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Steered By A ‘Clueless’ Rahul Gandhi, What Chance Does The Congress Have?

By Parikshit Khatana:

Much as a large chunk of the country’s populace waits, a certain and a ‘matter of time’ demise of India’s grand old party, and hopes for its resurrection, fade, though gradually, not easily. Those who argue for a ‘healthy democracy’ underscore both rightly and sensibly that to be able to sustain a democratic character we have to have a ‘constructive opposition’. This ironic terminology of being ‘constructive’, though an underlined belief in India, is often given to the ‘obstructive’ ones, but at the same time is essential for the success of democracy. It is a tool to counterbalance a powerful government under Indian system of parliamentary democracy.

NEW DELHI, INDIA - MAY 28: Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi along with party leaders Ajay Maken and others during a 'Mashal Juloos' rally protest against Arvind Kejriwal-led Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government over the ongoing power and water crisis in the national capital, organized by Delhi Pradesh Congress Committee started from Samta Sthal to Players Building, on May 28, 2016 in New Delhi, India. Rahul Gandhi said, "For India to progress, governments need to stop making false & unrealistic promises and instead work to help the people." (Photo by Sonu Mehta/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)
Ajay Maken (left) with Rahul Gandhi. Credit: Sonu Mehta/Hindustan Times via Getty Images.

Indian polity has a very uncommon trait of belying practices theoretically prescribed and constitutionally laid, or justified. We are both murderers and saviours of democracy. For the time being, Lok Sabha has no leader of opposition. Many may argue that people voted for a Parliament to be opposition-less, although this ill-conceived disposition is directly antithetical to anything called democratic. People choose governments in a democracy, not oppositions. Parties, notwithstanding their canny ideologies, have indulged in this rather unfair tradition of divesting Parliament of an opposition leader time and again. That doesn’t, though, in electoral terms, seem off-key, since the electorate decidedly favoured the BJP in 2014 and discarded anything offered by Congress and by any other party for that matter.

Congress is at a historic low – a debacle in the general elections, followed by an unprecedented drubbing in the state assembly elections. As luck would have it for the Congress, it’s virtually on the verge of drowning. This flame of 130 odd years may soon extinguish if not taken care of. Once a ‘powerhouse’ of politics, it is now awaiting its political extinction. Those on board are jumping out of this drowning ship. And, surprisingly enough, the pilot seems clueless, as if he was never qualified enough to be one.

The Congress leadership is accused of writing the narrative of its own decimation. The Gandhis buried, for long, their head in the sand to overlook dissonance in state and central leadership. Well, they succeeded themselves and failed their workers and voters at large. Consequently, Andhra Pradesh, once amongst its strongest bases, has no Congress presence. Apparently, the choice is between Y.S.R. Congress and Telugu Desam Party. In fact, Kiran Kumar Reddy, Congress’ choice for chief minister, after the unfortunate demise of Y.S.R. Reddy left the party in the run-up to the general elections thereby closing all avenues of Congress’ political revival in the state. Congress has no MLA in the Andhra Assembly at present.

Tamil Nadu has not seen and shall not see a Congress government for long. Dravidian parties have been exchanging the seat of power among themselves. Despite being in the backseat, Congress has been squarely blamed for DMK’s defeat in the state. Much averse to an alliance, workers of both parties could not reconcile and put a unified front against AIDMK. Congress’ performance, particularly, is abysmally reflected in the results. Congress could, out of 41 seats, win eight seats only. In Maharashtra, the voter base is shared with the Nationalist Congress Party. Any hope of coming to power alone seems distant now. Sharad Pawar has made the Congress ‘handicapped’. It appears too weak to move alone in the state.

Haryana has chosen to vote Congress out. Conditions have worsened so much that speculations are rife about former CM Bhupinder Singh Hooda leaving Congress and forming his own party. In an unprecedented yet expected political drama, Hooda has made Rajya Sabha elections look like a ‘fixed match’ and shown his might and acceptability among state leaders by getting 14 MLAs’ votes cancelled. But the Congress’ officially supported candidate obviously lost. The most recent and important was its loss in Assam. The old bastion is destroyed. These are a few instances of poor management by the Congress leadership. In most of the above-mentioned cases, Congress’ dwindling vote share can be imputed to either lack of faith or too much faith in the state leadership.

Indian candidate Himanta Biswa Sarma (2nd L) of the BJP is accompanied by supporters on the way to file nomination papers from Jalukbari Assembly Constituency in Guwahati on March 21 2016. Thousands of Indian voters will elect legislators for the 126 seats contested in 25,000 polling stations in Assam state in two phases on April 4th and 11th. / AFP / Biju BORO (Photo credit should read BIJU BORO/AFP/Getty Images)
Himanta Biswa Sarma. Credit: BIJU BORO/AFP/Getty Images.

Few leaders drone about Rahul Gandhi fully taking over the reins of the party and raise the demand that the current president be discharged of her duties. But no political truth is more inevitable than this. It is bound to happen. However, its timing and relevance are better left to be decided by the Congress. An open secret and established fact is Rahul Gandhi being a liability. His political understanding is unworthy, to say the least, to be talked about. He is among the worst performing MPs with regard to attendance and participation in the house. His image of a petulant brat, as Assamese Congress rebel Himanta Biswa Sarma revealed recently, and his visceral style of politics are chronic concerns now. Rahul Gandhi’s persona has been that of a reluctant politician who doesn’t seem courageous enough to lead a party, yet not ready to see anyone else doing so.

