Above: BJP chief Amit Shah and former Karnataka CM BS Yeddyurappa (third from left) at a poll rally of Tejasvi Surya (waving)/Photo: UNI
A 28-year-old BJP candidate from Bangalore South, Tejasvi Surya, has been pitchforked to centre stage in the hope that he will garner the youth vote and reap demographic dividends for his party
By Stephen David
To understand why BJP supremo Amit Shah picked 28-year-old greenhorn Tejasvi Surya to contest the prestigious Bangalore South Lok Sabha seat, one needs to take a look at the 1798 theory on population by English cleric and economist Thomas Robert Malthus. He said that through preventative and positive checks, the population would be controlled to balance the food supply with the population level.
Most studies, including one by the United Nations Population Fund, indicate that the window of demographic dividend opportunity in India is available for 50 years from 2005 to 2055. And in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s push for a New India by 2022, the youth will form a major chunk.
And that is why the Modi-Shah duo tapped a young man with deep RSS roots for the seat held by a fellow Brahmin like Surya, HN Ananth Kumar. Kumar was just 37 when he entered the Lok Sabha from Bangalore South and held on to the seat six times, defeating many biggies, including the architect of Aadhaar, Nandan Nilekani. When Kumar died in November 2018 while he was still in the Modi cabinet, most local BJP leaders hoped his wife, Tejaswini, who runs NGO Adamya Chetana, would automatically get the ticket.
But this was not to be and instead, Surya was selected. His selection shows that the party wants him to fight the 2019 polls on the Modi vs Others plank.
Surya’s name, Tejasvi, means energetic and brilliant in Sanskrit, and he has both qualities, which have endeared him to the RSS and the BJP top leadership. He is an unabashed fan of both Modi and Shah. He learnt the art of speaking like a hardline Hindu fanatic early in life. Debating, public speaking and articulating ideas for a new city and a new India come naturally to this law graduate. He has also set up a centre for entrepreneurs and got invited for a leadership programme for youth in the UK.
Surya, aided by his uncle who is a three-time BJP legislator from the same area, has been campaigning relentlessly since the midnight phone call from Delhi that rocketed him to the front pages of newspapers. But his detractors also got a chance to throw some mud on the personal front.
If he wins, he will be the youngest MP in the country, beating Dushyant Chautala, who is four years older than him. Dushyant, incidentally, is the great-grandson of former deputy PM Devi Lal. Unlike Chautala who has a political pedigree, Surya has none. However, he can network, leverage and synergise. These are buzzwords in India’s Silicon Valley. American motivational speaker Zig Ziglar said: “You can have everything in life you want if you will just help enough other people get what they want.”
Surya has a clean record on his election affidavit and has declared assets of Rs 13.46 lakh only. His Congress opponent, BK Hariprasad, is 64. Surya’s seat has eight assembly segments; five of them are with the BJP, while the others are with the Congress.
There were murmurs when a local RSS leader, BL Santosh, a known critic of state BJP chief BS Yeddyurappa, pushed for Surya’s candidature. Some of the local BJP leaders didn’t even show up when Surya went to file his nomination. Even Tejaswini showed her displeasure. All the naysayers fell in line when Amit Shah did a quick roadshow to support Surya.
Surya had waxed eloquent on Twitter about how an hour he had spent with Shah last year had left him spellbound. With former Karnataka CM Yeddyurappa already 76 and most probably on his way out after the Lok Sabha elections, Surya’s entry into Parliament will also showcase the BJP’s penchant to dive deep into the demographic dividend of India. The youth make up 40 percent to 50 percent of India’s population. And if that is not harnessed well, it will lead to a Malthusian catastrophe: either it is a demographic dividend or a demographic disaster. BJP tacticians like Shah understand Malthus’ mantra better than the cobwebbed gerontocracy of India’s grand old parties.
Surya is doing everything right to metamorphose into a career politician. He is making the rounds of elders of Bangalore South and articulating his ideas. He is combining digital platforms and personal contacts to up his profile. He also sat at the feet of former Chief Justice of India Justice MN Venkatachaliah. Former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee had made him chairman of the national commission to review the working of the Constitution.
Surya’s campaign theme is all about Modi and goes something like this—If you don’t vote for Modi, you are not voting for India. This rhetoric resonates well with a section of the populace. Surya cares little for politically correct language. Last year, while analysing why the BJP lost in the assembly byelection in Jayanagar, he said it was due to Muslim consolidation of votes. Jayanagar was won by the Congress’s Sowmya Reddy. Reddy had told India Legal earlier that her family had tapped all the minority votes in their segments.
Surya, who worked in the state BJP’s digital communication department prior to being pitchforked into the spotlight, emulates Modi at every level. BJP General Secretary Ram Madhav even went to the extent of calling him Tejasvi Surya Modi.
Surya also showed his disdain of mainstream media when he got a gag order passed by a city civil court on March 30, 2019, against some 50 media houses and social media giants such as Facebook, WhatsApp and Twitter over allegations of personal character flaws. The Association for Democratic Reform then filed a PIL in the High Court against the gag order which notified several media houses that they were “not at liberty to publish any scandalous and defamatory statements or any fake news as against our client”. Thankfully, the order was stayed on April 12 by a division bench of the Karnataka High Court.
The personal attacks reportedly began as an exchange on Twitter. A Congress spokesman linked a lady software entrepreneur to Surya. The lady threatened to take legal action against the Congress spokesman, also a qualified lawyer, who then asked her to go ahead and take legal action.
Gag orders or not, Surya has been reaching out to his youthful constituency offline and online. His social media messages include catchy promises for young voters, collateral-free credit up to Rs 50 lakh for entrepreneurs, Rs 20,000 crore seed funding for start-ups and even a Kempegowda Institute for Urban Planning.
This Surya is on the rise.
—The writer is a senior journalist based in Bengaluru