A conference on the way forward for social justice programmes is being seen as the next step in the ongoing attempts to build Opposition unity ahead of the next general elections. At the first national conference of the All India Federation for Social Justice, an initiative of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), members of Opposition parties came together on a common platform to discuss ways to take their efforts forward. The hybrid event – members joined in-person in Delhi and over video conference – appears to be the latest in a raft of similar informal measures to hammer out an informal arrangement and a platform to arrive at a bare minimum understanding among parties. This is important given the diverse, and often hostile, political histories shared by members of the Opposition camp – a factor that was an Achilles heel in previous attempts to bring together a front of Opposition leaders before the 2019 general elections.
But even as the leaders tentatively explore possible electoral and political arrangements, they will have to reckon with the rapidly changing grammar of social justice that has made older models of political mobilisation irrelevant. No one-size-fits-all strategy can hope to appeal to the patchwork of communities who are the target of social justice politics. This doesn’t mean that appeals of economic and social mobility have lost salience, or that communities don’t strive to end their identity-based marginalisation but underlines the need for parties and leaders to tailor their messaging to 21st century aspirations in a country where younger people and women will increasingly hold greater political power, something the Bharatiya Janata Party appears to have done. It is a reflection of this new emerging compact that smaller communities have larger electoral salience than before, or that 90s-style calls for emancipation with no economic or employment strategies find little resonance. Any political formation pivoting on social justice politics will need to factor in the myriad ways in which marginalised groups and castes are reimagining themselves, and their future.