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Kejriwal Is Proving To Be A Wiser Version Of Karna In The Political Mahabharata Of India

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A new age version of the Mahabharata has been unravelling in Delhi since 2013, but no one seems to have noticed it. The eventual war is yet to materialise but dark clouds have been looming. But this time, there is a huge twist to the story. Karna isn’t taking sides. He isn’t going to accept a life in the feudal world of the Pandavas and Kauravas – and he has gone against both at the same time, which. in turn, seems to have united the cousins against him. Surprisingly, now the smaller kingdoms seem to be allying with Karna rather than the Pandavas or the Kauravas.

The similarity is uncanny. Karna was born accidentally, when Kunti was checking to see if the boon she had received does work. In the current context, there were several reports that claimed that the anti-corruption movement started by Anna Hazare in 2013 was in fact orchestrated by the BJP to unseat the Congress from power. The rise of Arvind Kejriwal and the formation of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) were unintended and unexpected byproducts of this movement.

Karna was indebted and obliged to Duryodhana for the rise of his status in society, but Kejriwal saw no need to exchange his conscience to gain support from any political party for his and AAP’s survival and growth. His rise to prominence was far too quick for both the Congress and BJP to digest. They quickly realised that he could well become the biggest obstacle in their quest to establish a bipartisan political system in India (like in the US). They have no option but to unite to quell the challenge he has posed to them.

The beginning of the Aam Aadmi Party was a tumultuous time for Kejriwal. Once he set his agenda to go against the Congress and the BJP, sympathisers of both parties started attacking the AAP from within and outside the party. Kejriwal also had to contend with power-hungry comrades who wanted to fight elections and seize power wherever they could. When he tried to bring their hunger for power under control, he was labelled an autocratic ruler.

Yet, through all the uncertainty, AAP contested the Delhi elections in 2014 and managed to break the duopoly of the long-standing Congress’ and BJP’s rule in Delhi. A hung assembly ensued – and after a vociferous appeal from within AAP, he decided to take the support of the Congress to form the government. But little did he realise that it was just the first step on the road that could lead him to his downfall. After a mere 49 days, AAP and the Congress parted ways.

Then came the general elections. The Modi wave was in full flow. He was touted as the next big thing to happen in India – and was expected to lead BJP to power as if it was a cakewalk. Kejriwal was again coaxed into contesting the elections and challenging Modi in Varanasi. Though he lost as was widely expected, unbelievably, AAP managed to win four seats in the Lok Sabha – a feat unheard of, for a party in its infancy.

It was after this debacle that he seemingly realised that everything that happened – from making him join hands with the Congress to forming the government in Delhi to contesting against Modi – was in reality a grand plan to cull his political aspirations and condemn him to the wilderness forever. However, taking a leaf out of King Arthur’s tale, he seemed to have quickly and quietly set up his own ‘Knights of the Round Table’ to plan his way forward. This, in turn, ultimately led him to securing a stunning win in the Delhi elections in 2015.

It would seem that the Congress and BJP  have blundered, time and again, in their strategies to deal with Kejriwal. He seems to be feeding from the energies directed against him by both the parties to make himself stronger and grow bigger. If the Congress and BJP hadn’t perceived Kejriwal and AAP as a threat (when they were in their political infancy), the party (which was just a group of disgruntled citizens at that time) could have had imploded because of their lack of political know-how. The ‘external threat’ of the Congress and BJP hounding them seems to have gelled them together, and they stood strong with Kejriwal. Now, they have become the heart and soul of the party.

But, I believe the biggest mistake was to have Kejriwal defeated in Varanasi. The expectation was probably that the loss would spell his doom forever. No one expected him to rise back again like a pheonix from the ashes. In hindsight, they must be regretting the fact that if he had won in Varanasi, he would have probably been boxed up as a MP in the Lok Sabha – and that without his sustained presence, AAP would have never won the Delhi elections in 2015.

Kejriwal’s similarities with Karna are uncanny, but he seems to be wiser and more adept at surviving and winning than his Mahabharata counterpart ever was.

Furthermore, instead of using their resounding victory in the 2014 Lok Sabha election as a plank to call for immediate elections in Delhi, BJP wasted precious time basking in the glory of victory. They gave Kejriwal the time and space he needed to recuperate, stabilise and strategise his next moves in Delhi. By defeating him in Varanasi and dilly-dallying with the election in Delhi, they had inadvertently resurrected his political lifeline and created the formidable adversary that he has become now.

