Despite the multiplicity of issues and demands, there was a tangible sense of unity and cohesion
Many of them may go on to become the big leaders of tomorrow’s India. Some of them are already familiar names – Kanhaiya Kumar, Jignesh Mevani, Umar Khalid, Akhil Gogoi, Alpesh Thakor, Shehla Rashid, Hardik Patel, Chandrasekhar Azad. Their faces are fast becoming instantly recognisable; their voices are being heard loud and clear in distant corners of the land.
Not all of them were present at the Yuva Hunkar Rally on Parliament Street on Tuesday, January 9, a wintry afternoon in the national capital that is probably unlikely to be remembered as the day a youth movement was born.
Unlikely, because almost everything about the event had an air of improbability around it — it would not have held at all, but for the spirit of defiance of the participants.
Under the orders of the Home Ministry, the Police had outlawed the congregation – 2000 para-troops in riot regalia, equipped with tear gas shell launchers, water cannons, lathis and over-sized shields against stone-throwing were deployed to protect Democracy and Rule of Law.
But violent protest was not on the agenda of the youthful rallyists. They had come to talk of peace and love. Their sole agenda was to demonstrate against what they saw as the classic oppression- suppression-repression syndrome of the RSS-BJP power establishment. They were there to raise their voices against the garroting of political and economic freedom; raising their arms to hurl rocks was not their intent.
In terms of numbers, it was not a mammoth assembly; but that was inevitable because the authorities had virtually closed all the entry routes to Delhi, highways had been blocked, trains had been cancelled. In the end the few thousands who were able to reach the venue were mostly the leaders of youth organisations, activist groups and student bodies. Many of the foot soldiers, supporters and sympathizers were unable to make it.
One notable absentee was Chandrasekhar Azad ‘Ravan’. He could not have come. He has been jail since June last year. But the Dalit leader from Saharanpur — who shot to fame as the chief of the Bhim Army and has been falsely accused of instigating caste riots and was re-arrested under the dreaded NSA the moment he obtained bail last November — was very much present in spirit and on hand-held posters.
Demanding his release was one of the key themes of the rally, with his prolonged incarceration becoming a metaphor for all the other issues raised by those who addressed the gathering of politically inspired youth from a dozen different states, a variety of castes, creeds and socio-economic roots.
It is this rainbow coalition of young men and women which added to the unique quality of the Yuva Hunkar Rally. Each group evidently had their own individual priorities in terms of raising their demands and highlighting their grievances – some called for educational rights, others emphasised the dangerous lack of employment avenues, still others complained of discrimination based on religion and caste, gender justice was the key issue for some and almost all demanded a decent livelihood and a chance to fulfill their aspirations.
Despite the multiplicity of issues and demands, there was a tangible sense of unity and cohesion. The star speakers, although young and relatively inexperienced in political oration, were surprisingly effective in creating a common thread to link and bind all the participants — the battle against obscurantism, fascism, majoritarianism and fake-nationalism.
Kanhaiya Kumar: “BJP isn’t a political party, it’s like a brand new washing machine, where something goes in but comes out sparkling clean. Of the 282 MPs, 109 MPs have serious crimes allegations against them. Not asking about Lalu, but what about Sukhram’s son or Mukul Roy?”
Kanhaiya Kumar, again: “We are not against any religion or any community, we are here to uphold the Constitution of India. We don’t have crowds, I agree. We don’t have crowds, but we have real, living breathing people.”
Umar Khalid: “They are afraid of Chandrashekhar and the Bhim Army, not because he’s a threat to the country — but to those who want to convert this country into a Hindu Rashtra. There’s no space for Dalits in the Hindu Rashtra that they envision”.
Jignesh Mevani: “The saffron party is irked because of its marginal win in the Gujarat polls. Hardik Patel, Alpesh Thakore and Jignesh Mevani crushed BJP’s target of 150 seats in Gujarat and that is why I am being targetted”.
Mevani again: “It is you who has to answer the reason behind violence on Dalits, violence in Saharanpur, in Bhima Koregaon. You have to answer why Rohit Vemula was killed. You have to answer why people are not getting the money that is in the foreign accounts of Indians. You have to answer why millions of people are not getting jobs despite promises”.
And further: “The way corruption, poverty, unemployment and the real issues are being swept under the carpet and ghar wapasi, love jihad and cows are being given space, we stand against that. We do not believe in love jihad. We are the believers of love. We will celebrate both April 14, Ambedkar Jayanti, and February 14, Valentine’s Day”.
Mevani added: “I will stand guard against the politics of hatred and stick to constitutional values and the politics of love, along the lines of statements made by Rahul Gandhi”.
He said: “Whenever Modi visited Ahmedabad, they used to detain me. Now I have come to Delhi and they are trying to detain me again. The BJP has only practised the politics of breaking the country. I will practise the politics of joining the country. The youth in Gujarat stopped the BJP at 99 seats. The same will happen across the country. We will fight our battle with songs of love and fight in accordance with the rules of the Constitution.”
Shehla Rashid: “Movements happen with or without permission. The media and police kept saying yesterday that the rally would be cancelled as there is no permission. Andolan happens with or without permission. ‘We education, jobs and a dignified life. This is the revolution that the youth will bring”.
Akhil Gogoi: “Twelve States in India had special status. After the BJP government came into being, the autonomy of these States was compromised. Our voices are silenced because we speak against BJP and RSS. We fight the fight on the streets”.
Kanhaiya Kumar also had this to say: “Jignesh Mevani can tease Prime Minister Modi but in this country people cannot tease corporates. The TV is censored. The language of trolls should not be our language. We should not spread hate. We come here in peace, we don’t want to hate. We want social justice, not the strengthening of corporates. We are here to fight for democracy and raise the voices of those who fear to speak. The youth has studied on taxpayer money and we will now rise to speak against injustice and do public service and look out for each other when the going gets tough.”(NH)