Lok Sabha polls: Young Guns are blazing new trails in New Delhi, West Bengal, Rajasthan, and Gujarat | Latest News India - Hindustan Times
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Lok Sabha polls: Young Guns are blazing new trails in New Delhi, West Bengal, Rajasthan, and Gujarat

May 20, 2024 05:54 PM IST

A new generation of political leaders across parties are emerging on the scene. By the looks of it, they could be going places.

From the crowded lanes of north-east Delhi where Congress candidate Kanhaiya Kumar is contesting, to the winding roads of Serampore in West Bengal with CPI-M’s Dipshita Dhar putting up an energetic campaign, to Dhaval Patel in Valsad, Gujarat where the young tribal from ruling BJP is the chosen candidate: there are many 30-something year-old contestants vying to reach the 18th Lok Sabha and make history.

People stand in queue to cast their votes outside a polling booth during the fifth phase Lok Sabha elections. (Photo By Waseem Andrabi /Hindustan Times)
People stand in queue to cast their votes outside a polling booth during the fifth phase Lok Sabha elections. (Photo By Waseem Andrabi /Hindustan Times)

Kanhaiya - or Dr Kanhaiya as he announced to vast crowds at rallies - has Sachin Pilot guiding him as party observer. Pilot himself made history in 2004 when he became the youngest-ever member of Parliament at age 26 from Dausa, a constituency nurtured by his late father, Rajesh Pilot.

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"I am Dr Kanhaiya with a doctorate from Jawaharlal Nehru University: son of an Anganwadi worker from a village in Bihar, my education was made possible because of Pt Nehru ji’s inclusive policies," he explained.

“In fact Congress and Nehruji also created the democratic atmosphere for parties like Bharatiya Jana Sangh and later Bharatiya Janata Party to survive and grow,” he declared, smiling impishly, vigorously punching the air.

Also read: Poetry and literature raise high the pitch of Lok Sabha elections

Barely 37, Kanhaiya is in the electoral fray for a second time, having contested from the Begusarai Lok Sabha seat in 2019 under Communist Party of India banner. He secured over 260,000 votes but lost to serving minister, Giriraj Singh, of the BJP who won with over 420,000 votes.

Quick to use his 2019 electoral loss, now as a Congress youth leader, Kanhaiya said, "Imagine, I was up against the powerful establishment of the ruling party! It is our democratic polity that made it possible for a village lad to challenge the ruling party.” The cheers and applause that follow are deafening.

His boyish demeanour notwithstanding, Kanhaiya displays political maturity, and on social media sites, his tirade against the BJP and Sangh Parivar is relentless. "Are we against Lord Ram? No! Our fight is against the supporters of Nathuram,” he exclaimed, taking his audiences back to Nathuram Godse, assassin of Mahatma Gandhi.

Dr Kanhaiya is inching his way ahead as a Congress leader with the advantage of INDIA alliance seat-sharing in New Delhi and being face-to-face with the BJP’s sitting MP, Manoj Tiwari.

Also read: Lok Sabha elections: Modi, Shah leading from the front in BJP’s high-voltage election campaign

In sharp contrast in West Bengal, young guns of CPI-M are facing three-cornered contests: the idea of INDIA united against BJP has not clicked here. The new generation CPI-M contestants include Dipshita Dhar from Serampore, Srijan Bhattacharya from Jadavpur and Pratikur Rehman from Diamond Harbour constituency, who have veteran leaders campaigning for them.

Be it Secretary-general Sitaram Yechury, Politburo members Brinda Karat or Manik Sarkar, senior comrades are braving the ravages of age and weather for street-level campaigns.

After the electoral twin-disasters of 2019 and 2021, when the CPI-M secured not even a single seat in Lok Sabha and Assembly elections, the young guns need more ammunition to match up to Trinamool and BJP candidates.

Observes Prof Abhay Dubey of CSDS: “Opposition parties have failed to achieve in terms of unity that was required to be done. West Bengal clearly being a case in point that may prove to be a costly error, come 4 June 2024.”

The JNU-educated, suave and confident Dipshita, barely 30, is pitted against Kalyan Banerjee, three-time sitting MP of Trinamool Congress; the BJP who have never won the Serampore seat, have fielded Kabir Shanker Bose. "I am on the roads of Serampore and shall continue to be in the midst of our voters till 4 June." she said, adding “we have to fight for educated unemployed youth, who today are forced to seek work at petrol pumps.”

Also read: Lok Sabha elections 2024: How will the lack of momentum in polling affect BJP, INDIA bloc?

