G-23 – the wobbly sea-saw group of Congress – may be a happier lot now than before. They can expect more ungratified and fretful seniors vying for membership.
Even as most of the Gujarat media, somewhat influenced by those in power, have written off Kanhaiya Kumar and Jignesh Mewani’s entry into the Grand Old Party as inconsequential, it is not so in entirety.
Gujarat has been consistently a failure for Congress since 1995, except for a brief period of 11 months when Shankarsinh Vaghela, with outside help from Congress, ruled the state.
This means an entire generation of Congress from 1995 to 2021 has remained power-deprived. Twenty-six years of not having enjoyed power has crushed the Congress's confidence but, most importantly, daunted young, confident, and raging-to-change-the-world type youngsters to join the Congress.
Congress has often bragged that it has been improving its vote share in Gujarat, but the fact remains that despite the vote share or vote percentage, Congress has not been able to make any headway.
This has been mainly because there has been no raw energy, ambition, and chutzpah among the youth and ideologically driven people to contribute to the Congress.
The Congress in Gujarat is not only fund-starved but also youth-starved. Many who continue with the Congress have tied up with the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for contracts, bids, and tenders or just passing on inside party information. There have been serious young Congress members like Jairajsinh Parmar, Manish Doshi, Indravijaysinh Gohil and others in Gujarat who have not got what they deserved in the party structure. They have now crossed their middle ages.
In this depressing scenario, Kanhaiya Kumar and Jignesh Mevani joining the Congress is definitely a fresh breath of air in the Congosphere of Gujarat.
Let us explore why this is much more than good news.
Kanhaiya Kumar and Jignesh Mevani along with Hardik Patel can infuse a new hope amongst the youth. More than Mevani and Patel, who have been around for a while, Kumar could be a very good vote catcher among the youth, especially students and professionals.
Gujarat obstinately believes in caste. Hardik Patel is a Patidar, Mevani is Dalit and Kumar is a Bhumihar, which is considered to be an upper caste in Gujarat. This caste combo is tempting in the highly politicised, insinuated atmosphere of Gujarat.
Congress should now focus on a strong OBC young face to complete the caste combo along with promoting Shahnawaz, a young, foreign-educated Ahmedabad corporator who, if ignored more by Congress, is likely to join All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM). This caste combination can play an important role.
Kumar, Mevani and of course Patel are good orators. They know the public pulse better than aging Congress leaders who continue to seek positions but have lost their grassroot bearings.
The Tale of Three-Pronged Battle
Gujarat has no dearth of issues. Unemployment, farmer’s issues, medium and small-scale industry (MSME) woes top the list. Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) is hugely benefiting by focusing on these issues.
Almost all leaders in Gujarat AAP are below 45. This even younger team of Kumar, Mevani, Patel plus an OBC and Muslim face can upset the AAP and BJP’s apple cart. Of course, this is for the first time that there seems an actual three-pronged electoral fight in Gujarat between BJP, Congress and AAP.
The BJP is solely banking on Hindutva and Modi or vice versa, and the AAP is not far behind. The recent overtures of AAP of temple tourism are helping them win quite a few BJP voters. But of course, in the end, AAP victory margins may sully the Congress tally only, along with AIMIM on the sidelines.
The biggest brownie points that Kumar and Mevani bring to Congress in Gujarat is that rebelliousness, that raw recalcitrance, that recklessness, which is very important in all revolutions to amputate and dethrone establishments.
Congress in Gujarat after consecutive defeats has lost its mojo, its fighting spirit, that raw courage which Gujarat saw in the 1970s as it flagged the Nav Nirman Andolan, a purely student-driven socialism-inclined JP Narain-blessed movement against corruption.
Kumar, Patel and Mevani bring that spark of the Nav Nirman Andolan. This time the fight would be against crony capitalism, COVID-19 mismanagement, fabricated government lies, propaganda and, of course, corruption. None of the present lot of the Congress that have been living in power-deprived and dispossessed state of mind can usher that in Gujarat. They are tired, pessimistic, and have given up.
If Congress infighting does not claim Kumar, Mevani and Patel, they can be trusted for uprooting the BJP in Gujarat.
It was Immanuel Kant who said experience without theory is blind but theory without experience is a mere intellectual play. AAP is suffering from this great theory-no-experience syndrome in Gujarat. The Congress, if (and the if is very heavy), decides to synergise their experience with the theories and ideologies of these newly inculcated youngsters, they can create magic. A magic that can make people of Gujarat fathom between Indian nationalism and Hindu nationalism.
Gujarat has the problem where the conflation of Hinduism aka Moditva is unwittingly Advantage BJP. These new stars of Congress will albeit have to start from bottom-up but can put forward an alternative political narrative and leadership.
Will Congress Gain Power in Gujarat?
A leadership that is not caught in its own cobweb but a leadership that understands the public pulse of the people and voices it out fearlessly and articulately. Only the youth can offer an alternative Congress and create a new social bloc that not only bridges the Congress’s disengagement with the public but senses the public pulse and frustration smartly.
The BJP gave its worst performance in 2017 and the Congress was able to reduce the saffron surge to a two-digit figure for the first time since 1995. However, the vote percentage of the BJP still remains 7.6 percent higher than the of the Congress. This time, AAP is also in the fray earnestly.
The addition of Kumar and Mevani promises better awakening amongst the youth, a not-seen-before resonance on educational campuses and above all, loud, uncontrollable, untamed politically correct voices with clean slates.
Kumar may have lost his Begusarai Lok Sabha seat to a senior fellow Bhumihar by over four lakh votes but we need to remember that Giriraj Singh won because the Rashtriya Janata Dal was also in the fray and walked away with two lakh-plus votes. Kumar is going to be a very important voice in the coming months but in his home state Bihar, it remains to be seen whether Tejashwi Yadav collaborates with him to wipe out the BJP. If he doesn't, Kumar does not have a good chance in Bihar.
But this contradicts the situation in Gujarat where there is a fertile ground for him to exude his raw energy, aggressiveness and clear political language.
The present lot of Gujarat senior leaders have lost their mojo and several of them have patched up with BJP at different levels from corporations to Assembly and the Parliament to promote their personal business interests.
In fact, at the moment, Gujarat Congress lacks any full-time politician. These new entrants can change this scenario and not get influenced by money, the single-most important ingredient in Gujarat. The BJP began its “buying out” exercises from Gujarat and it is still here that they are most powerful. The young often get vulnerable and lured by promises of money or positions. This had happened to Alpesh Thakor, one of the brightest OBC youngsters who first chose BJP, then went to Congress, and then returned home to BJP to find himself completely alienated and cut off.
Gujarat elections scheduled in 2022 must blend the young with the experienced and as of now Mevani and Kumar appear steadfast in their resolve to defeat the BJP
With a left-leaning centrist approach that has earlier worked for the Congress.
Yes, Mevani and Kumar will have to face BJP and AAP but more than that they will have to face the seniors in their own party who are notorious for not letting youngsters bloom. That will be a responsibility that Rahul Gandhi or Priyanka Gandhi will have to shoulder directly. Because as Lawrence Durrell said, it is not love that is blind but jealousy. In this case, jealousy from within the party.
(Deepal Trivedi is the CEO and Founder Editor of Vibes of India. She tweets at @DeepalTrevedie. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)