BJP youth breaking free from the parivar mould

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Bypassing the ‘rowdy’ ABVP, the BJP is propping up the BJYM to lure Indian youth to its fold. Avalok Langer reports

Brand-new icon The BJP is hoping that BJYM chief Anurag Thakur (fourth from left) will inject young blood into the party

UNIVERSITY REALPOLITIK is by and large regional, communal, violent and divisive — a real reflection of national politics. While the National Students Union of India touts pretty faces, the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad follows an ultra national, aggressive and mildly communal approach, where outbursts of violence are completely justified. This left no space for the moderate voice of new India and 80 percent of the student body boycotted elections.

The new India — below 35, progressive, open-minded and success-driven — has broader mental horizons. Young India, which comprises close to 70 percent of our population, itself is a vote bank that needs to be appeased.

Like a brand that failed, the ABVP, the student political wing with its roots in the RSS, has been discredited — not by rivals but due to its own actions. Over the past few years, ABVP activists have attacked and mauled professors, banned Valentine’s Day, opposed ‘objectionable’ textbooks like Three Hundred Ramayanas, successfully alienating thousands of potential voters from itself and its parent, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

In the throes of a leadership crisis, unable to regain power, the BJP cannot risk alienating the nation’s youth. Looking to shake things up, BJP President Nitin Gadkari appointed Anurag Thakur, a 35-year-old MP from Himachal Pradesh, as president of the Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha (BJYM), the party’s youth wing. Instead of trying to purge juvenile delinquency, Gadkari seems to have decided to open a whole new company to escape the ABVP image trap.

Dressed in jeans and sporting a French beard, Thakur is articulate and earnest. “My job is to attract the youth to join our party,” he says. “I feel that if your issues have substance, there is no need for violence or aggression. Since the generation has changed, the issues have changed. So it is important that the way politicians function changes as well.”

Since last June, the BJYM has been directly working with the youth to create a new image for the party, circumventing the ABVP.

Central to that image are two themes: nationalism and ownership. “Only if the youth are made stakeholders and given a sense of ownership will they actively work towards progress,” says Thakur. “At the same time, the youth need to feel Indian first, creating that sense of identity, of nationalism. That is our priority and the essence of our programmes.”

While the ABVP is directly under the RSS, which is probably why it engenders extreme, fundamentalist stands, the BJYM has much more flexibility. It has political goals clearly lined up in its sights and has been able to take a more progressive, inclusive approach. Breaking out of the BJP-RSS Hindutva mould, the organisation’s programmes so far have not been restricted to any region, community or gender.

On the march Thakur has made waves with his pan-India yatras; Bikaner MP Arvind Meghwal Photo: Dinesh Gupta

STARTING WITH an ‘India First Campaign’ last September, the organisation targeted 150 centres across the country promoting the idea that the nation comes first and Jammu & Kashmir is an integral part of that nation. Critics might say this is old wine in new bottle, but the shift away from muscular Hindutva and the temple agenda is definitive. Encouraged by the positive response that this approach evoked, it was followed up with the Ekta Yatra earlier this year. Starting in West Bengal, covering 12 states in 15 days, mobilising thousands through 57 rallies, the Ekta Yatra’s ultimate aim was to hoist the national flag at Lal Chowk on Republic Day.

“We always claim that Kashmir is an integral part of the India, but do we make them feel that way? While separatists and the local politicians are demanding autonomy, we feel that the first step is to build confidence amongst the Kashmir youth and make them feel a part of the nation. That is what we are working towards,” says Thakur.

Drawn in by this nationalistic fervour, two IITians — Rituraj Misra and Rajat Sethi — have teamed up with Tarun Kumar, an IIM graduate and Pankaj Chatterjee from AIIMS to launch a movement to draw the youth into politics.

“We felt that it was important to lend support to a party that was working towards greater nationalism. Our goal is to bring today’s youth into the political framework and try to clean up the system,” says Misra.

With the BJP holding the government to ransom on corruption, the BJYM supplemented the opposition pressure, launching a ground movement — Ek Daud Bhrastachar Ke Virodh (an anti-corruption campaign). The movement is aimed at eradication of corruption through awareness and personal initiative. While nationalism and corruption have been their mainstay till now, their upcoming programme is not only ambitious but refreshingly free from the usual political rhetoric.

