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The BJP Needs To Keep These Facts In Mind Before It Pits Patel Against Nehru Again

In my opinion, history can only be ‘judged’ in the present. It can only happen when an individual, who has diligently followed the course of actions in the bygone years, is ready with a judgement. History can be ‘judged’ when parallels have been drawn by such a person, between different towering historical figures who have been in the thick of things, personalities who had kicked off a particular course of actions or diverted them or even stayed from it. No matter how tall they may stand in history, they cannot be spared this judgement.

‘Judging’ is a very humane attribute. As the nihilist Rust Cohle from “True Detective” puts it aptly, “Look, as sentient meat, however illusory our identities are, we craft those identities by making value judgements. Everybody judges all the time. Now, you got a problem with that, you’re living wrong.” But when people judge a particular period of history and the personalities who have not only lived in that period but have also shaped it, questions are asked and answers sought.

One particular question that fascinates a scholar and a dabbler alike is the ‘what-if’ question. And once this question takes hold of the imagination of people, it ceases to be a question. it becomes a narrative. This ‘what-if’ narrative is a part of democracy – and it can only be a part of a democracy. If history is unquestionable, it probably suggests the absence of democracy.

‘What-if’ narratives often pit leaders against each other – baring their shortcomings, outlining their efficiencies, scrutinising their personal lives, and also bringing into light the lurid details of the scandals they may have been involved in. ‘What-if’ narratives use facts for a discourse that’s entirely imaginative.

Such narratives are also used by demagogues to fuel the masses. Recently, Narendra Modi did the same. And no, I don’t intend to say that he was a demagogue when he pitted Vallabhbhai Patel against Nehru and said the fate of India would’ve been different had Patel, not Nehru, been India’s first Prime Minister. It kick-started a debate that’s not new in nature – and coming from the PM, it was sure to ruffle some feathers. The BJP has, for long, striven to appropriate Vallabhbhai Patel (or at least, his image). However, it’s bewildering to see how BJP willfully put aside the fact that Patel never wanted the RSS to have a say in politics back then. Perhaps, it will be even more bewildering if someone argues that the RSS really doesn’t have a say in politics today.

The Patel vs Nehru discourse has been a debatable topic for long, but recently, it has found more space in the political and intellectual discourse. In my opinion, the BJP’s appropriation of Patel is a result of the Congress’ disowning of Patel. For long, the Congress discarded Patel and ignored his achievements and feats – and the BJP, in its desperate attempt to find a leader who acted as a vital cog in the freedom struggle, besides being the lynchpin in uniting the country post independence, turned to the Iron Man of India.

The BJP chose Patel because it believed, and continues to believe, that Patel shared their ideology. However, this claim that the BJP’s ideology is similar to Patel’s is erroneous, fatuous and factually vacuous. It shouldn’t come as surprise to anyone that Patel initially was not very much keen on making Kashmir a part of India. But BJP won’t tell you this, because if they do, they’ll belie the claims of its supremo. Cherry-picking instances from history and making deliberate use of the selective amnesia to create their own version of history is what the ruling dispensation wishes to do.

The Patel vs Nehru debate will probably keep on raging for a long time, but one needs to know all the facts to make a correct judgement on the matter.

They won’t even discuss that much before Jinnah, it was Lala Lajpat Rai who wanted a partition (that’s a different debate, though). Supposedly, Patel was chosen their leader not by the Congress Working Committee but by the Pradesh Congress Committees. And he was denied the prime ministersial position by Mahatma Gandhi , who believed that Nehru, with his secular and global outlook, was a better man to hold the position. Patel was perhaps a little too much orthodox – and any more orthodoxy in years following the partition would’ve just exacerbated the situation. Gandhi therefore chose his non-Gujarati disciple.

However, did Patel defy Gandhi? No. Did he even ask why? No. Being older than Nehru, he did exactly what’s embedded in the Indian societal tradition – elders sacrifice.

When the BJP rides on its expedition to take over the legacy of Patel , upholstering their historical narrative with select instances to swiftly spread their ideology, they are merely using Patel as the Congress has used Gandhi. While judging history in the present, we can’t turn a blind eye to the context of past. If you are someone who learns history through messages forwarded on WhatsApp, do remember that history is being reduced to a ‘mummer’s farce’ for your sake. And don’t believe whatever a politician tells you.

Read good books, and go through arguments and counter-arguments. Favouritism may play a part when you judge two historical personalities, but that’s okay too, if you have developed your perception after assiduously reading the relevant history of these personalities.

And in the end, ask yourself a question – is this all really worth it ?

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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 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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