People in India often get swayed by impassioned speeches and content-driven scripts. Narendra Modi has quite successfully proven it. Rahul Gandhi’s political management and experiments are full of failures so far. Former Congress leader and now BJP’s pointsman in the North East Himanta Biswa Sarma gave vent to his indignation at the treatment by Rahul Gandhi, despite his sincere attempts to apprise him of the chaos prevalent in state Congress. A ‘non-serious’, lackadaisical attitude is not a politician’s trait. Unfortunately for Congress, Rahul seems to have it aplenty. Hegemonic fiefdoms are not from the democratic world. They are altogether different.

A cadre based party can ill afford to be practically dictatorial. Quite evidently, Congress is one today. Congressmen at the helm appear to be working like a legion meant to protect the Gandhis. Congress stalwarts like Chaudhary Birender Singh, Rao Inderjeet Singh had to board the BJP’s bandwagon as much of their demands and complaints were never heeded. Aggrieved by his constant allegations against Bhupinder Singh Hooda being overlooked by central leadership Birender Singh, a prominent Jat leader, defected to the BJP; hence, writing the obituary of the Congress. The Gandhis are often inaccessible to state leaders and accused of patronising a ‘coterie’ of sycophants. More clarity on Congress’ leadership being politically headstrong emanates from trusting a few leaders too much and ignoring complaints of discontent against their favourites. Indeed a ‘cardiac surgery’ is required.

Congress must understand that acceptance of political identity based on ‘dynasty’ is being eroded and replaced with performance. Their biggest advantage, the Gandhis, are not venerated anymore as they used to be. Most of all Rahul Gandhi who appears to be lowering his standards with every defeat. Exasperated yet chilled out, he keeps calling the government suit boot ki sarkar, not realising that the people have rejected such repetitive tirades.

Rahul seems to be comfortable with the old, conventional and outdated way of politics ignoring the fact that neither the Gandhis nor the Congress are in the 1960s and 1970s. The current situation urgently demands freedom of opinion and transparency in decision making. An outdated excuse of clinging to vote share percentage, while turning a blind eye to election results, may not work any longer. The ‘Young Turks‘ of the Congress, who are result oriented and have a better track record, should be given a greater role in the organisation of the party. Young leaders of Congress party enjoy considerable popularity among different age groups. Their sound political acumen needs to be appreciated and therefore tapped. Needless ambiguity regarding Rahul Gandhi taking over must be settled once and for all.

Opportunities are rife and perhaps the last ones to revive the Congress party. Big states like Punjab, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh will go for polls in the next two years. Punjab is the earliest possibility and, at least, the most likely among all, to register a win. The other four states have BJP’s regional satraps like Shivraj Singh Chauhan, Raman Singh and Vasundhara Raje. Nevertheless, anti-incumbency could well prove beneficial for Congress.

NEW DELHI, INDIA DECEMBER 06: Congress leaders Sheila Dikshit, Digvijay Singh and Jyotiraditya Scindia at the 31st Plenary Session of Indian National Trade Union Congress (INTUC) at the Talkatora Stadium in New Delhi.(Photo by Ramesh Sharma/India Today Group/Getty Images)
Digvijaya Singh and Jyotiraditya Scindia. Credit: Ramesh Sharma/India Today Group/Getty Images.

Gujarat, particularly, is a low-hanging fruit, given its unrestful political environment thanks to the Patel quota agitation and its subsequent mishandling by incumbent CM Anandiben Patel. Madhya Pradesh may provide propulsion for a revival to Congress, provided young leaders like Jyotiraditya Scindia are given an opportunity and the house is put in order. Scindia’s unabated mass popularity and sequential wins in successive elections makes him the strongest and the most deserving choice for Congress. To take on Shivraj Singh Chauhan, a factionalism-ridden Congress in the state requires an energetic and bodacious leader. Rajasthan arguably has strongest state Congress unit under Sachin Pilot who has brought home the bacon by winning by-elections in the state. In Chhattisgarh also, Congress leadership is in troubled waters. However, constant rule of fifteen years by Raman Singh means that anti-incumbency could work in Congress’ favour.

Thus, the resurrection of Congress is a Herculean task which is highly attendant upon the overhauling of the party into a genuinely inclusive political force. The conventional ‘Chintan Shivir’ (introspection session) must be superseded with a ‘Prarivatan Shivir’ (overhaul session). ‘Non-performing’ assets and unpopular faces like Ajay Maken, Digvijaya Singh, Ahmed Patel should gently or forcibly be taken out of decision-making bodies and processes, and be assigned duties that suit them. The central leadership should particularly take stock of the popularity quotient of leaders.

Under Ajay Maken, Congress got reduced to nought in the assembly elections. Digvijay Singh is notorious for politically daft statements from respectfully calling a known terrorist as “Osamaji” to passing ‘sexist’ remarks against former Congress MP Meenakshi Natarajan. Propriety is a great virtue in politics and he seems to lack it. And Ahmed Patel has little popularity among the public. Party decisions must not be left to the discretion of a clique of not-so-popular leaders. The long constructed image of being the sole upholders of socialistic moorings may have to be shunned and the party must project itself as a champion of economic principles and policies that are desirable for a new India. Central leadership, especially Rahul Gandhi, needs to be more heedful of suggestions and demands of states’ leadership. Therefore, inclusiveness, not sycophancy, needs to be promoted.

Featured image credit: Ramesh Pathania/Mint via Getty Images.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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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