SEEMA MUSTAFA | 10 JULY, 2017
#UnaOneYear: What Makes the New Leaders So Different From the Old Organised Opposition
NEW DELHI: While the old and now increasingly outdated leaders heading the organised political Opposition are wallowing in acrimony and hostility, the new young leaders are creating and taking over the protest space in India steadily for the past two years. That it is not noticed by the media, except on occasion, does not make it less significant---in fact even more so---as every struggle is throwing up new leaders who are forging new unity, even as they keep the quarrelsome and indecisive leadership at bay.
The protests---farmers, Dalits, activists, civil society, students---are growing but very significantly the political Opposition parties are nowhere in sight. No one seems to want them, and while as in the almost countrywide protests by the farmers the kisan sabhas played a major role in organising the stir, there is little to no visibility of specific political leaders who find themselves increasingly on the margins of a peoples stir.
So it is in Gujarat where hundreds are collecting from all over the country in response to Jignesh Mevani, the young leader who emerged in the wake of the flogging of Dalit youth by so called gau rakshaks in Una, for a Conference and a Freedom March. “No no politicians” Mevani said categorically when asked by this reporter about the participation of political parties, “They can help us if they want to, but no we are not inviting any political leader.”
Why? And while he did not say in so many words Mevani did not want to dilute the impact of his efforts by bringing in Opposition leaders, most of them discredited in the eyes of the people who were ready to march with him and the younger leaders, but would be hesitant about joining forces with the organised political parties.
The new generation leaders have come together in Gujarat to observe the first anniversary of the Una flogging. And they have travelled across the country to form a collective that in an inclusive, direct approach will hold a convention in Ahmedabad with erstwhile Jawaharlal Nehru University Students Union President Kanhaiya Kumar amongst those who will be speaking. As will many others on the lynchings by cow mobs, agrarian distress with Dalits, students, farmers, Muslims and others milling together in a show of unity.
The Gujarat government that had earlier given permission for ‘Azadi Kooch’ (Freedom March) on July 12 from Mehsana town to Dhanera in Banaskanth district has today revoked the permission citing law and order. Mevani and others have taken a decision to go ahead with the march with a statement ,“The permission was revoked at the last moment as the BJP government realised that the march would create an anti-BJP atmosphere in the state and would dent their prospects in the upcoming Assembly polls. We will not bow down to such tactics and will take out our march.”
A senior Congress leader, often at odds with his own party, said the other day that the traditional parties were all being kept out by the younger leaders who had emerged from Una, Saharanpur, Jawaharlal Nehru University, Hyderabad Central University etc. “They just do not want us, and so we are also very wary and while we have told them we are willing to come if you call us, we will keep our distance,” he said. Why? “Because clearly our language is not the same, and now it seems nor is our politics.”
While the Congress waffles, and the regional parties quarrel, and all plunge into a Presidential election as if this is the all important issue---young Chandrashekhar from Saharanpur leads a Bhim Army from house to house preventing the trouble from turning communal. The Dalits were told not to war with the Muslims as this “row is artificial, it is being created, we are all the victims” by the young men who then came to Jantar Mantar in Delhi to address a huge rally, and now are all in jail with no news at all of release. There is no word of support from Mayawati or the Congress or the Samajwadi party in Uttar Pradesh, all silent and withdrawn.
JNU students probably set this particular ball rolling, and after the dramatic swoop and the arreasts, came out of days of severe and traumatic trial, to go straight back into the university campus and launch a struggle against those spreading communalism, and dividing society. Kanhaiya Kumar, in an interview with this writer later, spoke of the need for a new language for the Left to communicate with the masses even as he advocated unity. But since he was with the CPI, the other Left parties had little use for him, and his parent party too was unable to lift the young man as a leader the communists so desperately lack.
Although they all come from different backgrounds, and have come together because of circumstances the new generation leaders have a strong thread in common. They are courageous, bold, shoot straight from the hip, do not mince words, or for that matter action. They are powerful orators, excellent on the field organisers, and speak a language that is emotional and yet political, and that binds them to the constituency of the marginalised. This is as true of the young boys who led the stir against a RSS/BJP appointee at the Film Institute in Pune, as it is of Mevani.
Theirs is a language that communicates. And speaks of justice loud and clear. Unlike the obfuscation of the organised Opposition that sees indirect speech as political cleverness, the younger leaders have recognised that the people at the receiving end see this as chicanery. And have no use for it, hence they themselves stand to lose ground if they bring in the current political leadership into their movements. As many of them have told this reporter, “we have nothing in common with the organised political leadership. We respect them, but they are completely out of touch with what is happening on the ground. This is not the time for delegations and press conferences and good words, this is the time for action.”
And interestingly none of them are holding press conferences having “blacklisted” sections of the media, just as the media has done to them. The activists---many whose names are not heard out of the areas in which they operate---are all in the field, speaking directly to the people. And those better known are now in touch with each other, forming new alliances, working together on different issues with the meetings in Gujarat expected to forge similar unity amongst the young farmers and the sections most directly affected by the cow mob violence over the last three years.
They all speak of the Constitution and the law; they speak of pluralism and justice; in all their speeches they stress on rights of the marginalised; and what perhaps is most interesting is their ability to communicate their concerns in a context that is historical, political and yet passionate.