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Will A Congress-Left ‘Understanding’ Pave The Way For A Broad Secular Alliance In 2019?

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The 22nd party congress of the CPI(M), the biggest Left party in India, concluded in Hyderabad on April 22. The message of the party congress was loud and clear. Sitaram Yechury and the pragmatists in the CPI(M), largely backed by Bengal unit of the party, had emerged victorious. Prakash Karat and the dogmatists in the party backed by Kerala unit largely had failed to maintain their political line, which was to not have any electoral alliance with the Congress.

Also, the dogmatists failed to have Sitaram Yechury replaced as the General Secretary. This sent out a wave of enthusiastic response from across the left-liberal sections the opposition camp and sympathisers of the Left.

The Significance Of A Congress-Left Understanding

So what is the big deal about an understanding between the Congress and the Left? Well, it opens a pandora’s box of possibilities as far as the Congress and the Left are concerned.

  • Firstly, it allows the CPI(M) state units to forge tactics and seat adjustments with the Congress like in West Bengal, where both the Congress and the Left need each other to maintain their second position against a fast-rising communal BJP and a dictatorial and powerful Trinamool Congress. Similarly, it could work well for the Left to have an understanding with the Congress in states like Maharashtra or Bihar or Karnataka, where the Left has a small presence.
  • Secondly, it sends a strong signal that the Congress and the Left are together when it comes to parliamentary and extra-parliamentary struggles. The most recent example would be the impeachment motion by the opposition against the Chief Justice of India, where the Congress, CPI, CPI(M), NCP, SP and BSP were the primary backers. The motion was the brain child of Kapil Sibal and Sitaram Yechury. Interestingly, Mamata Banerjee backed out of this.
  • It pushes Sitaram Yechury to the centre stage as a pivotal leader of the opposition camp. Sitaram Yechury is known to share an excellent rapport with the Gandhis – both Sonia and Rahul. Also, he has friends across the opposition camp, among parties the Congress would be wary of approaching like the BJD or the YSR Congress or the JD(S) etc. He is a pragmatic, very well-learned, clean personality whose presence will only strengthen the opposition camp.
  • The Congress needs an ideologically strong partner like the Left which is not opportunistic like other regional players and is very strong on the fundamentals of secularism and socialism. The Left could act as a watchdog for the Congress like in the UPA-I days and keep a check on excesses.

Let us look at Bengal specifically for a while. The communal polarisation during the Ram Navami celebrations by the BJP has shown that it is playing the communal card to become the primary opposition in Bengal. The Trinamool Congress has also been feeding on minority appeasement which is raising suspicion in the minds of Hindus who are slowly drifting to the BJP. This has pushed the Left and the Congress into a corner and there is a serious chance of BJP becoming the main opposition in Bengal. No wonder then that as soon as the 22nd party congress was concluded in favour of ‘understanding’ with the Congress, the Bengal Congress chief Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury expressed his satisfaction and hope that the Congress and Left could now go ahead with a full steam based on their understanding in Bengal.

It is clear to both the Left and the Congress that it is imperative for them to work together, starting from the panchayat polls to the 2019 Lok Sabha polls if they want to halt the BJP and check the supremacy of the TMC.

The Roadmap For The Opposition

Congress needs to perform well and try to win most of the states going to polls in 2018 – especially in places where they are in direct opposition to the BJP such as Karnataka, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh. If they could win even three out of the four states mentioned above, the Congress would become the defacto leader of the opposition camp. If it fails to win in three states or more, the opposition camp of the TMC, TRS, BJD, TDP which wants to maintain its distance from the Congress would try to take the lead to form the third front. Hence, it is imperative for the Congress to win Karnataka and Rajasthan and at least come close to winning Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. A win in Karnataka for the Congress would set the ball rolling.

Who could be the key players for a possible UPA-III? In my opinion, the Congress could form an alliance with the CPI, CPI(M), NCP, SP, BSP, NC, DMK, RJD. We could also have the TMC, YSR Congress and TRS supporting or joining the UPA – III.

Let us look at some of the key state-level alliances which could give the BJP a run for their money:

Tamil Nadu: DMK+Congress+Left

Maharashtra: Congress+NCP

West Bengal: Left+Congress

Bihar: RJD+Congress+Left

Uttar Pradesh: SP+BSP+Congress

Jammu and Kashmir: NC+Congress

Jharkhand: JMM+Congress

Orissa: Congress+Left

In my opinion, these are the key state-level alliances which could turn the tables on the BJP. But a lot will hinge on how the Congress performs against the BJP in states where they are the primary opposition. To emerge as the principal opposition, the Congress needs to perform well in these states. In my view, no real alternative is possible without the Congress. All these talks of a third or fourth front are not very practical and sustainable.

Only a UPA-III, headed by the Congress and glued together by the Left, based on secularism, social justice and welfare economics could be a credible alternative to the present government.

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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.

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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.

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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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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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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.

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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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