms brought here a political culture from the West that viewed street movements as bad for the economy. After all, political stability is needed for economic growth. Between 1992 to 2011, the country did not witness any major national street movement. During this period India rose from a sleeping poor nation to a dynamic global economic power.
Politics became a game of “drawing room chess” moving from one election to another. Economic growth created a robust new middle class, but also unsettled and destabilised many powerful social groups. If achievements were celebrated, then relative deprivation was resented.
Patels are a very powerful community. But they feel left out of India’s growth story. Their youth are jobless and they blame the policy of reservation for their deprivation. The Marathas’ story is also similar. They are equally powerful in their state but a sense of relative deprivation in a section of their community has led to mammoth mobilisation. Kapus feel the same. In fact, anger among Jats and Gurjars is also of the same nature.
Their lack of trust in the established political class is leading the search for an alternate leadership. The reigning ‘high command’ culture and dynastic leadership of the political parties has distanced them from grassroot workers and concerns.
Democracy, when it loses its representative character, either slips into a chaos or into dictatorship.
Hardik Patel, Jignesh Mevani, Alpesh Thakor can’t be permanent solutions. So, while the three appear to offer hope, the real reform is structural. The situation is alarming.