After the BJP’s surprise loss in the 2004 general elections, many attributed the blame to the old faces at the helm of affairs, and their incompatibility with a young Indian population. India has one of the youngest populations in the world, with half of it being under twenty-five years of age and sixty-five percent of it being under thirty-five. Most political parties in India are essentially family-businesses, and their lack of purpose is putting them out to dry.
With a resurgent BJP gradually transforming itself into a hegemonic force in India’s political landscape, let us look at how they are coping up with the India’s young demographic, and the faces we are likely to come across more often in the future.
The Uttar Pradesh duo-
India’s newest chief minister is forty-four-year old Yogi Adityanath. Despite a vilification campaign run by the mainstream media against him primarily because of the color of his clothes, he has emerged as one of India’s most powerful people in the last two weeks. After transforming his parliamentary constituency of Gorakhpur, which elected him five times and with a higher margin each time, he is on a mission to transform Uttar Pradesh. The state’s bureaucracy and police force have swung into action. A no-nonsense approach is being taken to all criminal activity, relief for the farmers is on its way, big plans for business and infrastructure have been set into motion. Yogi has emerged as one the country’s most popular politicians.
Yogi has along with him another youngster in his cabinet- Shrikant Sharma. Sharma served as the party’s media convener, and was part of Amit Shah’s core team which ensured a landslide victory in Uttar Pradesh. After getting elected from Mathura and becoming the state’s power minister, Sharma is working towards bringing Uttar Pradesh within the ambit of the union government’s Uday scheme which ensures twenty-four-hour power supply.
The Assam duo-
The BJP won the elections in Assam last year, and its chief ministerial face Sarbananda Sonowal took over the reins of the state. Sonowal served as the minister of youth affairs and sports in the Modi cabinet before returning to Assam. Without much fanfare, he has worked towards improving the state’s infrastructure and connectivity, and stopping illegal infiltration from Bangladesh.
However, the giant killer of the northeast for the BJP is Sonowal’s cabinet minister Hemanta Biswa Sarma. Sarma quit the Congress Party after Rahul Gandhi insulted him in a meeting, allowing his dog to eat off Sarma’s plate. Little did the BJP know how big an asset Sarma would be for the party. After ensuring a comprehensive victory in Assam, he was given a free hand in the northeast. Already, he has delivered Arunachal Pradesh and Nagaland for the BJP, and Tripura too is likely to fall into BJP’s lap soon. Many believe there is no politician in India with the sort of political acumen Sarma possesses. He will surely play a major role for the BJP in the years to come.
The Maharashtra duo-
Chief minister Devendra Fadnavis is among the most consummate administrators and politicians in the country today. He has successfully run a coalition government with the Shiv Sena for more than two years now, and hasn’t allowed their skirmishes to affect governance. The state finally has a government which is providing draught-struck farmers with solutions, gradually wrapping up one of the oldest agrarian crisis. With the farm sector growing at 12.5% and the economy growing at a whopping 9.4%, Fadnavis has put the state on the path of development. Politically, he has rendered the Shiv Sena as well his opponents insignificant. In the recent municipal elections, the party bagged eight of the ten corporations.
Although dynasts do not thrive in the Modi-Shah scheme of things, Poonam Mahajan has emerged as a strong voice from Mumbai. Daughter of Vajpayee’s right-hand man Pramod Mahajan, Poonam beat Priya Dutt from the Mumbai North Central constituency with a record margin. Her ability to muster support, especially among the youth, has earned her the presidency of BJP’s youth wing. Poonam is known to be active in parliament too.
The Delhi duo-
The BJP only won three of the seventy seats in the last assembly elections of the national capital. However, the party won all seven parliamentary constituencies of Delhi in the 2014 general elections, and some of the young firebrand members of parliament have made quite a mark. Advocate Meenakshi Lekhi often participates in television debates, and puts forth the party’s point of view. She is considered to be among the best spokespersons in the country, displaying feistiness and impeccable logic. Many believe she should be projected to take on Arvind Kejriwal, and that she would make an excellent chief minister.
Another prominent young face from Delhi is Maheish Girri. The member of parliament from East Delhi was a key member of the India Against Corruption movement, but like many others, he too quit the movement after falling out with Arvind Kejriwal. Girri shot into the limelight when he used Kejriwal’s own tactics to bring the Delhi chief minister to his knees. After Kejriwal levelled the charge of murder against him, he fasted in front of the chief minister’s residence for days. This brought about widespread awareness of Aam Aadmi Party’s shoot-and-scoot politics across the country, and helped in curbing the party’s rise outside Delhi. Girri invited Kejriwal for a debate on several occasions too, but the latter chickened out each time, and massively embarrassed himself in the process.
The Odisha Duo-
If the BJD considers the BJP to be a threat in Odisha today, it is because of Dharmendra Pradhan. Under Pradhan’s leadership, the party has made steady inroads into the state, and from being a non-entity it has relegated the Congress Party to third position. Pradhan proved his mettle during the 2014 general elections too, when he did for the BJP in Bihar what Amit Shah did for the party in Uttar Pradesh. In his role as petroleum minister, Pradhan is working towards creating a gas grid for the country. He has also proved to be an astute dealmaker, and under him India has bought oil from the middle-east at hugely discounted prices. Pradhan is also working towards merging all state-run oil companies and creating India’s very own international oil behemoth.
The other young BJP leader from Odisha who has made a name for himself is Sambit Patra. Among BJP’s core voter-base, he commands a cult following. There is probably no politician in the country today who is as witty and sarcastic as Patra, and it is always a pleasure to watch him decimate the opposition in a way that only he can. His acerbic wit and his presence of mind, and the courage he has shown to confront and speak about issues that most politicians avoid, make him come across as somebody fit to take on a more important role in the future.
And finally, the Central duo-
Piyush Goyal needs no introduction. Under his leadership, India will be fully electrified by next year. One of the union cabinet’s best performing ministers, there is little doubt that Goyal will bag one of the top four portfolios in the cabinet after 2019. With a proven track record and an unparalleled understanding of economics, speculation is that he will be India’s next finance minister. Goyal has at least two decades of politics still to go. His contributions to India’s progress and prosperity will never be forgotten.
There are no guesses as to who the last person on this list is. She might be controversy’s favorite child, but that has little to do with the ground realities. Smriti Irani has proven to be a competent minister, bringing about certain critical reforms as the education minister first, and now as the textile minister. With the capacity to grapple with complicate issues and excellent oratory skills, Smriti has proven to be a political asset too. Having nearly defeated Rahul Gandhi from Amethi, she returned to the constituency after the elections and adopted it as her own. The results are for all to see, as the BJP won three of the four seats in Amethi during the assembly elections. It is likely that Rahul Gandhi will shift his seat in 2019, and Smriti will be remembered for chasing the Gandhi scion out of his ancestral bastion.
It is with these faces that the BJP is preparing itself for the future. The average age of chief ministers belonging to the Congress Party is seventy, and for those belonging to neither the Congress nor the BJP, it is sixty-four. But the average age of chief ministers belonging to the BJP is only fifty-four, and this is testament of the trust the Modi-Shah duo has shown towards young blood. Youth empowerment isn’t merely a slogan for the BJP, and prime minister Modi is actually living his dream of New India.