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How The Congress Designed Its Own Downfall By Ignoring The People’s Voice

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Since the election results were announced on May 23, the Congress (and most of the opposition) has gone into some kind of a convolutional fit. India’s Grand Old Party – the Indian National Congress, is facing a crisis of unparalleled proportions. So much so that for the first time, there is a leadership vacuum due to reluctance instead of competition. The ridiculous fashion in which senior leaders and the CWC has conducted itself will (if it hasn’t already) turn out to be virulent for the party. Recently, they decided not to send their spokespersons to TV debates, because let’s face it, nobody knows what the Congress is up to!

As much as everyone would like to blame the dismal electoral performance on the Modi wave, or the sudden Hindu nationalist narrative unleashed, or media propaganda, or aggressive national security policies and decisions, the truth is, this election was never the Congress’, neither did it ever belong to the opportunistically stitched together Federal Front of the Mahagathbandan. The failure of the Congress is the result of a series of blunders and miscalculations it has undertaken since 2014. Each one contributing its bit to the ultimate disaster that unfolded on the 23rd. In fact, as written in an earlier post, the Congress failed to even understand the silent anti-establishment undercurrent that has gripped the nation.

To begin with, the NYAY debacle. NYAY as an election promise or policy for the matter, was destined to fail. Once again the Congress showed that the top echelons and their attitudes haven’t changed much, and as a whole, it doesn’t understand modern Indian voter’s psyche. In two well-researched articles by Swaminathan S. Aiyer (of the famous Swaminomics) fame, it is pointed out in December 2016 and again in March 2019, that the time when freebies and handouts won elections have gone. A vivid example of this is the fact that firstly, every state government that has managed to deliver rapid GDP growth has returned (irrespective of freebies offered), and the fact that despite the much publicised NREGA launched under UPA-I, the Congress performed poorly and won just 22/115 seats in poor rural regions, some which were the biggest beneficiaries of NREGA.

Not to mention the complete wipeout five years later in 2014. In another well-articulated video put forward by the Quint, its founder Raghav Bahl argues that the Congress’ 2009 victory was due to strong economic growth, and bold leadership shown by Dr Singh, especially during the Nuclear Deal fiasco. Albeit, the Congress went back again to the same old ‘Gareebi Hatao.’ One remarkable bit of insight into Modi’s earlier victory in 2014 actually came from, of all places, an episode of John Oliver’s The Last Week Tonight. In the episode, Fareed Zakaria of CNN said that 2014 was the first time an Indian General Election was won by promise of strong economic growth, rather than subsidies and freebies. All of this indicates two things – a paradigm shift away from the socialist cries of ‘Gareebi Hatao,’ and a sense of self-respect amongst the voters who are no longer swayed by mere handouts.

A poster for the NYAY Scheme. (Photo: Indian National Congress/Facebook)

The second blunder was forgetting the fact that the Congress is a national party. While evoking subnational and regional sentiments is often necessary during state polls, during national polls, the same people vote keeping in mind the broader national picture, and the best representatives of states’ issues at the Union level. This cross voting is well illustrated even recently in states like Odisha and Telangana where Assembly and Lok Sabha poll results showed opposite trends.

The Congress decided to make the general election, 543 wars instead of one battle. In states like Karnataka where it joined hands with rival JDS, resulting in disillusion amongst the cadres and erosion of vote bank, it lost heavily. Same was the cases elsewhere, where the Congress often found itself supporting parties with diametrically opposite vote banks. In states where it aligned well like Kerala and Tamil Nadu, it won. Everywhere else it lost.

The third was deciding to lend a voice every small skirmish against Modi and the BJP. This resulted in an image of the party lacking self-confidence and the ability to weave a narrative. Anyone waging any kind of a battle against the BJP found support from the Congress. Whether JNU, or the TMC in Bengal, TDP in Andhra or KCR in Telangana, the Congress couldn’t be happier to help. Little did it realise that often this resulted in their own local cadres losing voice and them losing opportunities.

For example, in 2016, the Congress came out as the second largest party in Bengal. This was despite it fighting a lesser number of seats than its partner CPI (M). However as is always the case, the Congress couldn’t wait to lose another opportunity. Instead of capitalising on this gain, the central leadership stood beside Mamata Banerjee during every protest or rally and senior leaders defended Mamata and the TMC in court, during which the state unit found itself on the other side. While their own cadres were killed and harassed, the Congress lent a voice in support of TMC on almost every issue. Furthermore wasting resources and energy on controversies like run-ins against the judiciary proved to be counterproductive.

Finally, the only change Rahul Gandhi managed to get across was surrounding himself with academics and apolitical individuals who often leaned so much to the left that many of them had previously reprimanded Dr Singh as being too neo-liberal. It added no value, as by and large left ideology has been in decline since 2004 across India. In fact, much of the gains of the Congress and the BJP in the last few years have come at the cost of socialist leaning smaller parties or the Left front itself.

Rahul and Priyanka Gandhi campaigning ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. (Photo: Indian National Congress/Facebook)

Part of the misguided strategy was relying too much on social media presence. If Twitter trends were to be believed, Congress should’ve swept every state election since Karnataka went to polls, and also contributed to a non-NDA front at centre. Alas, social media presence and on ground presence are two different things! These individuals contributed little to quality political strategy due to having no ground level connect whatsoever. In a blog post that was quickly taken down, Congress’ media head blamed their losses at these very individuals, especially the unneeded attacks during the aftermath of Balakot, Uri or other decisions which evoked a sense of nationalism.

Last but not least, as mentioned in an earlier post, the Congress failed to understand a worldwide anti-establishment undercurrent. It stuck to the same old guard, and old ways which people had grown weary and distrustful of. Instead of rewarding fresh hardworking faces such as Jyotiraditya Scindia and Sachin Pilot, the fresh blood had to hand the victory on a platter to the same old established faces.

Moreover, the Congress went ahead with the blunder of attacking the Prime Minister’s personal character and intentions on issues like Rafale and demonetisation. The PM’s character, even to his opponents and detractors remains intact, and an attack only created an antagonistic image for India’s GOP.

Featured image for representative purpose only.
Featured image source: Indian National Congress/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.

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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