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Has Bihar Changed The Future Of Coalition Politics In India?

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Democracy in any country is a messy business. And in India, the regulated periodic elections bring people out on the streets in full force in a way that is unseen in other countries of the world.

Concepts like ‘freedom’ and ‘democracy’ have changed since Plato and Aristotle. The theoretical foundations of society have been changing through countless socio-political processes. Nowadays, we have new spaces and new apparatuses that we can use to understand these changing phenomena. Biopolitics is now a word that takes another value in our lives. Our idea of subjects and individuals will not be the same for too long.

Subjects and the use of power by entities like the state and state actors are no longer a secondary matter as history and philosophy join together to provide ideas and support to contingent and evolving opinions.

Politics cannot be well-thought-out in the absence of participation of the people, whether such participation is represented, as in the parliament, or whether it’s with direct democracy involving direct participation of the masses. In any kind of situation, the participation of the subject underlies the whole idea. It avoids political activity from becoming something akin to an army or led by a devout group of believers wherein only the will of the group’s head is followed.

India is a nation with the number of political parties ranging in double digits. It follows a multi-party system and today, there exist many political parties at regional as well as national levels.

If we look at the era between the 1950s to late 1960s, this period is defined by Rajni Kothari as the period of Congress predominance. The dominance of the Congress in this era was witnessed both at regional and national levels. However, the gradual emergence of regional parties made it difficult for a single party to attain clear majority to form a government. Thus began the need for coalition politics.

Image Credit: Arun Sharma/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

Coalitions bring instability in functioning and policy making. A coalition government forms when two or more political parties form an alliance, compromising on their respective party policies and agendas.

A coalition is made up of democratically elected representatives, but in itself, it is a way to grab power regardless of the verdict of the electorate. Coalitions create political insecurities because no one knows when the government may destabilise.

The opportunistic nature of certain people to usurp power by using their charisma deceives the people and breaks their trust. This shows how political propagandists can dehumanise individuals, especially when they become subservient to the will of unjust institutions rather than their own conscience.

The people of Bihar had to suffer from flawed and corrupt leadership. When political leaders and their constituents are subjected to the same laws as ordinary people, only then the state becomes a rational social structure, instead of being a tool for domination.

The 2015 Assembly elections in Bihar were contested against communal forces by the Rashtriya Janta Dal (RJD) and Janta Dal United (JDU), along with the Congress. After the alliance, Lalu Prasad Yadav said, “We are coming together to defend secularism by defeating Modi, Amit Shah and the RSS.”

Nitish Kumar, the present Chief Minister of Bihar, had at the time vehemently argued, “Our biggest challenge is to defeat the forces of communalism represented by Mr Modi.” 

With the victory of the ‘Mahagathbandhan’ in Bihar, analysts had said that coalition politics in India was far from over. The coalition was composed of the Indian National Congress and two former rivals: the RJD and the JDU. Although the three parties had varying ideologies, a common enemy united them.

Bihar’s ‘Mahagathbandhan’ didn’t even last two years before the political game in the state took a U- turn. Now, Nitish Kumar has switched to Modi’s side and formed government with the support of the BJP. Along with this, secularism seems no longer worth fighting for as the CM of Bihar shifts his stance from defending secularism to having ‘zero tolerance‘ towards corruption. This move, which reeks of moral bankruptcy and sheer opportunism, has been given an artful spin.

But the amidst all this political drama, much of reality seems to have been lost. Despite all the overemphasis and suggestions that elections have high stakes, politics in Bihar may not be of as much gravity as the prevalent narrative suggests. Some people still believe that the results could damage Modi’s standing within his own party.

Was Nitish Kumar previously ‘secular’? And now that he has allied himself with the BJP, has he become ‘communal’? Should we ask some questions as to why Nitish Kumar’s morality was not outraged during the 2002 Gujarat riots when Modi was the Chief Minister of Gujarat? Why did he support the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) led by then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee? Why did he distance himself from the NDA when Modi was made the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate? And why, today, does the issue of corruption trump the atmosphere of violence and fear that is all around us?

It is interesting to see that some of Nitish Kumar’s supporter are busy erasing what he and the BJP have said against each other in past. But I think they should press the pause button because who knows what happens next. In politics, there are no permanent enemies or friends. The truth is that both communalism and corruption should be resisted in an uncompromising and nondiscriminatory manner.

The duplicity cuts across the parties. Can the BJP who, at present, are targeting the Congress and Lalu Prasad Yadav for corruption, explain their cosy relationship with the Reddy brothers in Karnataka – the mining tycoons charged with massive fraud? Or how they are at peace with Congress defectors in uttarakhand? Last but not the least, how is the BJP at peace with the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), who have a softer stance towards the Kashmir conflict?

All said and done, political parties will continue to rely on coalitions regardless of electoral verdicts. This has its advantages as well as disadvantages. In the ultimate analysis, it is the competency of the government and not whether it is a coalition or an individual party which plays an important role in impacting the welfare of the people. Whether the right decisions come from a coalition or an individual ruling party, they will always be appreciated and rewarded by the public.

However, coalition politics in this part of the world are not stable; they are prone to the constant flux of power. People need to refuse the corruption of power. Wherever there is an accumulation of power, corruption will prevail and with that, domination and oppression of the individuals by the state. Coalition politics brings out opportunism and the vested interests of certain individuals take priority over that of the community as a whole. In other words, we can say that such politics can be linked to a future where everything belongs to the state and no one is free.

But what happens if the process is corrupted? Ambiguous psychological apparatuses are used these days to make people believe what is not true. This supports the idea of a ‘transversal’ vision of reality but demands the involvement of main social structures like governments, schools, etc which are capable of establishing the reality.

When politics comes into the act, the entire landscape becomes organically dynamic. With this, if the state, as a major institution for subjects, is not able to provide whatever the parts involved need, instability in the form of revolutions or questioning of authority is impossible to stop.

When politics is measured as responsibility instead of creating advantages for the wealthy and dominant groups, then the end goal will bring success to the whole of society and therefore ensure its transformation and autonomy. It must ensure a better future, not only development in a materialistic way.

Nowadays, coalition based government try constantly to aspire to a better political system considering the responsibilities of the ‘wise ones’ over the rest. However, many times, these more well-off actors of the political system couldn’t resist the idea of pursuing a better future – not for the people but themselves.

Many times, authoritarianism and the need to procure material wealth become the driving factors for exercising any political activity which results in growing dissatisfaction among those who couldn’t enjoy that wealth. They start to see the gap between themselves and the ones in power.

To govern then becomes a disguise for looting, with those in power justifying their actions by arguing that it is their right to make an authoritarian use of resources – that many could not really understand how it is to govern a country or a city. The ‘elites’ do not always bear an altruism that will promote the well-being of the majority but are constantly susceptible to ideas that maintain their own status as a beneficent minority.

Unfortunately, those who exercise power in the form of authority will have to become more creative and constantly develop new tools to maintain power.

Arif Khan is a research scholar at Dept. Of History and Culture, Jamia Millia Islamia. He is interested in conflict studies. He regularly writes on Kashmir conflict, and other issues of socio-political concern. He can be reached at karif2172@gmail.com.

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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.

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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)’.

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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
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