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  Opinion   Columnists  12 Jun 2024  Shikha Mukerjee | It’s time for New Gen to consolidate on ground

Shikha Mukerjee | It’s time for New Gen to consolidate on ground

The writer is a senior journalist in Kolkata.
Published : Jun 13, 2024, 12:00 am IST
Updated : Jun 13, 2024, 12:00 am IST

Emergence of younger leaders reshapes political landscape, challenging BJP dominance. INDIA bloc parties regroup to counter Modi-led BJP

Back in strength in the 18th Lok Sabha after the Indian National Democratic Inclusive Alliance parties won 232 of the 543 seats and the conglomerate of regional and smaller parties have earned bragging rights. (Image: PTI)
 Back in strength in the 18th Lok Sabha after the Indian National Democratic Inclusive Alliance parties won 232 of the 543 seats and the conglomerate of regional and smaller parties have earned bragging rights. (Image: PTI)

Now that the anti-BJP Opposition is back in strength in the 18th Lok Sabha after the Indian National Democratic Inclusive Alliance parties won 232 of the 543 seats and the conglomerate of regional and smaller parties have earned bragging rights, it’s time for leaders of these parties to return to the battlefield. Narendra Modi may have been reduced to leading a minority government but the BJP still remains a formidable political machine.

The time to engage in the byzantine workings in New Delhi’s rarified environment has not arrived for Rahul Gandhi or Akhilesh Yadav, not even Supriya Sule and Abhishek Banerjee, who are still understudies even though they packed a punch in this election. With others like Uddhav and Aaditya Thackeray, M.K. Stalin and Udhaynidhi, and Tejashwi Yadav, these torchbearers of the political aristocracy must go back to fortifying the trenches, connecting with the popular sovereign, managing the organisational networks and strengthening the bases they have retaken from the BJP.

The representative of Indian politics’ middle ground, bookended by the extreme-right BJP-RSS and the Left, the Congress as the largest national party, Samajwadi Party, Nationalist Congress Party, DMK, Trinamul Congress and the RJD have to work on the ground to foil the recapture of the median voter and the space they compelled the BJP to vacate.

This election is certainly historic, but not because Mr Modi became PM for the third time, matching Jawaharlal Nehru’s record. It is historic because a new generation of leaders have emerged in the old parties and rebuilt the bases that were almost razed by the BJP juggernaut between 2014 and 2024.

Each of these leaders were handed hay as they entered the firepit that is the Lok Sabha election. Instead of setting themselves on fire, they lit a fire that sent the BJP scampering. In UP, the SP won 37 seats, against the BJP’s 33, down from 62. In Maharashtra, the Congress won 13 seats, while the BJP won a mere nine seats, down from 23 in 2019. In Tamil Nadu, the BJP was nil out of 39 seats. The Mamata-Abhishek Banerjee duo, sneeringly referred to as “Pishi-Bhaipo” by Mr Modi and his party, regained ground and won 29 seats out of the state’s total 42.

The transition in leadership from the founding to successor generation that is this new league of younger leaders was invariably marked by blood feuds, defections, bad-mouthing and backstabbing by veterans within and outside the immediate families. Through the process of taking control, stabilising the often-vandalised parties, establishing their identities by coming out of the shadow of their predecessors, these new leaders have a history with many commonalities and the wisdom of hindsight, that if some things were done differently, it would have been less politically destructive.

The decade of Mr Modi’s first two terms seems to have worked like a baptism of fire for the new generation. Instead of the visceral animosity their predecessors had towards the Congress, a leader like Akhilesh Yadav, or Uddhav and Aaditya Thackeray, can and do get along with Rahul Gandhi. The SP-Congress alliance in UP is proof that such partnerships do indeed work well. The new league of leaders turned out to be challengers of 73-year-old Mr Modi’s popularity among voters, a hefty 25 per cent-plus of whom are under 30 and, more significantly, either grew up and became first-time voters or were job-seekers in the past 10 years, sitting recruitment examinations that either didn’t take place as scheduled, or were cancelled because of paper leaks or were waitlisted as the government hadn’t notified the filling of vacancies.

Without a formal common minimum programme, a centralised seat- sharing mechanism, this new generation has an extraordinary ability to identify and speak on issues and problems by pinpointing the BJP as the common enemy and their target. Jobs, unemployment, contractual recruitment into the Army through the “Agnipath” scheme, recruitment exams and unfilled vacancies, bad environment for trade and small businesses, the cost-of-living crisis, hate speeches and divisive politics are shared and separate concerns. In a remarkable campaign, each of these parties addressed each of these issues, contextualising them within the overarching anxiety about Mr Modi’s authoritarian, extreme right-wing politics, crony capitalism and bad governance. Each of these leaders used the lived experiences of their constituents to locate these problems within the specific territories which they worked to recover from the BJP’s stranglehold and build support for the common agenda that India’s democracy, Constitution, diversity, social harmony and political pluralism were in danger from the hegemonic and homogenising design of the Narendra Modi-led BJP.

In Maharashtra, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh, the INDIA bloc parties have dislodged the BJP from its number one position in the Lok Sabha election. The INDIA parties have to retake these states in the coming Assembly elections. In Tamil Nadu, the BJP hasn’t made a breakthrough despite the best efforts of Mr Modi. In West Bengal, the BJP is a distant number two, way behind the Trinamul Congress. In Karnataka, Gujarat, Rajasthan and Bihar the BJP haemorrhaged; it yielded seats to the Congress, the Rashtriya Janata Dal and even the CPI(M).

The new generation of leaders rebuilt political capital from the bottom up. They fought the BJP and its reputation as an outstandingly efficient, cohesively organised and strongly-led party that had mastered strategy, especially manipulating caste and sub-caste fractions, making them serve as vote-multipliers to enable the party to punch above its weight in Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Bihar, West Bengal, Karnataka and dream of making a dent in Tamil Nadu.

The responsibility of the new league of leaders is clear: to increase the efficiency of their parties in defeating the BJP by getting better at working in coordination with allies at the ground level, where hostility between workers of different parties can upset the best-laid plans of the top brass. It will matter in the forthcoming state Assembly elections in Maharashtra, Haryana, Jharkhand, Bihar and Assam in 2024-2025. If Rahul Gandhi stalls the momentum that the Lok Sabha poll performance created by becoming the Leader of the Opposition with ministerial rank, endless office work and a big bungalow, it would please the BJP. A peripatetic Rahul Gandhi is a different kettle of fish than one who is tied down in New Delhi. The Congress has other younger, successful and hungry leaders, like Sachin Pilot or Gaurav Gogoi, who can take on the BJP.

As leaders of regional parties, even Chirag Paswan and Nara Lokesh seem to have figured out that their future lies in defending their territories against, principally, the BJP.

Tags: 2024 lok sabha elections, india bloc, anti-bjp opposition front, indian politics