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The New Karnataka Government Is United In Opposition, Divided In Ambition

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HD Kumaraswamy’s swearing-in ceremony at Bengaluru was expected to be a watershed moment in the millennial politics of India for two reasons. One, for the first time, constituents of the much-discussed “United Opposition” showed up on the political stage. Two, despite being the major alliance partner, by acquiescing to JD(S) and settling for a Deputy Chief Minister, the Indian National Congress (Congress) has politically ceded to regional forces across the length and breadth of India.

Admittedly, the objective of this union at Bengaluru, less than twelve months before the General Elections 2019 is two-fold. One, to communicate to the BJP that its spectacular electoral performances have not been able to faze out the energy of opposition parties. Two, to reach out to their traditional vote-banks and cadres, whose motivation and conviction have repeatedly been challenged by the Modi-Shah juggernaut. As India heads into a vivacious political year, it is only becoming to assess the impact of the rainbow coalition on the BJP, on the members of the coalition themselves and on the electorate.

United Opposition Makes Modi Taller

The United Opposition is a bitter-sweet reminder of the Grand Alliance that was stitched up in 1971, to halt Indira Gandhi’s victory lap. On the one hand, her motley of opponents including old Congress, the Jana Sangh, the Swatantra Party, the Samayukta Socialist Party, Jana Sangh, and Bhartiya Kranti Dal cried “Indira must go”. On the other hand, she cried “poverty must go, disparity must diminish, injustice must end”. Like the Grand Alliance which could only boast of having a common hatred for Indira Gandhi, the only commonality within the United Opposition is its common dislike for Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

I am afraid, just like the Grand Alliance, the United Opposition is also destined to meet the same fate, primarily on account of lack of alternative story to offer to the electorate. While the opposition will talk about how mercilessly Modi has murdered democracy and thus attempt to create an atmosphere of dread and dismay within the minority communities, the astute cadre of BJP will invest time in reaching out to voters and build an on-ground consensus. Imagine the euphoria on roads when the Prime Minister will fold hands, and appeal for votes – “Main kehta hoon garibi hatao, who kehte hain Modi hatao”. It is rather regrettable that BJP mastered Indira’s politics far better than her own party.

It is only naïve and unjaded politicians who will believe that the United Opposition, by sheer virtue of common resistance to Modi, will be able to bruise BJP, let alone make a dent in 2019. If it takes everyone in the business to beat a single competitor, clearly the latter has a lot going for him.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Photo: Mohd Zakir/HT

United Opposition Is A Divided House

As mentioned above, multiple members of the United Opposition have nothing in common, save their agenda to put a brake on BJP in 2019. All leaders are fiercely competitive, and it is wishful thinking that any of them would agree to follow the other. This is essentially a coalition of equals who will not cede power or position for the team. While Akhilesh Yadav refused to comment on Rahul Gandhi’s PM candidature, Mamata Banerjee categorically said that she was present to support HD Kumaraswamy and not Congress. Before even estimating the modalities of the United Opposition, one is forced to question its very viability. With regional leaders brimming with national aspirations and a grand old party struggling to be the “sutradhaar”, my immediate apprehension is whether this team can sustain under the same roof till 2019 General elections. I suspect, the rainbow coalition will be plagued by a spectrum of individual goals, and crumble under its own weight.

United Opposition Will Not Unite Electorate

It is undeniable that perception and messaging dominate political outcomes. It is immoral optics when the Congress or Samajwadi Party in their bid to defeat Modi and not necessarily govern the nation, appropriate brazen mis-governance by signing up with Mamata or share the stage with outdated left ideologues like Sitaram Yechury. The coalition, blinded by its prejudice has seemingly compromised its ethics and ideology – all for an individual. The underlying current of this coalition itself is resistive, not conducive. Even the coalition is called United “Opposition” and not a “Coalition”. Unless this team moves on from the negative end of communication, laced with caustic criticism of an individual to a healthy approach of highlighting governance lapses and provide solutions, it is unlikely that this rainbow of leaders will cut any ice with the voter. In fact, by aligning with certain forces, parties stand to lose some of their otherwise loyal supporters.

One of the high points of the 84th Plenary Session of Congress was, where Rahul Gandhi drew the Mahabharata analogy. He compared Congress with Pandavas and the BJP with Kauravas. Less than two months ahead, this analogy stands on its head. Let us not forget that Pandavas were guided by Krishna alone, while Kauravas lost despite the assorted brain-pool comprising of Drona, Ashwatthama, Jayadratha, Kritavarma, Shalya, Sudakshina, Bhurishravas, Bahlika, Shakuni, Bhagadatta and so on.

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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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