It is a fight for self-respect and against “dangebaazi” (rioting),” she said, unmindful of the local rabble-rousers venting their on-camera abuse: "She is a Miss Universe...JNU pundit hai yeh, bahut padh ke aaya hai, dekhega kaise," She is a JNU pundit, has studied a lot, how can she see now).

The locals can see her determination; crowds gather around Dipshita, women garlanding and blessing her, promising to vote for the party, which governed West Bengal from 1977 to 2011, a record seven consecutive terms.

At a late-night rally, with Brinda Karat campaigning for Dipshita in a sea of red flags and hand-held torches, the age-old political narrative emerges: “It is a fight for jal, jangal, jameen (water, forest and land); for the rights of the tribals, masses working on the fields and farms," said Dipshita, adding, ”We will fight for the right to education, food and healthcare."

West Bengal continues to face the onslaught of malaria, year after year, recording the highest number of cases and deaths due to vector-borne diseases.

When Manik Sarkar introduced Srijan Bhattacharya to waiting crowds at Jadavpur, there was all-round applause for the young, bearded contestant, who studied history at the Jadavpur University.

Srijan, 39, whose popularity as a lyricist-writer-and musician has soared, is matched by his political lineage: a third generation of Left activists from Assam and West Bengal. "There is a multi-religious society in our land,’’ he said, stressing that the 'our Prime Minister is only talking about Hindu-Muslim, Mandir-Masjid. What is important for all is health and education, food and safety, roads and railways: these issues are being ignored in the elections."

Jadavpur is a stronghold of Trinamool: the glamorous Mimi Chakraborty won the 2019 elections with over 48 per cent vote share. BJP too built its vote share, getting almost 27 per cent of the votes. Srijan has relentlessly continued his struggles against the TMC, first as a student activist of SFI, and now as CPI-M leader.

"These elections are about roti and rozgar – (food and employment)" is his familiar refrain at his rallies. Urging the public to remain united despite the "stranglehold of Trinamool and BJP taking away our democratic rights."

From Diamond Harbour constituency another young gun of CPI-M, Pratikur Rahaman (33) is contesting the high-profile seat, pitted against sitting MP Abhishek Banerjee, nephew of CM Mamata Banerjee. Abhishek won the 2019 elections with a margin of over 300,000 votes against his BJP rival. He is the youthful face of Trinamool, its general secretary and in the coordination committee of INDIA alliance. Pratikur has the local advantage as he has lived in the Diamond Harbour area.

At rallies and media interactions, Rahaman is clear: "I am not fighting individuals. My fight is against the policies of Trinamool in West Bengal and BJP at the Centre."

Anil Chopra of Congress, in Jaipur (Rural), too is focussed on issues of national importance. Hailing from Amer, with a postgraduate degree from Rajasthan University, the 31-year-old assured the waiting public, "I fully understand your anger and anxiety at the Agneepath scheme, which has been adopted by the BJP government to enroll Agniveers into the Indian Armed Forces."

The scheme is explained as being ill-advised, fraught with problems; moreover, it was adding to woes of unemployment across Rajasthan and the country.

Jaipur (Rural) is a prestigious seat won by Col. Rajyavardhan Rathore in the 2019 general elections with a victory margin of 400,000 votes. Krishna Poonia of the Congress secured over 400,000 votes; now the party has entrusted Anil Chopra to upset BJP’s Rao Rajendra Singh.

Agriculture experts point out that the problems of rural India in these elections have been reduced to the MSP debate. Candidates are neither raising larger problems of water, better seeds and agri-inputs, nor bringing to the fore new opportunities for increasing non-farm incomes.

Said a senior development banker from Mumbai, requesting anonymity, “The success of WASH (water sanitation and hygiene) financing for example, through micro finance institutions, is qualitatively changing the lives of rural communities across India.”

Women self-help groups have taken the lead in the National Capital Region, Rajasthan, and Bihar.

From Valsad (ST), a bellwether constituency of Gujarat, Dhaval Patel is the young tribal face of the ruling BJP. He is well-educated with zero cases against him but has faced the ‘outsider’ charge as he hails from neighbouring Navsari.

Manakbhai Shankar of BSP and Anantkumar Patel from the Congress are going all out to make it tough for Dhaval Patel. BJP had dropped KC Patel, its sitting MP, even though he won the 2019 elections with over 60 per cent vote share. On 7 May 2024, Valsad recorded the highest voting percentage in Gujarat. The tech-savvy Patel served as the national social media in charge of the BJP’s Schedule Tribe Morcha.

At his rallies, his familiar refrain is: “My only goal is ensuring our Prime Minister gets a third term.”

Win or lose, these young guns are set to blaze new trails in India’s polity in the years to come. Their time has begun now.

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