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Presidential Elections 2012: The Who, The What And The Why

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By Subhayan Mukherjee:

The President of India is a mere figurehead within the structure of the Indian state and has no role to play in the economic, social, and cultural policies of India. In general, he or she acts as a mere postman and transmits the decisions taken by the government and gives it the aura of a sovereign decision. Except under one unique and special circumstance, when the government of India ceases to exist.

When does this happen? It happens when a general election to the Lok Sabha results in a fractured verdict that leaves the country with no obvious party in power or a Prime Minister, and hence no government. This is when the India regresses back to what someone would say “a barbaric and ungovernable state”. Without a clear mandate, each political party tries to use all resources, legal or otherwise to cobble together a semblance of temporary majority, through which it tries to establish its legitimacy to rule the country. This is the only time when the president, freed from the shackles of abject obedience to the government of the country can reassert his independent line of thought and sense of propriety to move forward the process of forming a government.

The current election to the post of the president is important because the general elections scheduled to be held in 2014 are widely expected to result in such a scenario where no party will win a majority and so, the benevolence of the president (whoever he may be in 2014) will be essential for the party to come to power. There will of course, be a lot of the traditional unscrupulous horse-trading, which will be used to lure legislators and create a majority. But the president’s say in this matter will be of utmost importance.

The election to the president while being irrelevant in the immediate future is important for a second reason as well. By looking at the way political parties line up behind or against each other we get a sneak preview into the political landscape that may emerge after the elections in 2014. Since political parties are rarely ruled by the principles of good governance or ownership, the opportunistic alliances that they are striking today is a harbinger of the posture and alliances that they might happen two years hence. So the political pundits are observing their behaviour in the backdrop of the presidential elections to second guess the same in the future.

On the face of it, this is a straight fight between Mr Pranab Mukherjee, the official candidate of the UPA and Mr Purno Sangma, who is being supported by sections of the NDA. The numbers on the ground suggest that Mr Mukherjee will be winning with a handsome margin, but there are wheels within wheels within wheels. So let us speculate what these wheels could be.

Mr Pranab Mukherjee has been a long time trouble shooter for the Congress and the UPA. But unfortunately, he does not have the confidence of Mrs Sonia Gandhi because after the assassination of Mrs Indira Gandhi he had the temerity to offer himself as a candidate for the post of Prime Minister, ahead of Mr Rajiv Gandhi. And because of this indiscretion, some people suspect that the Gandhi family does not completely favour him in any position of power. This year, Mrs Sonia Gandhi had the option of nominating either Mr Hameed Ansari or Mr Pranab Mukherjee for the post of the president, while Mr Ansari, being of the minority community, and a loyalist was the preferred choice. However, a lot of political discussions later, the UPA went on to name Mr Mukherjee as their official Presidential candidate. Then, Trinamool Congress, the ruling party of West Bengal and a loosely coupled part of the UPA, set a new pitfall. TMC leader, Mrs Mamata Banerjee openly disregarded the UPA’s choice and nominated ex President Dr. A P J Abdul Kalam as her preference. Sparks flew within the UPA, and Mrs Banerjee even went out of her way to rope in Mulayam Singh Yadav to her side.

But politics, as they say, is never an easy game to play, and in spite of a lot of attempts to change popular opinion (to the extent of creating a page for herself on Facebook) she failed, and the UPA stood its ground. Mr Pranab Mukherjee thus remained the official UPA candidate for the president of the country. It is most likely that he will win, but we do know that Mrs Indira Gandhi had staged a coup and had got V V Giri elected against the official Congress nominee, Sanjeev Reddy – so there has been an upset in the past. In 2012, it seems unlikely, but then one never knows what lies in the womb of futurity.

While Panab Mukherjee’s win is almost certain there is one tiny incident that can queer his pitch. Mr Mukherjee held an office of profit at the Indian Statistical Institute in Calcutta. And he should have resigned before filing his nomination for the post of the president. He claims he has done so, but his opponent, Mr Sangma has challenged this claim, by stating that his resignation was submitted after he submitted his nomination and / or his resignation was signed by someone else on his behalf. If these allegations are proven true, then Pranab Mukherjee’s nomination and subsequent election may be cancelled and Mr Sangma may end up as the President in 2014 even though he does not get a majority of votes from the Electoral College in 2012.

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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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