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The 4Ps of Indian Politics: Power, Populism, Pakistan and Padmavati

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I was born in 1989, a year that proved to be a turning point in the history of politics, due to a wave of revolutions that swept across the globe.

Starting with Poland, communist regimes in the Central and East European countries (Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria and Romania) were overthrown in favour of democratic rule. China witnessed the first revolt against communism in the student protests at the Tiananmen Square. The Berlin Wall that had divided West and East Germany for 28 years was dismantled in November. Brazil held the first presidential elections in 29 years. South Africa elected the FW de Klerk government that began the five year-long process to end apartheid.

That year also saw the rise of the National Front, a coalition of Indian political parties led by the Janata Dal, which emerged victorious in the December general elections to form the country’s government. The end of Rajiv Gandhi’s tenure as India’s Prime Minister marked the demise of Nehruvian socialist policies of the previous Congress-led governments.

Two years later, the PV Narasimha Rao government, in which Dr Manmohan Singh served as the finance minister, brought about the reforms that liberalised the Indian economy and opened up the domestic market for private and global players.

I was among the first generation of young Indians who enjoyed the fruits of this policy change. This not only transformed the country’s lifestyle, but also seemingly liberated millions of people from the shackles of poverty.

Power

Despite the impressive achievements since India’s independence, power has always been the central driving force in Indian politics. It still continues to be the primary motivation for many to enter this field. Politicians might claim to be devoted towards the country and the development of its people, but often, their true intentions are to capture and misuse this power for personal gains.

The sad reality is that, for 70 years, the general public has been continuously fooled by countless election campaigns and speeches to vote for someone they think has their best interests at heart. This has led to a dangerous consequence: the country’s educated urban youth are beginning to lose faith in the democratic system and are not participating in the electoral process of the world’s largest democracy.

They often question that since most politicians are the same and most political parties essentially have similar agendas, what difference would their vote really make? This undermines the spirit of free and fair elections, because a society that is ill-informed can be easily misguided. This further emboldens the elected leaders to pursue their vested interests.

Populism

Populism has become the most commonly-used tool in Indian politics. Often, it is a sure-shot way of achieving electoral success. According to Narendra Subramanian (Associate Professor of Political Science at McGill University), populism refers to the act of parties that distinguish between the ‘people’ who are believed to have limited access to spheres of influence, and the ‘elite’ who are dominant in these spheres and culturally distinct from the masses.

Most populist political parties categorise people based on language, occupation, levels of education and religion. These groups are then targeted with freebies and incentives to appease them. They then seek the votes of these groups to attain political power.

Religious and socio-economic populism have been the two most popular measures employed by Indian political parties. For instance, for several decades, the Muslim minority in the country has been used as a vote bank by major political parties – some of which have even gone to ridiculous extents to appease them.

Populism – an age-old favourite ploy of Indian politicians (Photo by Kevin Frayer/Getty Images)

The Indian Constitution recognised economically-disadvantaged sections of the society, especially the Dalits and the Adivasis, by including them in the lists of Scheduled Castes (SCs), Scheduled Tribes (STs) and Other Backward Classes (OBCs) of India. Ambedkar, the chair of the drafting committee of the Indian Constitution, recognised the need to uplift these oppressed communities. Therefore, articles were included in the Constitution that provided reservation for these people in elected bodies, public sector jobs and government-run higher education institutions for these people.

However, while this was introduced as a temporary measure for a period of 10 years, successive governments used constitutional amendments to extend this period – and these reservations are still in place. Despite the fact that most of the reserved seats, in many cases are taken up by the affluent members of these sections (while the really disadvantaged ones) still remain marginalised, political parties continue to use this as a populist measure to garner support during elections.

Pakistan

India became an independent nation when the British formally transferred power on August 15, 1947. However, this freedom came at a heavy cost. Just a day earlier, India had been divided into three parts: West Pakistan, India and East Pakistan (now Bangladesh).

While India decided to remain a secular nation, Pakistan was allegedly conceived to be an Islamic republic. This division on religious lines resulted in one of the largest and bloodiest migrations in human history. Over 15 million people trekked for hundreds of miles to cross the haphazardly-drawn borders into the ‘correct’ nation for them. Over a million died in the process, and hundreds of thousands never made it across the borders.

Since then, the nations have fought four wars with each other (in 1947, 1965, 1971 and 1999). In fact, Pakistan has become the epitome for everything that Indian politicians believe is wrong. So much so, that anyone who remotely raises their dissent with the government’s views and policies is often labelled an ‘anti-national’ immediately, and then asked to ‘go to Pakistan’.

Even though both countries speak similar languages and have similar cultures, they are staunch enemies in the public eye. In my opinion, even a simple cricket match between the two nations creates an atmosphere as tense as the one that President Obama was in, when the US Navy Seals were hunting down Osama bin Laden.

Padmavati

“Padmavati”, the most recent ‘P’ of Indian politics, is not just a Bollywood film. Over the past few weeks, it has become a classic example of what happens when a democratic process is subverted for political gains.

For the uninitiated, “Padmavati” is a movie based on a fictional poem allegedly written by the famous Sufi poet, Malik Muhammed Jayasi, in 1540. The poem is an allegorical story of how Delhi’s sultan Alauddin Khilji unsuccessfully tried to capture the queen of Chittor (in modern-day Rajasthan), who was renowned all over the country for her flawless beauty. Legend has it that when Khilji attacked the Chittor fort, all the men died defending it while the women performed a mass self-immolation to save their honour and dignity. This is a story most Indian children would have heard from their grandparents.

Padmavati – the latest in a series of attempts to score votes easily

A section of the Rajput community, which claims to include the descendants of the Chittor family, took offence to the film. They raised concerns that their queen was wrongfully depicted and their history misrepresented in this yet-to-be-released film. There were widespread protests against the film, and even the chief ministers of some states vowed to ban its release.

Members of the Karni Sena threatened to behead the film’s director and chop off the nose of the film’s lead actress, with one going to the extent of even announcing a bounty as high as $1.5 million for this task. The film’s producers failed to get it certified in time for its scheduled release on December 1, 2017, and had to ultimately succumb to political pressure and its release was delayed indefinitely.

In all this commotion, one question remained unanswered – how could someone comment on a film’s content without watching it, and why were all major political parties giving so much importance to a fictional film? The only hidden agenda was that the ruling party realised that this would distract people’s attention from their failure to deliver. It’s also possible that they saw this as a perfect ploy to gain more votes in the Gujarat state elections.

Once again, this was a perfect example of how political power was used to misguide the general public, while still remaining true to populist intentions and furthering the vested interests of capturing even greater power.

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Featured image source: Kevin Frayer/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.

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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