Shehzad Poonawalla: Carving A new brand of Politics

Shehzad Poonawalla is no stranger to those who watch prime time news. He is a regular participant in debates on various News Channels. In December, the elevation of Rahul Gandhi as the President of Congress also saw the rise of a young, level-headed activist, who took on dynastic politics by its horns. Shehzad Poonawalla rebelled against the monopoly of Gandhi family in Congress and questioned the scion’s elevation to the throne, terming it illegal. It is a well known fact that whoever rebels against the family is shown the exit door in a jiffy. The expected happened with Shehzad and he was disowned by the party.

At an age of thirty, his social activism profile is quite vibrant and impressive. He has taken up various issues of human rights violation to the courts and the NHRC. Prominent among them being his fight for the rights of Bangladeshi Hindu immigrants, Kashmiri pandits settlement, and Junaid’s lynching in Haryana, to name a few. He has also taken up issues pertaining to Dalits and Muslims. A case filed against Dr Swamy, for hate speech, made news in 2015. It demonstrates his fearless brand of activism. This particular case has earned him the abhorrence of the right wingers. As a result, many well known, right leaning activists rubbished his rebellion against Rahul as a neatly essayed drama. Upon close observation, his determined efforts for justice and equality, free of any religious overtones, ethnic bias and devoid of any personal gain, speak volumes about his credibility.

A young man with bright political prospects, sacrificing a promising political career and taking up full time political activism is a rare sight. If we look at it in the current political context, then we can gauge the enormity of his brave stand – the war on dynastic politics.

In the recent past, several young leaders have emerged on the national scene. Some are purely created by the media with vested interests. There is Kanhaiya Kumar, who is being projected as an anti-establishment, young hero. His only claim to fame is that he belongs to JNU and organized an event in the campus where Anti-India slogans were shouted. He has the backing of the Leftists and the Congress. Rahul Gandhi had spoken out strongly in support of young thinkers on the JNU campus whose freedom of expression was being curbed by the government. There is hardly any evidence of Kanhaiya having taken up any real cause worthy of mention.

Then there is Hardik Patel, whose only claim to fame is the mobilization of Pattidars youth in demanding reservation in Gujarat. He was even approached by Shiv Sena to be their CM candidate before he showed a soft approach and political leaning towards the Congress. His fiery speeches had landed him in jail. His scathing attacks on PM Modi during elections had no visible impact on the electorate in Gujarat as BJP won a majority.

Jignesh Mevani is another young leader from Gujarat, who is being projected as a new age Dalit icon. He has the aggression and the audacity to verbally attack the PM using choicest of words. From whatever little we have seen of him on Television, his life’s goal appears to be the defeat of BJP and Modi. He has no qualms in siding with the Congress and recently failed to gather the desired numbers for his Yuva Hunkar Rally.

One commonality we find among these three young leaders, who have emerged on the political landscape in a span of three years, is their soft approach and closeness to the Congress. They see a bright political future by aligning with the grand old party. And their politics, in particular, is bereft of any noticeable ideological imprint. Their agenda is Modi bashing and damaging BJP’s prospects in poll bound states.

With the emergence of these three media hyped freelance politicians, working hard to create a wave against the BJP across the country, the Sab ka sath sab ka vikas party must find an answer. The ruling party has failed to counter this new style of political discourse. Though BJP has won all the major elections in 2017, there is one obvious weakness which it has overlooked, its over-dependence on PM Modi to win elections! Modi has to be saved from over exposure during elections in 2018. The party has to ensure that he remains focused on governance. Not that he has lost any sheen but preemptive measures have to be taken in preparation for the mega 2019 battle.

The spokespersons of BJP (especially Sambit Patra) are doing a phenomenal job in defending the party and attacking the opponents. Yogi Adityanath too is spreading his aura outside UP. Amit Shah seems to be in his attacking best in Karnataka, yet there is something amiss.  A young and dynamic personality, who doesn’t owe allegiance to the party but, builds a narrative in its favour! Somebody, who may not come across as a hardcore party supporter or a staunch Hindutva follower, but aptly exposes the hypocrisy of the opposition, is what the ruling party requires. Shehzad appears to be fully prepared to take up that mantle. Those who have a habit of sniffing a back door deal, in every possible political scenario that emerges in the country, label him as a BJP agent. We can ignore such voices or accept them as truth but that hardly changes anything. What matters is whether we are able to analyze things without being prejudiced and respect others’ (which includes Shehzad) Freedom of Speech. This tweet sums up his response to all those who cast aspersions on him:

It is interesting to note how this young man has introduced a new brand of politics in the country. He identifies himself as a Congressi and dreams of building a Dynasty Mukt Congress. It appears to be a farfetched thought like the Congress Mukt Bharat dream of our PM! On a more practical note, ideologies don’t die; they thrive in the hearts of people. The closer BJP can ever get to that dream is by ruling majority of the states in the country, and being content with its allies and leftists ruling a few others.

The soft spoken, insightful and well mannered Shehzad may not be the voice of the BJP, but his fight against dynasty naturally aligns him with the ruling party, on several prominent issues, if not all. The kind of prime time coverage he is getting is only available to a select few. Rebelling against Rahul may be his claim to fame, but I wish that he goes beyond newsroom activism and addresses students and the masses on the ground. For, there is enormous potential in him as an activist, analyst and most importantly as a leader. After all, it’s not every day we hear PM Modi praising somebody openly.