YEAR END SPECIAL: Young Indian leaders who have made an impact


Young Indian leaders who made the limelight in 2017 and are here to stay

India, this year, saw some young leaders emerge too. Be it Mithali Raj who took many bouncers and critics in her stride or Hardik Patel who shook up politics in Gujarat by demanding backward status for the Patidar community. Here are the ones that are sure to stay in the limelight for years to come.

Hardik Patel: The Hannibal who nearly breached the BJP's Rome

Few activists in recent history have earned the kind of scorn and scepticism that Hardik Patel did when he started agitating for reservation for the Patidar community in Gujarat in 2015. Politicians and experts on all sides of the political spectrum did not know what to make of the portly graduate who was campaigning to get backward status for what has mostly been a well-to-do community, which strongly backed the BJP.

If Jignesh Mevani provided the righteous indignation to fuel the Congress campaign in the 2017 assembly polls in Gujarat, Patel was the battering ram who threatened the BJP’s popularity among the Patidars. And if politicians like Sanjay Joshi or Abhishek Singhvi moved out of the limelight when ‘explicit’ videos, purportedly of them, emerged, Patel didn’t even flinch when it happened to him. The BJP did retain power, but Patel’s campaigning made sure it was badly dented in Saurashtra.

But like all such activists, where does Patel go from here? The Hardik Patel phenomenon is an indictment of both Mandal and Kammandal politics that began the Congress' decisive slump in Indian politics. If the votaries of reservation for OBCs thought the forward castes didn't need it, the proponents of the Mandir thought promises of cultural glory would keep the forwards happy. Patel abstaining from active politics means that he retains the potential to be a disruptor, who may well continue making news. In addition to providing inspiration to similar disgruntled castes such as the Jats (North India), Marathas (Maharashtra) and Kapus (Andhra Pradesh).

Tejashwi Yadav: The flawed secular bulwark of Bihar

Tejashwi Yadav had what could only be termed a dream start to his political career, being appointed deputy chief minister in the Mahagatbandan government of Nitish Kumar at the age of 26. Tejashwi being named in a corruption scandal provided Kumar an opportunity to break the alliance in 2017. While the incident earned some sympathy for Tejashwi, it also highlighted a major weakness for the young leader: the overwhelming shadow of his father.

Tejashwi makes this list of young leaders given his charisma and the fact that he is Lalu's designated heir apparent. He will make a youthful opponent to an increasingly jaded Kumar, whose credibility has been eroded, perhaps irreversibly, by his tying up with the BJP. While assured of the support of minorities, Tejashwi will have to fight hard to retain the support of his Yadav clan voters, which the BJP has attempted to chip away at. Finally, Tejashwi's success or failure as a politician will be dependent on whether he can shed the negative aspects of his father's political legacy. Mere photo ops of lunch with Rahul Gandhi will not do to untangle a legacy of maladministration.

The humble Indian fact checker: They proved that all the news wasn’t really news

Pratik Sinha, Jency Jacob, Pankaj Jain. Most of you will be forgiven if you didn't recognise these names in a power list. But you would have come across websites and Facebook pages such as Altnews, Boomlive and SMHoaxSlayer (FB) that these men run. They came into prominence as mainstream media organisations increasingly immersed themselves into 'viral' mode, publishing anything and everything, often without verifying antecedents.

Whether it was 'rate cards' for love jihad marriages in Kerala, claims of sexual violence involving two communities or who operated the first seaplanes in India, it was left to these fact checkers to prove what was reported in the news was not news always. While the role of such ventures is mostly limited to the English language audience, their importance cannot be underestimated given the sheer pace at which fake news travels. And the changing nature of the mainstream media—organisations cutting down on organic reporting strength and strengthening their digital presence—makes the need for fact checking imperative.

In 2018, may be when a riot is prevented or politicians are held to account for false claims, you will be thanking these men.

Mithali Raj: Flaying bowlers, and trolls, with a straight bat

If women’s cricket were more popular than the men’s version, then M.S. Dhoni would have been called the Mithali Raj of men’s cricket! Raj has been a constant presence in all formats of the women’s game from 1999. But it is her exploits in one-day cricket that has won plaudits. She not only led India to two World Cup finals (2005 and 2017), she also holds the record for the highest number of runs in the format and is the only person to have crossed 6,000 runs.

The Indian team’s performance in the 2017 World Cup, where it lost to England, led to an explosion of interest in the woman’s format, long considered a stepsister to the men’s game. And a lot of attention centred on Raj. Furthermore, when she was trolled on the internet for flimsy reasons like her choice of apparel, Raj stood her ground, showing the calm determination that has helped in her career of nearly 20 years.

Raj’s contribution will go beyond mere statistics as she helped popularise a game and became a woman and youth icon in her own right, with little or no help from sponsors.

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