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Unravelling Rahul Gandhi

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Swati Nandy:

Rahul Gandhi, the young General Secretary of the Indian National Congress has made it big in the Indian political arena. A fourth generation politician of the famous Nehru-Gandhi family, Rahul has made a name for himself by working very hard at the grass root levels of the Congress party. His active involvement in the youth congress and energetic political campaigning at the previous Lok Sabha Elections has resulted in a remarkable turnaround for the Congress party and brought the Congress led UPA government back to power for a second consecutive term.

Rahul Gandhi comes from a family of politicians of immense stature. His great grandfather Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru was the first prime minister of independent India, grandmother late Indira Gandhi the first woman prime minister and father late Rajiv Gandhi another popular prime minister who is often credited with many popular economic policies to have shaped the modern India.

The prince of the Gandhi family charmed his way into the hearts of Indian voters. Since contesting for the first time in 2004 from Amethi, in Uttar Pradesh, reaching out people, playing with children have been typical scenes in the Rahul story – all perhaps an attempt to showcase him as one of the ordinary folks. While the fair, bespectacled look was always drawing crowd’s questions were being raised about Rahul’s abilities to convert this crowd into votes. The first conscious attempt was perhaps made by Rahul in Parliament last year when he made an impassioned speech about his experiences of rural India. Rahul tried to draw attention to the plight of poor Dalits in a speech where he was constantly laughed at and jeered at by the Opposition. But on the campaign trail in 2009, Rahul adopted a different strategy. He took a conscious decision that he won’t budge under pressure from allies.

To veterans like NCP leader Sharad Pawar and RJD leader Lalu Prasad, it appeared to be an arrogant move. To Rahul’s supporters, it was Rahul lining himself up for the future – a future where the Congress would have been the only principal pole of the country’s politics. The BJP’s shrill campaign of criticizing Manmohan Singh as a weak Prime Minister also brought out a new trait in Rahul. So far unwilling to respond to any of the barbs from Narendra Modi and company, Rahul became aggressive when it came to defending the Prime Minister. “You say that he is weak, but what about Advani ji in Kandahaar,” he said at a press conference before the elections.

In a classic throwback to his familial predecessors, Rahul Gandhi too, is driven by the needs to know and internalize the strengths and weaknesses, genius and handicaps, naiveté and guile of people he is expected to lead. His great grandfather, Jawaharlal Nehru, had done the same on returning to India from England at the age of 21. His grandmother, Indira Gandhi, did it under the tutelage of her father. His father, Rajiv Gandhi, too had embarked on a similar enterprise — one that proved abortive thanks to Indira Gandhi’s assassination and his sudden elevation to the top job.

The learning curve has indeed been steep. The young man, who’s widely acknowledged destiny is to be the country’s leader, has taken to a painstaking discovery of India. For the last few years, no politician of stature has made the kind effort Rahul has to gain a firsthand knowledge of how India works. Be it the nights spent with the poor in the hardy terrain if Bundelkhand or the meals he shared with socially ostracized Dalits of Amethi and Shravasti, or breaking heads with socialist scientists, activists and scholars in the big cities, Rahul Gandhi’s self —avowed objective is to “learn till my last day”.

Rahul Gandhi democratized the Congress organization, ending the traditional nomination culture in the Indian Youth Congress and the National Students Union of India. This has resulted in greater involvement of youth in politics and triggered a talent hunt by the party. Now youth organization office bearers will be elected by state members, and age limits will be enforced strictly. He backed the India-US nuclear deal in 2008 and swung the mood in the Congress decisively in favor of the agreement. The deal was followed by a historic waiver from the NSG (Nuclear Suppliers Group), which facilitated India’s entry into the N-club.

Some link his combative traits to his taking up boxing out of the blue last year. Boxing is the art of inculcating an eye-on-the-opponent habit and sets store by patience and endurance, tactical sharpness and stinging delivery of punch —qualities that he seems to display. Rahul Gandhi trains at a gym regularly. And quite often he has been spotted cycling around India Gate and even jogging in Rashtrapati Bhavan. This is clearly a man who likes to be fit for any fight.

Till now, he has not delivered in key Assembly elections. He campaigned aggressively in Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka and Gujarat during the Assembly elections though and the hard work may just deliver good results now. He has been quiet magnanimous in sharing the recent successes of the congress party with his party workers. He has also distanced himself from the race of prime minister-ship or a cabinet birth in spite of an excellent individual effort that saw Congress party emerge as the single largest party at the recently concluded Lok Sabha elections. All these qualities make up for a fine young politician who will serve India well in the times to come.

Manmohan Singh is the top choice for Prime Minister at the moment with Rahul Gandhi at a fair distance behind him, but Rahul Gandhi will most probably be PM in 2014 —that’s the clear message from metropolitan India. The Gandhi name itself counts. His political style reminds a large chunk of respondents of his father while a smaller chunk think he has modeled himself on grandmother Indira Gandhi, but most think he’s a forged a style of his own.

The writer is a correspondent of Youth Ki Awaaz.

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Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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