NEW DELHI: The country has been witnessing various agitations in the recent past--students, Dalits, farmers, and now the most recent Jallikattu protests in Chennai--- that have all thrown up a series of youth leaders from different strata of society, and in different parts of the country.

The youth, responding to the new challenges, were unknown until they emerged to lead these agitations, galvanising the masses on varied issues. The national media while reporting the events has failed to draw the dots that basically point at the emergence of a youth leadership, away from the organised political parties, and often with more credibility and expanding influence.

The list of youth icons has been growing steadily. The Dalit stir in the wake of the Una incident in Gujarat threw up young lawyer turned Dalit activist Jignesh Mewani from Gujarat; Hardik Patel, a 25 year old from the same state, emerged on the national scene from the Patidar agitation; Kanhaiya Kumar, a former student leader and activist was targeted, jailed and returned to Jawaharlal Nehru University as a recognised national figure, to name just a few.

And from the huge protests against the ban of Jallikattu in Chennai has emerged R.J. Balaji, Radio jockey turned actor and social activist from Tamil Nadu. What is surprising that these boys from a middle class, often rural background, have not been part of the organised political culture earlier.They articulated or championed the present ground reality, reflecting specific challenges, in their own style.

These young leaders are bold, perceptive and well informed. They speak in the voice of the masses from which they have emerged, understand the challenges of marginalization, alienation and oppression, and have the oratory to articulate this in a language that has struck a chord with those who listen to them.

They all share rare courage, used not to attack but uphold comstitutional, progressive values of social justice, freedom of speech and respect for federalism.

The flogging of Dalits by Hindutva fringe elements for skinning a dead cow at Una in the state of Gujarat, brought Jignesh Mewani at the head of the mass struggle as he led the agitation and further organized a march called Aazadi Kooch (March for Freedom) in Gujarat.

His Dalit assertive politics culminated in demanding land for Dalits and triggered the debate on the question of land reforms. His slogan ‘Gaay ki punchh tum rakho, humme hamari zameen do (you keep the cow's tail, give us our land)’ evoked the imagination of Dalits at the all India level. At present, he is seen as a beacon of hope for reconstructing the faltering Indian Dalit movement in particular and the anti-caste movement in general. His resistance politics had surprised the establishment in Gujarat where there is no recent history of Dalit assertion given the minuscule population of Dalits( around 7%percent).

Not from Mewani’s progressive background but from the same state of Gujarat, Hardik Patel, led a Patidar caste reservation agitation stir for its inclusion under the Other Backward Class (OBC) category. His agitation led to an unprecedented mobilization of the Patidar caste across the state that brought the administrative machinery to a standstill. A worried state government locked Hardik Patel in jail under sedition charges, and without bail for several months. He was exiled by a court order, and has now just returned to Gujarat to re-mobilise the Patidars before the forthcoming elections against the ruling BJP. He currently is not with any political party.

The former Students Union president of JNU Kanhaiya Kumar was falsely implicated and charged with sedition. Known just in JNU, he emerged from the difficult times a household name across the country as he spoke out with rare courage, and challenged those he accused of subverting the Constitution and the law. “Bharat se nahin bhaiyon, Bharat me azaadi maang rahe hain. Bharat se lootne waalon se azaadi maang rahe hain.” (We are not demanding for independence from India. We are asking for independence while we are in India. We want freedom from corruption),” he said sticking to the slogan of azadi from oppression, victimisation, poverty, corruption.

In the state of Tamil Nadu, the passive resistance for revoking the ban on the conducting the rural Tamil cultural sport called ‘Jallikattu” was orchestrated by the youth recently who took command of the agenda and the strategy. This struggle assumed vigour and intensity under the leadership of radio jockey turned actor and social activist RJ Balaji. His oratory was fiery, he mesmerised the protestors and by the time the crowds dispersed after several days Balaji was in the forefront.

“I was not alive when the 1940s agitation brought the Tamilians together but today I am alive to see the same spirit from you, students. I am fortunate to have shared your will, strength and emotion. Thanks for giving me an opportunity to be a part of this glorious movement. There is no honour bigger than being a messenger who wanted to mobilise the spirit. Salute each one of you for making it happen through your dignity and unity. This moment of history is yours and only yours. I did hope for a better ending after all we deserved that. God bless us all. To a bigger and brighter tomorrow,” he posted on his Facebook Page.

He spoke on the burning host of issues confronting Tamil Nadu. The gathered protestors listened intently when he spoke, shouting slogan at every opportunity. His emotive speech was well-received and started getting accolades from the youth and seniors alike. Given the volatile situation in Tamil Nadu, Balaji is already being viewed as an alternative to the old lethargic politics of the AIADMK and DMK. Again like the other youth leaders, he does not belong to a political party.

The appeal of these youth leaders transcends the political boundaries of left or right or regional or national parties. Unlike the Indian political class which indulges in rhetoric and little else, these young leaders are fired by idealism and are part of the masses they come to represent. They are not from political dynasties, but are from the struggles they articulate.

As Nobel Laureate Bob Dylan wrote and sang,

“Your sons and your daughters
Are beyond your command
Your old road is rapidly aging
Please get out of the new one if you can't lend your hand
Cause the times they are a-changing”