Election 2019: Meet the Young Contenders Taking on Political Heavyweights 

While one contender, Sneha Kale, wants to bring issues of the transgender community to the forefront, Jharkhand's Birendra Kumar wants to challenge the corporate forces in the region.

This election season, few young contenders have received a lot of media attention – for reasons both good and bad. Among them are Tejasvi Surya of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Kanhaiya Kumar of Communist Party of India (CPI), Raghav Chadha of Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and Bhim Army chief Chandrashekhar Azad.

While Surya, BJP candidate from Bangalore South, has been in the news for his sensational and controversial remarks, Kumar, the CPI candidate from Begusarai (Bihar) was in the limelight for challenging the controversial BJP leader and MP Giriraj Singh. AAP’s Chadha is one of the youngest politicians contesting from south Delhi seat and Chandrashekhar Azad has announced his candidature against the prime minister and Varanasi MP, Narendra Modi. Then there are celebrity contenders like Bengali actress Nusrat Jahan, who is contesting from Basirhat on a Trinamool Congress (TMC) ticket.

However, these are not the only young contestants in this election. There are several others, contesting either on a party ticket or going it alone in different parts of the country, but they haven’t gathered the same level of media attention.

Among them is Biraj Deka, considered to be the youngest contender in this Lok Sabha election. Born in 1993, Deka is contesting from the violence-affected region of Assam’s Kokrajhar on a Communist Party of India-Marxist ticket. According to a news report, Deka says his top priority is giving political rights to all. “I will do my best for the public of Kokrajhar constituency, where everyone will be safe. Everyone should be treated with equality,” Deka told News18.

Like Deka, Sneha Kale, a transgender candidate from Maharashtra, is contesting elections for the first time. Twenty-six-year-old Kale is contesting as an independent candidate from Mumbai North-Central seat. Kale believes that the government has failed to pay adequate attention to issues of the transgender community and by contesting elections, she can bring them to the fore. If elected, “I will make policies to improve conditions for people like me. I’m a transgender, [I] know the problems people of different sections of society face,” Kale told news agency ANI.

Rohith Vemula’s close friend Vijay Kumar Pedapudi is contesting the Andhra Pradesh assembly elections, which are taking place simultaneously with the Lok Sabha polls.

Pedapudi is contesting from the Parchur assembly constituency in Andhra Pradesh’s Prakasam district on a Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) ticket. His candidature is been supported by JanaSena Party, the CPI and the CPM. According to Pedapudi, “I don’t think my political entry would change the condition overnight. But it could definitely provide me a better platform to fight for a better society in the long run.”

In Jharkhand, former JNU student and activist Birendra Kumar is contesting from the Godda Lok Sabha constituency. He is up against two heavyweights – BJP’s Nishikant Dubey, a two-time MP, and mahagathbandhan’s Pradeep Yadav, who is a sitting MLA from one of the assembly seats in Godda Lok Sabha and is also the former MP from this constituency.

Birendra says he is contesting because he wants to challenge the corporate forces in the region. In recent years, he has been a part of several struggles for the right of Adivasis over land, forest and natural resources. According to a fact-finding report in this region, the land was acquired forcefully for Adani’s Godda power plant.

Born in 1982, Raju Yadav is contesting from the Arrah Lok Sabha seat in Bihar on a CPI(M-L) ticket and his candidature is supported by the mahagathbandhan. Arrah/Bhojpur is infamous for caste-based violence and atrocities.

According to CPI(M-L) activist Kavita Krishnan, Yadav has led several “movements of the peasants and agricultural labourers of Arrah, and worked for the rights of the women [and for] ASHA, anganwadi and mid-day meal workers. He and other CPI(M-L) activists have actively organised to resist and prevent communal and feudal-patriarchal violence.”

Similarly, from Bangalore North Lok Sabha constituency, 31-year-old Umesh Babu Pillegowda is contesting as an independent candidate. He is one of the 33 candidates contesting from this constituency, including former chief minister of Karnataka and current minister of statistics and programme implementation in BJP-led Central government, Sadananda Gowda.

An M. Tech graduate and former assistant professor of engineering, Umesh Babu told The Wire: “Our representatives are not accessible and they hardly pay attention to the real issues”.

High on his agenda is the city’s traffic problem. According to him, the solution lies in public transport. “If I am elected, I will make sure that there is an affordable public transport in the place and I am available to the people of the area,” he declared.