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How BJP Won, And Lessons For Congress From Gujarat

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The BJP is on a winning streak with two more states in its kitty. Now, the saffron party either directly rules over or shares the power with its allies in 19 Indian states. The win in Gujarat (the sixth in a row) and the decisive victory in Himachal Pradesh mark a paradigm shift in Indian politics.

These wins not only intensify the dominance of the Modi-led BJP, they also signify the roadblocks in the path of other major political parties to retain power in their respective bastions. These include the ones in the way of the reviving Congress, which is exerting itself to remain relevant in the larger electoral picture.

The poll victories seem to partially exonerate the reform agendas of the ruling party, which were under the spotlight, following the poorly-thought demonetisation and the hastily-introduced GST reforms. The reforms caused, as many believed, unnecessary hardships and brought the poor to their knees, as they found it extremely difficult to go about their lives. But, all these difficulties turned futile, as the electorates remained loyal to the BJP and handed it back-to-back victories.

How Did The BJP Triumph?

BJP is a party backed and patronised by the Sangh Parivar, with an extensive reach and a widespread network of its shakhas (branches) spanning the length and the breadth of the country. This is the primary reason which helps the party to have a dominant presence even in the remote corners of the country.

The BJP simply follows the path laid down by its patrons. In my opinion, it seems to survive on Hindu majoritarian rhetoric, and thrives on its divisive innuendos, falsehood and fear-mongering. It also stokes religious sentiments often, and falls back to its communal tactics and polarisation of the electorates.

In urban areas, the BJP often projects the slogan of vikas and an ambitious persona of PM Modi in order to appeal to the urban middle class. This is what the governing party did in Gujarat, where it successfully managed to consolidate the urban middle-class voters in its favor – thereby leading it to win 36 out of the 42 seats in the urban areas.

The party won 46 of the 55 assembly seats in Ahmedabad, Surat, Vadodara and Rajkot. Interestingly, the BJP clinched 15 of the 16 seats in Surat, despite the diamond city seeing one of the biggest protests against GST. This is because Gujarat is one of the most urbanised states in India, where the influential middle class is ambitious and aspires for a world-class lifestyle. It was also swayed by Modi’s pitch on large infrastructure, wealth generation and the projection of India as a potential global power.

In my opinion, the BJP projects ‘development’, ‘infrastructure’ and ‘economic growth’ as tools to appeal the urban electorates. On the other hand, it seems to raise communal issues such as cow protection, the Ram Mandir, ‘love jihad’, Muslims and Pakistan (as threats to the majority) to woo rural electorates. These are the instruments the saffron party is often seen resorting to. In some cases, it blends all these issues in a bigger form: Hindus versus the ‘other’, with the former subsuming other subsidiary identities like those based on caste.

In addition to this, the saffron party can also stoop pretty low to grab power. For example, a desperate Modi engaged himself in an aggressive campaign during the second phase of Gujarat elections, where he took a jibe at the Congress’ top leadership for meeting Pakistani diplomats in New Delhi.

Similarly, Modi also raised and exploited the ‘Gujarat asmita‘ for political gains, besides lashing out at Mani Shankar’s ‘neech’ remark. He also allegedly stoked fears of Ahmed Patel being Gujarat’s chief minister, if the Congress won the state polls.

These tactics bore fruit for the BJP and may have even been a face-saver for them. However, they fell short of the 150-seat target set out by the party president, Amit Shah.

The BJP should learn a lesson from this. It should do a reality check and reconnect with the alienated electorates. It should take steps to mitigate agrarian distress and address the issue of declining incomes among the rural people, if it wants to be an enviably-formidable party.

Lessons For The Congress

A new approach introduced by the Congress in Gujarat yielded political dividends, as the old party displayed an exceptional performance in Modi’s home turf. It ended up with 77 seats – up from its previous tally of 61 in the last assembly elections.

The Congress managed to make inroads in the BJP’s citadel, riding on the support of three local icons: Hardik Patel, Alpesh Thakor and Jignesh Mevani. But, the old party failed to convince the urban electorates in its favor, despite a prominent anti-incumbency wave and rising discontent among both rural and urban electorates.

With 77 seats in its kitty and the support of three candidates including the popular Dalit leader Jignesh Mevani (who is a symbol of hope for the marginalised communities), the Congress has its task cut out to prove its caliber and raise the people-centric issues in the assembly. It can even drive the tide in its favour in the next general elections scheduled for 2019. In my opinion, it’s time that the Rahul-led party launched a country-wide campaign against the BJP’s communal politics, empty rhetoric and the growing number of hate crimes to subdue it in the next general elections.

The Congress should frame a poll strategy revolving around the real issues people face – such as the crumbling healthcare system, the near absence of quality education, growing unemployment, and jobless economic growth. The party should not waste its time in proving that it is no less of a Hindu party (compared to the BJP), as it did by making several temple visits in poll-bound Gujarat. Rather, it should win the trust of the people on the performance plank and by framing people-centric policies.

We, the electorates, can expect a better election bandwagon in the upcoming Karnataka and Tripura state elections scheduled for the next year. We would like to see political parties across the spectrum to woo the electorates on the plank of delivering promises – and not resort to appeasing either the majority or the minorities.

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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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