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The ‘Secret’ to Modern Indian Elections

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Congress is no longer India’s default and BJP is no longer limited to 4–5 states in the Hindi heartland.

The results of the much awaited 2019 polls are finally out. We are assured of five more years of ‘Modi Sarkaar’. To say that the last five years in Indian politics were chaotic would be an understatement. Everything that we knew and assumed about Indian politics has been overturned. Congress is no longer India’s default (as one of its leaders had remarked) and BJP is no longer limited to 4–5 states in the Hindi heartland. Amidst all this, the blame games have begun, sadly India’s opposition and a section of its liberal class have refused to even attempt to understand the happenings.

Oversimplifications are often frowned upon and for good reason. Rarely is it that one variable has the power to explain and predict everything. Within months of losing three key Hindi heartland states, the BJP seems to have won a landslide in these very states. On the other hand, much of the love-hate relationship of the Shiv Sena and BJP turning foes to friends then again foes and to friends seems to be inexplicable. Add to that the steady decline of India’s Grand Old Party, the obituary of Indian Left Wing politics and all the way to TDP’s breaking up with the NDA.

But what if, there is one trend which can not only explain every election result since 2014 (maybe few elections even before that) but also help us predict accurately what awaits us in the future. This powerful realisation not only helps us understand the mind of the Indian voter and the rationale behind the results but also see the idea behind the seemingly bizarre moves and actions of our leaders. In fact, this idea is not new amd has been talked and written about in detail by commentators such as Morgan Stanley’s Head of Emerging Markets & Chief Global Strategist Ruchir Sharma. Mr Sharma has written about this in great detail in his book- ‘The Rise and Fall of Nations’. This is the trend of the world turning ‘anti-establishment’.

The anti-establishment wave in India was first visible in the ‘India-Against-Corruption’ movement led to Anna Hazare, when the entire nation virtually stood together against its leaders

This anti-establishment wave in India was first visible in the ‘India-Against-Corruption’ movement led to Anna Hazare, when the entire nation virtually stood together against its leaders who had amassed huge amounts of wealth while conditions of ordinary people got worse. Inflation, a slump in economic growth, stagnation in key sectors of the economy, agrarian crisis, a falling rupee leading to woes of traders and lastly rising interest rates. The scene was set, people began loathing the ‘establishment’, which in this case was the Congress. It had all perks of the stereotypical Indian neta who is part of the status quo. The government had grown complacent, showed a lack of sensitivity towards the public, and lastly, decided to keep silent while one scam after another was unearthed. It dodged every question regarding its performance.

On the other hand, we saw an ambitious Narendra Modi grab this opportunity and project himself as the complete antithesis of the ‘establishment’. He boasted about economic growth and conditions under his watch in Gujarat, attacked Pakistan for border skirmishes even before he was anywhere near the PM’s chair, attacked the ‘first family’ of Indian politics, whose conditions and power had remained the same despite the woes of the citizens.

He went further with slogans like ‘Minimum Government, Maximum Governance’. The neo-middle class which owes its standard of living to liberalisation and globalisation took this slogan as a change in the Nehruvian socialistic attitudes of the past. The chest thumping about public infrastructure in Gujarat vis-a-vis the poor governance record in much of the country and the personal Midas touch of his humble roots, made people look towards him as a leader who had emerged from their own ranks and thus understood their woes.

The result was clear, BJP swept one state after another in the run-up to the polls. In the general elections for the first time in 30 years, a party won a majority on its own. In the subsequent polls in long-standing Congress bastions such as Haryana and Maharashtra, the incumbents had to bite the dust. The only places where this juggernaut failed were Delhi and Punjab. In Delhi, it got beaten in its own game by ‘a more anti-establishment’ AAP. In Punjab, BJP was seen as part of establishment due to its proximity and alliance with the SAD(Shiromani Akali Dal). 