The Lakshya Campaign, set to kick off in June, will target Tier-II cities across the country and generate awareness of employment opportunities, conduct career counselling and professional training, all with the aim of fostering indigenous entrepreneurship.

“At times, the youth is unaware of the opportunities that exist. We want to serve as a middleman, connecting the youth with professional opportunities that match their abilities and interests,” says BJYM General Secretary Manoranjan Mishra. “Sometimes, IITians and professionals approach us saying ‘we cannot sit in dharans but we want to help effect change’. This is an opportunity for them to be involved in the political process, give back to the nation and help the development process.”

Moving away from the BJP stronghold, the Hindi belt, the BJYM has rolled out successive campaigns in a bid to win over new territory. “We are trying to bring the denim-clad, Elton John-listening, progressive youth into our fold,” says BJYM Vice-President Bhrigu Bakshipatra. “Our programmes have universal appeal. In Odisha, the youth are not concerned about the Commonwealth Games corruption or the Jammu & Kashmir issue. However, the Naxal problem is very real for our youth, so is the Reddy brothers’ case. Our drive against corruption has received a lot of support in the south.”

‘We are trying to bring the denim-clad, Elton John-listening youth into our fold,’ says BJYM’s Bakshipatra

Having taken up corruption, anti-nationalism and professional empowerment of the youth, it seems strange that the BJYM has not moved into the Northeast. “It is an important issue that you have raised,” agrees Thakur. When a youth from the Northeast comes to any other city in India, the first thing they are greeted with is the word ‘chinky’. We are responsible for the fact that they feel alienated from the nation. We will be taking our programmes to the Northeast. I feel we need to work in that sector as well, possibly we can start with developing sports and the hospitality training centres in the region.”

Political mobilisation and participation seems to be the key for this new-look BJYM. In a country where politics is looked upon as a dirty profession, its stand is clear: “If you want change, you have to join politics. We will give you the platform.”

The target audience has changed and so has the rhetoric. There is no talk of Hindutva, no sign of violence. A seemingly progressive leadership is charting a new course, a path of inclusion and collective responsibility to harness the political potential of the youth.

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Grooming Gen next

The BJP is training a crack team of 60 MPs in the art of leadership

WITH THE majority of India’s one billion born post-Independence, it seems strange that 80 percent of our political representatives are of a pre-Independence vintage. Globalisation has created a new idea of leadership, but where are the new leaders?

Unable to throw up a leader with national appeal, the BJP has set in motion a process of internal rebuilding. While internal training has been an integral part of the BJP since the days of Deendayal Upadhyaya, the party has selected 60 young MPs to be trained under the guidance of party senior Sushma Swaraj in six different fields based on their interests and aptitudes.

“It all started when a couple of us went to meet Sushmaji. She proposed that we create a system where, backed by a team of researchers, we specialise in our areas of interest or areas that the party feels we are suited for so that we can effectively raise issues,” says BJYM chief Anurag Thakur.

Each field — internal affairs, defence, external affairs, economy, WTO and climate change negotiations — will have 10 MPs, a mix from Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha. The MPs will be trained by experts in each field as well as senior leaders, who will fill in the gaps.

“We will form a shadow Cabinet,” avers Bikaner MP Arjun Meghwal, who will be focussing on defence. “The aim is to have a mastery over the subject and understand the nuances. What is the country’s present stand? What goals are we trying to achieve? What are our strategic concerns? We must be aware of all these things so that we can keep a check on the government and take Parliamentary debates to their logical conclusion.”

Similar to the American system, each field will have a set of dedicated researchers who will provide information at the appropriate time.

“We spent 100 days attending Parliament, 40 attending committee meetings and for the rest of the year, we are travelling in our constituencies,” says Thakur, who will be looking into internal affairs. “There is no time for us to do research. If we are asked to speak on an issue, we have to do research overnight. With this system in place, not only will we have our basics in place, the researchers will be there to help us focus on key issues. The quality of debate in Parliament will improve and what we say will have greater impact.”

According to Vinay Sahasrabuddhe, political advisor to BJP President Nitin Gadkari, “The basic idea is to have our upcoming leadership all set to govern the nation when the time comes.”

With the training system in its nascent stage, it will be interesting to see how the Gen Next of the BJP shapes up.

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