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Akhilesh Yadav Wants To Do A Bihar, But Is A ‘Mahagathbandhan’ With BSP Even Possible?

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By Anand Singh:

If Delhi was read as a minor roadblock for the BJP, then Bihar must surely have come across as a major yank to the party that swept to a euphoric victory in the general elections just a year and a half ago. The Bihar election results are widely being seen as clear writings on the wall: “That which was almost invincible some time ago has probably exposed its Achilles’ heel this time around.” The underlying message may not be too hard to decipher.

The party in power has been defeated, and it might not be an exaggeration to term the defeat a humiliating one, debilitating even. Given the high-pitched histrionics in the run up to the polling carried out in five distinct phases, the margin of defeat has dealt a body blow to the BJP. In addition, it has bolstered the notion that a consolidation of opposition votes can be decisive in turning the tide against the party in power at the center. The strategic state of Uttar Pradesh can learn a lesson or two in coalition politics from the ‘mahagathbandhan’ in Bihar, but it would be naïve to assume that UP is Bihar. SP and BSP are no RJD or JD(U), either. However, the possibility of an alliance between the two regional satraps who have controlled the seat of power in Lucknow for the larger part of the last two decades cannot be ruled out.

Presumptuousness, too, should be avoided in this regard.

Soon after the grand coalition swept to power in Bihar with an overwhelming majority, UP Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav was quick to propose a mahagathbandhan, a la Bihar, between his party and the Bahujan Samaj Party, led by the astute politician and administrator, Mayawati. His political naiveté must have earned him the disfavor of his father and SP boss Mulayam Singh Yadav, for he was swift to retract his statements, issuing a clarification to the effect that the statements he had made were his personal views and that a final call on any such possibility would be taken by his party.

UP Elections

The electoral politics of the states within the Indian Union are quite different from that of the Center. However, there is one resounding similarity across the broad horizontal political spectrum. Ideological considerations are safely relegated to the backburner for the purpose of furthering one’s electoral prospects. After all, what sane person would have even thought that that the two arch-rivals, Lalu Prasad and Nitish Kumar would form an alliance? But it seems that the exigency of political survival coaxed them into taking such a decision. Whether Mulayam and Mayawati are able to conjure up a similar such alliance in the populous state of Uttar Pradesh remains a matter of much vile speculation.

Given the political arithmetic, the psephologists might rule in favour of an alliance. In the last elections to the legislative assembly of Uttar Pradesh in 2012, SP managed to secure a whopping 224 seats in the 400 plus strong assembly. BSP trailed far behind with just 80 seats. Now let me explain. The first past the post system has its own demerits. Consider this, in terms of vote share, BSP lagged behind SP by an infinitesimally thin margin of 3 percentage points. Therefore, it is not necessary that a party that gobbles up the maximum share of seats may have the majority of vote share up its kitty as well. It is an age-old democratic cliché, but that is not the point here. The scales here are tilted overwhelmingly in favour of an alliance between the two parties. Here in Uttar Pradesh though, things have an uncanny way of not merely conforming to the electoral arithmetic. The social conditions in the state point towards a path that has been scantily traveled hitherto, and requires some serious unraveling.

Dhirendra Rai, an assistant professor at the Department of Journalism and Mass Communication at Benaras Hindu University (BHU), says, “All this talk of a possible alliance between the two parties is nothing more than wishful thinking. The core vote banks of both the parties are mutually exclusive of each other.” This requires some explanation. While the Samajwadi Party has the dominant OBC vote bank of the Yadavs behind it, the Bahujan Samaj Party claims to be the chief spokesperson for the dalits and minorities in the state. Besides, Yadavs are perceived as the principal tormentor of dalits in the across UP. The political clout they enjoy when their party is in power often spills over in the form of ugly violence they perpetrate against the dalits. Back in 2012, as soon as Mulayam Singh’s party was slated to form the next government in the state, the hardcore party loyalists of SP burned down the houses of some dalits. These are not scattered and stray incidents, but rather a part of an ugly agenda which reeks of blatant casteism. The two parties coming together would be akin to the most horrid nightmare of the dalits coming to life. In such a situation, it’d be most unlikely that a transfer of individual votes may take place in favour of the alliance.

Mayawati is seen as a champion politician. Even though the clamour for bonhomie between the two parties grows increasingly vociferous, Mayawati has not made any overtures to the party in power. Moreover, unlike in Bihar where RJD and JD(U) were born of the same political movement and later parted ways owing to certain ideological differences, BSP and SP are an entirely different political phenomenon. Any long standing observer of politics in the state would vouch for it. Cambridge historian F.W Maitland liked to remind his students that what is now in the past was once in the future. Since ideological considerations are seldom at the forefront of Indian politics, Maitland’s edict must be allowed to prevail until such a time when something concrete materializes out of the power corridors of Lucknow.

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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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