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Origins Of The 2014 Debacle: Lok Sabha 2014

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Very few think the Congress will lose the general elections of 2014. Those who do, cite a theoretical possibility of extraordinary events upsetting the inevitable. This is after UPA II faces flak on a number of issues– price rise, internal security, Kashmir, political incoherence and corruption. Yet even the opposition will concede that none of these are game changers, only eroding the rise of the Congress at best (a rise nonetheless).

But what about a scenario where in 2014 the Congress looses the General Election, this after there being no out-of-the-blue eventology preceding it? Imagine waking up one morning in May 2014, expecting the oft expected and universally predicted. Then at 10 AM, two hours into counting, you realize it isn’t what you or Prannoy Roy had thought it would be. News channels would be busy flashing images of some Jan Sanghi grinning ear-to-ear even as a sullen Pranab Mukherjee (who just might have lost his own election) would concoct explanations absolving the Gandhis of any blame. How would the News@9 that evening analyze the result?

In what could be an erroneous and blatantly premature attempt, I have identified four possible points of origin for such a scenario (streaks of which are traceable even today).

Arrogance and Overconfidence

No one has it as bad with Indian voters as a high headed and overconfident politician. Call it the post-Emergency hangover or the assertion of popular sovereignty– the Indian voter dislikes a cock-sureneta. For the Congress, this is an easy trap to fall into: the toxic mixture of sycophancy (unlimited faith in Plan Rahul) and electoral invincibility can easily breed overconfidence.

The BJP has been making this allegation for sometime now and though it seems far-fetched, at a subconscious level the voter is registering this. If in the coming years public discourse were to take up the issue of arrogance and overconfidence among Congressmen, there would definitely be a context and history to it. Therefore, what appears slight and contrived today can over time become a strong talking point for the opposition.

Brave it Alone

Equally, 2014 can be an election that reaffirms the continuation of coalition politics. The Congress, down to five allies in 2009, is making all the effort to revive its pan-Indian presence. In doing so, it is undermining the importance of political alliances and increasingly following an Uttar Pradesh Model that advocates a go-it-alone approach. If the experiment in UP delivers little, the Congress (in mid stride) would find itself on the wrong side of the door– for it would have sidelined allies without recovering lost political space.

Overboard with the Aam Aadmi

Another reason for defeat can be a failure in the political economy of the UPA government– which peculiarly, may have worked for UPA I but not for UPA II. The 8% plus economic growth in the post-2004 period allowed UPA I to increase social spending manifold, a move that paid-off handsomely (and won the incumbent government another term in office even in a recession year). However, once the quantum leap in social spending and policy innovation has been made, political returns would gradually diminish. In other words, the Aam Aadmislogan can win the Congress two elections but as its political appeal erodes, become irrelevant by the third.

Old Wine in New Bottle– Younger Leaders or Younger Ideas?

Recently, the Prime Minister indicated he wanted a “younger Cabinet”. That raised an important question– is Rahul Gandhi’s political revolution about “younger” leaders or ideas? With second generation reforms on a backburner, several Young Turks proving to be more-of-the-same (barely applying any of their educational qualifications in policymaking and practice of politics) and Rahul Gandhi himself turning to popular rhetoric, there would be a growing view that Generation Next in the Congress is old wine in a new bottle. That being the case, the enthusiasm whipped up by the young leadership of the Congress might wane by 2014. That’s the point at which Rahul Gandhi would’ve lost the plot.

Can these be the broad contours of a 2014 debacle? That’s a tough one to predict given the political dynamic of our multi-party democracy. Nonetheless, 2014 will be a seminal year, for our politics, for our future.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

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.

Read more about his campaign.

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.

Read more about her campaign. 

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.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

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.

Read more about the campaign here.

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.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

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 Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’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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