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9 Biggest Political Gaffes Of 2011

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By Pushkal Shivam:

Ideally, gaffe is the last word a government would want to be synonymous with. But as Groucho Marx once said, “Those are my principles, and if you don’t like them…well, I have others.” The UPA-II flitted from one gaffe to another without compunctions throughout 2011. Its notoriety for making gaffes has an underlying binary principle. With a feckless leader at its helm, the government likes retreating into a muted state of indecision. When it acts, it bungles. This bipolarity has become the quintessence of the ruling dispensation. As if scum-tainted skeletons which tumbled out of its closet were not enough, the government did much to embarrass itself this year. Here is a look at the moments which left it red-faced:

SM Krishna reading Portuguese minister’s speech at UN

India’s External Affairs minister SM Krishna is infamous for being uninspiring and stodgy. He almost gave that perception a stamp of legitimacy when he inadvertently read out Portuguese foreign minister’s speech at a UNSC meeting. About three minutes into the speech, India’s Permanent Representative to the UN Hardeep Singh Puri came to his rescue. By that time Krishna had read out, “On a more personal note, allow me to express my profound satisfaction regarding the happy coincidence of having two members of the Portuguese Speaking Countries (CPLP), Brazil and Portugal, together here today.”

Prime Minister saying 25% Bangladeshis anti-Indian

For a Prime Minister who rarely speaks, a meeting with country’s top editors from the print media was a refreshing change. However, in a freewheeling mood, Dr. Manmohan Singh went to the extent of dubbing 25% of Bangladesh’s population anti-Indian. He reportedly said, “But we must reckon that at least 25 percent of the population of Bangladesh swear by the Jamiat-ul-Islami and they are very anti-Indian, and they are in the clutches, many times, of the ISI.” What followed is even more interesting. Without realizing the sensitivity of Prime Minister’s remark, the whiz-kids at the PMO put up the comments on its website. Sections of Bangladeshi media had a field day as the fodder had come straight from the horse’s mouth.

Kaushik Basu advocating that bribe giving be legalized

In a paper titled “Why, for a Class of Bribes, the Act of Giving a Bribe Should be Treated as Legal”, Chief Economic Adviser to the Ministry of Finance, Government of India Kaushik Basu argued that a certain class of bribes be legalized. The paper was even put up on the website of Ministry of Finance. Mr. Basu pitched in with his “small but novel” idea at a time when the government was bearing the brunt of revelations in an array of cases like CVC, 2G, CWG etc. Mr. Basu has a history of coming up with “small but fairly radical” ideas. In a 1994 New York Times article, Mr. Basu argued against banning child labor. He even contended that people of the third world need it.

Revelation concerning bugging of Finance Minister’s office

It’s hard to decide which is more embarrassing. That Finance Minister and No.2 in the Cabinet Pranab Mukherjee’s office was bugged or that conspirators- possibly from within the government- reportedly used chewing gums to carry out the task when technology offered better alternatives. Mr. Mukherjee registered his concerns in a letter written to the Prime Minister. Although IB investigated into the case and found “nothing”, newspapers pointed out that the choice of CBDT (Central Board of Direct Taxes) for the de-bugging operation instead of IB (Intelligence Bureau), which has the expertise, was curious.

The curious case of Planning Commission and Montek Singh Ahluwalia

“Sanity is not statistical”, says Winston Smith, protagonist of George Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984.The world outside the Yojana Bhawan has to be insane enough to buy into the statistics that the experts inhabiting it churn out. For them “sanity is not statistical” as they are under the impression that the world is insane and they are sane. We know how ridiculous Planning Commission’s definition of poverty line is. We finally came to know the truth behind government’s claim that inflation would moderate: false inflation projection by Planning Commission Deputy Chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia. Presto! The riddle was solved. Reassurances by the government that stubbornly high inflation would moderate were based on a false projection. (I even tried to live on Rs. 32 a day. Check out my experiences here.)

Undermining the foundations of Aadhar

What was being touted as “symbolic of the new and modern India” is fast becoming a chimera. The government’s pet project UIDAI (Unique Identification Authority of India) or AADHAR, chaired by “modern” India’s blue-eyed boy Nandan Nilekani, could be scrapped altogether as it is ridden with loopholes. The scheme had enjoyed a positive image in the eyes of India Inc and sections of media until a Parliamentary Standing Committee headed by Yashwant Sinha repudiated the National Unique Identification Authority of India Bill. According to the committee, the project is not tenable in its current form. The Home Ministry itself raised questions over security of the data collected.

The $9 billion export faux pas

“How many people will come and tell you that we have goofed up; there was a mistake. I have said it openly there is nothing to hide; there is no shame in admitting that there is something wrong”, said Commerce Secretary Rahul Khullar admitting that this year’s export figures were inflated by more than $9 billion due to a glitch in the computer software. The $9 billion goof-up came close on the heels of an embarrassing policy U-turn by the government on FDI in retail.

Arresting Anna Hazare

By arresting Anna Hazare in order to stop him from fasting at Delhi’s JP Park, the government painted itself into a corner. It was too late by the time it realized that it had made a martyr of Hazare. Under enormous public pressure, the government had to order his release. But Hazare was too clever to miss out on the opportunity. He turned the tables on the government by refusing to accept bail. Hazare remained inside the Tihar Jail demanding an unconditional release and permission to carry out his protest. The government had to relent. Arresting him cost the government dearly.

CBI landing in Denmark with an expired warrant for Kim Davy and the terror list goof-up

If CBI is India’s premier investigation agency, then we need to redefine the way a ‘premier investigation agency’ works. Being under the thumb of the government it has little autonomy. Its goof-ups, therefore, should reflect equally badly on the government. First, it landed in Denmark seeking extradition of Kim Davy, a prime-accused in the Purulia arms drop case, with an expired warrant. Second, it goofed up the list of India’s 50 Most Wanted fugitives allegedly hiding in Pakistan. As Pakistan was reeling under global outrage in the wake of Laden’s killing, India had an opportunity to step up pressure. CBI had egg on its face when it turned out that two men included in that list were actually in India. One out on bail in Mumbai’s Thane suburb, other lodged in a jail in the same city.

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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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