Kejriwal seems to have just two items on his governance agenda – eradicate corruption and educate the people – both of which can not only disrupt the existing political system but potentially destroy it. After he won the landslide victory in Delhi, he seems to have taken his gloves off in his fight against the heavyweights, and has been punching and hurting them far more than they had ever thought he could. Delhi, being a quasi-state and the seat of the central government, has always been a grey area when it comes to the distribution of governance among the state and central governments. Kejriwal, with his limited powers of governance and his hard-nosed approach towards the Congress and the BJP, wasn’t expected to go far.

But his drive to fulfill the promises in AAP’s election manifesto in 2014 seems to have endeared him to people and that was the primary reason he was elected back with a full mandate. In the past three years, AAP’s governance in Delhi has met with resounding success and has been praised not only in India but even at the global level, with his Mohalla clinics and educational reforms coming in for special recognition.

Seeking desperate measures to stall his success, the BJP government has been using every possible option (including the erstwhile and present governors of Delhi and now the bureaucrats) as their pawns. But right from the time he rained accusations against Mukesh Ambani in a televised press conference, Kejriwal seems to have just one objective on his mind. It doesn’t seem like he is mindful of an eventual victory or loss every time he goes on the offensive.

His objective is to show the people of the country what the political parties have been doing all along in the name of governance. Their election manifestos still talk about providing power, water and education to people. All three are fundamental rights of people of the country – and any government, irrespective of the political party/parties that has/have formed the government are obliged to do what is required to meet these needs of the people without claiming any success for it. In that context, a recently-released report by NDTV shows how the education system and condition of government schools in Delhi have improved by leaps and bounds since 2015, when AAP formed the government. Yet none of the AAP leaders are shown to be taking any credit for the remarkable turnaround and Kejriwal wasn’t even featured in the video.

From the time the Congress and the JD(S) joined hands to thwart the BJP from forming the government in Karnataka after the state elections, speculations have been rife about a mahagathbandhan of all the smaller and regional parties (with the Congress at its helm) taking shape to defeat the BJP in the 2019 general election. However, the Congress has mindfully and consistently avoided and kept Kejriwal and AAP away from all the meetings between Opposition parties. The signs, however, have been ominous for both Congress and BJP. Kerala, which has a communist party-led government and has successfully kept the Hindutva ideology at bay and prevented it from taking roots in society, also has a warm relationship with Kejriwal and AAP. Then, Kamal Haasan invited Kejriwal to the launch of his party in Chennai. Inspite of the JD(S)’ bonhomie with the Congress in Karnataka, Kumaraswamy still invited Kejriwal for his swearing-in-ceremony.

Now, with the ongoing impasse at the Delhi L-G’s office and the attention and support he has been receiving from regional parties and state governments, the question that comes to my mind is whether the mahagathbandhan is forming around Arvind Kejriwal and AAP. Is this the opportunity smaller national parties and regional powerhouses have been waiting for, to oppose the BJP in unison and free themselves from the clutches of the Congress hegemony at the same time?

However, there is also a stark difference between the Congress hobnobbing for an alliance and Kejriwal receiving unconditional support from other parties. If such an alliance does materialise, it will relegate the Congress into a corner with no hope of a revival of their fortunes. As it is, Kejriwal has already delivered a killer punch to the Congress by questioning the loyalty of Rahul Gandhi and the Congress towards the people of Delhi in a televised interview. On the other hand, if the alliance manages to usurp NDA in the 2019 election, it will likely sound the death knell of BJP in every state.

I am expectantly waiting to see how this modern day Mahabharata plays out from here. Karna was too righteous and headstrong, which is why he ended up on the losing side. If he hadn’t nbeen headstrong and obstinate, even Lord Krishna would not have been able to go against him. And without Krishna as the charioteer, Arjuna could never have defeated Karna. He gave away his protective armour to Indra despite seeing through his disguise. This is because he chose to remain steadfast in his decision to fulfill the wishes of any Brahmin who came to him when he was returning after his bath.

Kejriwal too seems to be too righteous and headstrong. But unlike Karna, he is fighting for himself and his agenda – which means he has the choice to continue his fight till he succeeds or loses, or just let everything go, one fine day, and live a retired life in the contentment that he tried doing what he wanted to do and gave his best shot. Hopefully, this will help Kejriwal see through disguises and not make egoistic decisions on his road ahead.

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Will the Mahaghatbandhan take shape around Arvind Kejriwal and AAP for the 2019 elections?
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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.

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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.

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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, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’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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