Delivering international speeches focussing on the “bads of the RSS”, a Prime Minister “who knows everything and can teach God”, emphasising on and pushing for the caste census, talking about central agencies being used for “political vendetta” while attending their summons—these are some of the ways the political scions of India’s opposition parties, both national and regional, have been trying to garner public support.
There is less than a year left before the general elections in 2024, and parties need to manoeuvre through a series of political events and some high-stakes assembly polls including Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Telangana, and Madhya Pradesh as they prepare for the final one next year. With veteran politicians and heads of the parties strategising and attempting to stitch together a coalition against Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the BJP, here is what the young successors are planning, while warming up to the seniors and bracing for the general elections.
Rahul Gandhi is on a 10-day trip to the United States, his second international one in the past two months and since the Bharat Jodo Yatra. In March, Gandhi called the RSS—considered the ideological fountainhead of the Bharatiya Janata Party—a fascist organisation that functions like a “secret society” and resembles “Muslim Brotherhood”. During his ongoing trip to the USA, he said that not only the Muslim community, but Sikhs, tribals and Dalits all feel “attacked” in India. He also added that PM Modi is a “specimen”, who thinks that he knows everything and can teach God how the universe works, but he is devoid of listening capability.
Political observers News18 spoke with analysed his posturing and felt that the scion of the Nehru-Gandhi family, in his efforts to present himself as the primary challenger to PM Modi, has been trying to garner support from the Indian diaspora through his foreign visits.
Pawan Khera, Congress’s media and publicity department head, told News18 how Gandhi is turning around the narrative nationally and internationally as well.
“Artificial propaganda cannot continue for long, everything has its shelf life. The Indian diaspora in foreign lands is now looking at Rahul Gandhi without using the prism of the BJP, and therefore they are now able to relate to him. Following his multiple interactions with people through Bharat Jodo Yatra, his understanding is far better than that of Mr Modi’s understanding of India. Mr Modi sits on a pedestal, only talks and does not listen,” said Khera. “Rahul ji however on the other hand keeps talking to people and listening to them. He is actually amplifying issues. The ideological clarity that he has, no one in the opposition space including in our own party has. He is ideologically clear and that is why he can speak about the RSS so fearlessly and with clarity.”
While Rahul Gandhi is working on building his public connect, which started with the Bharat Jodo Yatra and continues through his interactions with local traders, truck drivers, students, and the NRIs in foreign lands, here is what other political heirs of some of the mighty regional parties are doing.
Emerging challengers of mighty regional parties
Tejashwi Yadav, Bihar’s deputy chief minister and son of ex-CM Lalu Prasad Yadav, is tagging along with Nitish Kumar in his journey to states to stitch up a united opposition. Several senior politicians call him the “political heir” of CM Nitish Kumar, while he carries the legacy of Lalu Prasad and the Rashtriya Janata Dal too. Yadav, unlike his colleagues in other parties, has drifted from the Hindutva and counter-Hindutva plank. Instead, he has taken up the cause of bringing the caste census to the fore. Bihar has been the first state government that started the process to conduct a caste-based survey, though following some petitions, the matter is now pending in court.
“Tejashwi Yadav focuses on the basics. What is the size of my plate, where does my family member go for treatment, how can marginal and small farmers get access to proper irrigation? He has meticulously pursued politics as it is meant to be. Rather than fighting over the size of a temple or mosque, he has brought fundamental issues to the fore. He has also diligently brought the constitutional question into the public domain. People actually take oaths in the name of the Constitution, but the ruling dispensation at the Centre defies every principle of the Constitution,” said Manoj Jha, a senior MP and leader of RJD.
In West Bengal, chief minister Mamata Banerjee’s nephew Abhishek Banerjee has embarked on a journey to connect with the masses across districts in the state, which has been named Nabajoyar (new or fresh tide). In the middle of his first such political venture, he appeared before the CBI too.
Abhishek has been a vehement critic of the Modi government and the BJP, and comes across as a young leader who at times is more aggressive than his aunt while targeting the saffron party. Abhishek has been questioned by the Enforcement Directorate and the Central Bureau of Investigation in connection with the coal and teachers’ recruitment scams. The political scion of the Trinamool Congress, however, called such grilling sessions by the central agencies political vendetta and ways to silence him.
Political legacy vs performance
Even as the prominent political heirs of the opposition parties have managed to create a ripple in Indian politics while stirring up relevant political issues, experts feel that the phenomenon has been around for years now, and it stands for both the ruling and opposition sides. The issues and patterns of the political fights keep changing.
“The family name and the political background bring visibility and the advantage of the visibility for the heirs of the political parties. But Indian democracy has matured to a significant extent. The voter has today become much more discerning. And the support does not come just because one enjoys a name, though it may give you a foothold to begin with. The democratic process has become more agile than before. The heirs to a political legacy are also getting evaluated based on their performance. In the end, it is not the name of the family that takes a leader forward, but the contribution he or she made makes them responsible,” said Sandeep Shastri, political scientist and national coordinator for Lokniti (Centre for the Study of Developing Societies).
In the recent Karnataka elections, a large number of sons and daughters of political families contested, he pointed out. “Some of them are prominent names like Nikhil Kumaraswamy, grandson of HD Deve Gowda and son of HD Kumaraswamy, who lost his second election, while two sons of BS Yediyurappa are doing well in politics. Look at the Congress cabinet—Priyank Kharge, Dinesh Gundu Rao and so on—there are politicians who are heirs of a political legacy. So, across political parties, it is a phenomenon. It is not unique to political families, but it is also the same for business families, families of lawyers, film stars, etc. Their kids are carrying the mantle. It mirrors a larger social reality,” Shastri added.