In fact, every anti-establishment candidate tasted success in the few years to come. KCR in Telangana, Chandrababu Naidu in Andhra, the Left Front in Kerala. In Bengal, the perpetual anti-establishment voice- Mamata Banerjee returned with a more astounding victory while the CPI(M) having ruled for 34 long years, sunk to the third position. The North-East which had shied away from the BJP became its bastion as people voted out the old guard. Lenin’s fall in Tripura was a symbolic representation of the change in guard.

The North-East which had shied away from the BJP became its bastion as people voted out the old guard. Lenin’s fall in Tripura was a symbolic representation of the change in guard.

A question that pops up every now and then is that- if Modi government has really worked, why does the BJP need to return to its Hindutva politics? Why does the PM return to attacking Congress veterans and figures every now and then? The answer is simple. The BJP and PM Modi wish to keep its anti-establishment image even after being the part of the establishment.

The PM has directly echoed this theme on several occasions, reiterating that he’s not part of the ‘Lutyens’ or the ‘Khan Market’ gang. PM Modi realises that in the minds of the voters, the image of these figures and issues such as ‘minority appeasement’ still remain entrenched as part and parcel of the ‘insensitive establishment’. Moreover, decisions like demonetisation, surgical strikes, and policies such as Ujjwal Bharat, GST, Jan Dhan Yojana whether good or bad, stand out as being ‘unprecedented’, thus chiselling his image as the ‘outsider’ who takes on the ‘establishment’

However, as it happens, one cannot keep this image for too long. In states such as Tamil Nadu and Kerala, the response of the Central government to issues regarding federalism, NEET, response to natural calamities, etc made BJP the establishment in their eyes. On the other hand, DMK leading the charge against a dysfunctional and rattled ADMK, and the Left front not changing its ways and sticking to the old attitudes, inaccessible polit-bureau approach caused its sorry demise across India except in Kerala where it fought against the incumbent Congress.

Karnataka’s former CM Siddaramaiah realised this wave in the last year of his term. He tried weaving the image of an ‘anti-establishment’ crusader against BJP’s alleged disrespect to ‘Kannada ethos’. Instead, the people saw Mr Siddaramaiah as the establishment. In a similar pursuit, Andhra’s TDP realising a formidable challenge from YSRC due to its poor track record in government decided to break away from the NDA.

It made an effort to divert the anti-establishment image towards the ‘unsympathetic BJP government’ at the Centre. Too bad, Mr Naidu didn’t realise that while attempting to sow seeds of anti-incumbency against the BJP, he had joined hands with very people in place of whom he had been voted to power. The Shiv Sena which itself got hit during Maharashtra polls, decided to keep options open. Should anti-incumbency have shown up against the BJP, it too would’ve jumped the ship.

In the state elections that followed in the three key states- Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhatisgarh. Congress returned to power with a much-needed boost before 2019. However, one had to be careful while understanding the results. In these states, the three incumbent CMs were seen as part of the establishment. With plenty of anti-incumbency and an image of their government as inaccessible, people choose Congress. Congress could’ve better its record by placing newer faces as CM.

Instead, the old guard, the same old ‘establishment’ candidates such as Kamal Nath and Ashok Gehlot were made CM. In states like Bengal, leaders like Mamata too began becoming ‘monotonous’ in their approach. When anarchy and street politics become an everyday affair, it too begins to be seen as part of ‘the establishment’. Coupled by governance issues, lack of law and order, lack of trust in police and state institutions, and the much infamous corruption scandals and falling bridges, BJP became the second largest party during panchayat polls. So it wasn’t surprising when India-Today’s Axis MyPoll survey indicated a whopping 19–23 seats for the BJP.

If one reads between the lines, it’s not surprising to why the final tally in 2019 turned out to be the way it is. On one hand, you had the anti-establishment image of Modi, while the opposition led by the Congress though tried its best, couldn’t rid itself of the baggage it carries.

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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, 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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