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The Real Reason Behind BJP’s Plan For A Post Election ‘Perception Campaign’

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By Ishan Marvel:

Politics in the Age of New Media

It used to be simple. Politicians made promises, won elections, and then forgot about them. They knew that both – information and its channels – were in their hands, and that the majority wouldn’t bother to take a second look. We, in turn would grumble, shrug our shoulders, and in the end, for all practical purposes, join the act of forgetting. It allowed us a perennial scapegoat for everything wrong with our world, so that we could continue with our secure, boxed-up, and relatively-privileged lives without any shred of guilt.

Photo Credits
Photo Credits

It was convenient for everyone, and this cycle was repeated with each election. However, with the exponential rise of multimedia and the internet — especially social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook – over the past half-decade — things looked set to change. Facts have now become (theoretically) accessible in a matter of clicks. Meanwhile, TV debates and sting operations became the rage. And, it has become increasingly difficult to try and remain disengaged from news and politics.

Everyone has realized this — the market, the audience, and the politicians. Traditional media houses have ramped-up their online presence, and quite a few veteran journalists are now pushing their own ventures.

And, Politicians too are not far behind.

They have learnt, or are learning to counter all the information going around with their own information — so much so that one is often at the risk of losing all coherence, given the bombardment of manipulated numbers and motivated opinion in the mainstream media. And, of course, Narendra Modi and the BJP are at the helm of it.

The Modi Bubble: Then and Now

From being accused of riot-mongering, allegedly held responsible for more than a thousand deaths and mass destruction, and declared persona non grata in the US, to becoming one of the most popular Prime Ministers in recent history and quoting Star Wars at Madison Square Garden, Modi has come a long way. Back in 2002, in the wake of the Gujarat riots, he told The New York Times that his only regret was not handling the media better.

Then, in 2007 he roped in APCO Worldwide for this purpose — amongst other things, it is a lobbying and image-building firm with known Zionist affiliations, and whose other clients include the late Nigerian military dictator Sani Abacha, and “corrupt Caspian regimes”, such as Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan, as per The Economic Times.

Of course, both Modi and APCO downplayed this association, but it is clear that the new BJP understands the dynamics of propaganda in the PR age; be it the use of holograms, hashtags, selfies, or radio, Narendra Modi has done it all, and given the fickleness of public opinion, he knows that it is a continual process. He knows that regardless of everything else, it’s important to keep the people convinced that “acche din” are indeed here.

Thus, given the loss of face after the Delhi Assembly elections, and the recent decline in the Modi wave thanks to issues, such as religious conversions and violence, and the Land Acquisition Bill, the BJP is set to launch a new “perception management campaign” to try and calm the public before it gets too restive.

The Hindu reported that the campaign focusing on the achievements of the Modi government through various advertisements and presentations will begin next month, and it will go on till the government completes a year in office. In addition, it quotes party secretary Shrikant Sharma, “Our government is pro-poor and pro-farmer, and that message needs to percolate to every district and every Vidhan Sabha.” This is a statement that seems understandable in the light of the recent Land Acquisition Bill controversy.

Although, in contrast, Satish Upadhyay, the President of the Delhi Unit of BJP, claimed to be clueless about the campaign, “We are not doing such a campaign, we did this before the elections to inform the public about the party, but after the elections there is nothing of this kind, and we are not going to launch such a campaign”.

To know which way the wind blows

While it is still early to pass a conclusive verdict on the NDA government’s performance, Amit Shah’s six-month appraisal, released towards the end of November last year, looks encouraging at first glance. Yet, like the boy who cried wolf, once you acquire a reputation for playing around with statistics for serving your needs and making tall claims, it is hard to let go. The Concerned Citizens’ Tribunal and its reports on the Gujarat riots, and Hemant Shah’s Sachchai Gujarat Ki provide ample testimonies to this.

Amongst other things, Shah vehemently accuses Modi of spouting baseless facts and numbers in order to propagate false ideas about the Gujarat development model. Meanwhile, with the media pushing a myriad of quotes all around, information abounds but well-informed analyses and opinions are scarce.

Nonetheless, as per the latest reports, six out of the seven bills (including the FDI in Insurance, and Coal and Mining bills) pushed by the government have been passed in spite of a lack of majority in the Rajya Sabha.

The one bone of contention that remains is the Land Acquisition Amendment Bill, which for the time being has brought together the various opposing parties (funny how Congress too has joined in. Two words: Remember Vadra?) and it is, in fact, even facing a strong opposition from within the BJP.

The Bill has also been accused of being “anti-farmer” due to some suggested changes to the key points on consent for sale and compensation. As a result, the PM has been forced to come forward and clarify things, accuse the opposition, and try to set a favourable tide again.

In fact, he even seems to be amenable to making compromises, such as retaining consent clauses and giving the states the freedom to make their own decisions. But, as Rohan Venkataramakrishnan concludes: The government’s explanation, “while succinct, isn’t compressed enough to fit into a simple slogan and will be hard for the BJP to spread.”

And meanwhile, all those investors, lobbyists, and voters who have made the Modi dream possible must be getting impatient. No wonder then that the PR-savvy PM has a new image campaign in the works.

Let’s see how that unfolds.

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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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