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If Not Modi, Then Who: The Magic Words That Became India’s Reality In 2019

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As the day of May 23 dawned on all of us, there was a sense of anticipation blanketed in a feeling of nervousness that was evident in everyone that I met. While some hoped for those in power to be de-throned and taught a lesson on how this country’s democracy would not tolerate an attack on its essence, there were others who felt the Bharatiya Janata Party’s return was inevitable. With the day gone now, it would be safe to say that it is going to be the return of the incumbent. It is going to be another five years of the ‘Modi-wave.’

Over the past five years, there have been a lot of flaws with the Modi government, which is not to say that they haven’t delivered some strong measures. Despite these measures, there were a lot of factors at play, that contributed to their victory in the 17th Lok Sabha general elections.

1) The Hindutva Drive

The idea of glorification of Hindutva has been repeatedly implemented by the BJP, thanks to its religious partner, the RSS. In my numerous conversations and own personal experiences, the prevalence of a new sense of pride has come into the picture. A pride that, at times, ends up being too toxic, as is evident from the upsurge in the number of mob-lynchings and acts of violence.

Apart from anecdotal evidence, this parameter has also been seen with the party’s selective pursuit of policy and its institutional persecution of the country’s minorities. For example, the BJP had strongly pushed for the criminalization of the Triple Talaq, instead of just declaring the subsequent divorce void, a step that has been strongly criticized in the legal circles.

Similarly, the party’s opinion on the Citizenship Act of 1955 and the subsequent Citizenship Amendment Bill of 2016 also revealed the government’s stand on religious discrimination. Additionally, with glorification and selection of candidates like Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur, Yogi Adityanath and Swami Sakshi Ji Maharaj into the mainstream politics, the party has sent a strong message pertaining to its RSS-backed ideology.

2) The Media Debacle

This factor, according to me, has played the most significant role in thrusting forward the Bharatiya Janata Party to the frontlines of the race. The media, which is, quite banally now, called the fourth pillar of democracy, contributed immensely to the hyping of the party’s deeds. From repeated coverage of the Pulwama attacks to their lack of will to question those in power with press conferences, to, literally, agreeing to scripted interviews, our news institutions and media houses gave up their duty of protecting the democracy that had birthed them.

Narendra Modi and Amit Shah celebrate the party’s win at the BJP headquarters in New Delhi. (Photo: Amit Shah/Facebook)

 

Forever, it has been the sole responsibility of the institution of media, to hold those in power accountable. Yet, the failure of our beloved anchors and our precious channels in preserving this idea led to the creation of a narrative by the ruling party, a narrative that painted them in a clean and vote-able picture.

A very simple example of this is the media’s silence on a very important issue. Due to its majority in the Lok Sabha, the BJP managed to pass a range of laws and guidelines in its tenure. Some of these laws, as one should read in this three-part series (part 1, 2 and 3), were not passed quite constitutionally. Alas, our media had chosen to turn a blind eye to this gross misconduct and had instead shown the government’s smallest of deeds as being immensely impactful.

3) The Working Cabinet

Unlike this year’s nominations, the BJP had fielded some strong and competent candidates in its 2014 run for the parliament. With stalwarts like Nitin Gadkari, whose ministry delivered perfectly on the infrastructure and transport facilities across the country, or Sushma Swaraj, whose contribution towards strengthening foreign relations has been applauded by social media, on its roster, the BJP was set to reap profits of the work done by it till 2019.

Additionally, the second term of the UPA suffered from policy paralysis, due to the absence of a strong majority in the houses. On topics that required extensive discussion, the government was met with a protesting opposition, that refused to vote and hence bring the work of the houses to a halt. In the case of the NDA, although they were met with similar forms of protests and outbursts, for example, by Congress or the TDP or the AIADMK, their majority in the house hardly stopped their proceedings. This helped them in passing more bills and hence gain a popular following.

4) The Incompetent Opposition

With the results of the polls almost wrapped up, it would not be too much of a stretch to say that Rahul Gandhi’s defeat in the Congress stronghold of Amethi has been one of the biggest surprises of the day. Additionally, this has also come as a reckoning for the Congress party, a signal for them to get their act together, or continue falling in this cycle of endless loss.

The question, “if not Modi, then who?” has been a prevalent query in political debates, both online as well as offline. The existence of this question shows that the country’s population has continued to deny the presence of a suitable alternative to Modi and the BJP. The portrayal of Rahul Gandhi, as had been done in popular media, has led to him being made the butt of a lot of jokes. When this is combined with the popular hatred that has come to emerge against dynastic politics, the Gandhi-family ruled Indian National Congress does not seem like quite the fan-favourite.

After their loss in the 2014 general elections, the party was expected to clean up its act and present itself as a strong opposition. This has hardly happened. With schemes like Nyay being released too late into the campaign and the Congress’ inability to defend its own manifesto at times, the party seems to have crashed and burned.

5) The Establishment Of The Modi Name

Building on point number two on the media’s responsibility, the prevalence of Narendra Modi as BJP’s poster-boy has led to strong sways in favour of the party. His portrayal across media and pop-culture has been one of those rags-to-riches stories, which could be true, but is not correlated to the competency of the individual. This is where the catch is. It is in this correlation that the BJP has successfully managed to publicise Modi.

From extensive PR campaigns, both online and offline, to projecting Mann Ki Baat as a sustainable platform for him to address the public, to simultaneously portraying him as a ‘hip’ leader to attract the first-time voters, the BJP has spared no expense. In my own conversations with people with various backgrounds, the country has agreed to vote for an incompetent candidate in their constituency, if that means contributing towards choosing Modi at the centre.

This creation of a sense of belonging between the electorate and the party in power is public relations 101 and it has helped boost the BJP to the pedestal it finds itself on today.

As the dust settles on these elections, there are only a few things that we, as an educated electorate can do, irrespective of our political inclinations.

Look up to the constitution to preserve it, no matter who you support.

Learn how our democracy is not a gift, but a privilege, and how it is our duty to preserve its essence.

Protect the ideals that this nation stands for, and protect them with your lives.

Most importantly, question! Question those in power, because power corrupts, and it is always us, the weak and defenseless that pay the price of that corruption.

Featured image for representative purpose only.
Featured image source: Narendra Modi/Facebook.
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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.

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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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