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Opposition In The Times Of Modi 2.0

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Unchecked power—however delighted I am with the BJP’s deux victory—will ruin the country. Many rue that there is no opposition in this country, not able to attack, let alone corner the government on anything. More importantly, it is emblematic of how unchallenged authority always veers to totalitarianism, without no one to rail or rally against them. Of course, the BJP is no Congress of the 1970s, and our Prime Minister no Indira Gandhi. But the other checks and balances are tenuous at best: the media blatantly and hilariously uninformed on issues; all others, except for the Supreme Court, ceremonial in their castigation.

Invariably, it is up to the supporters of the government, nevertheless, to keep them in check politically, as much as it is imperative for the judiciary to keep the government in check. And what does that entail? India has had a penchant for remonstrating whether it was the Nirbhaya case, the Emergency or against reservations. It works and works effectively as seen in the case of Hong Kong, where people stood up for their sovereignty against China, but in India, it suffers from being trite and tedious as well as apathetic.

Take the case of the apocalyptic water crisis facing India. Due to domestic overuse (and misuse) in water-centric activities such as agriculture; worsened by climate change, and further augmented by a growing population’s ballooning requirements for drinking water supply, the crisis needs immediate attention. Forget attention, because everyone would understand that this is a bad situation and the government can be targeted, Congress gives it the wrong kind of attention. Instead of solutions; they protest.

Congress must understand, and having been in Government for 10 years since the turn of the century; it must know, that people will not respond to protests as they do to solutions. The infantilization of the voter thinking that they only respond to protests is hare-brained. What are you going to do about it? Have you done anything differently in the states you govern? The attacks instead of being nuanced and sensible are still based on the same old formula: if we make noise and appear piously indignant; people will think we have something substantive against the government. This won’t work anymore!

Why did our Prime Minister’s rise seem so stratospheric? Among a myriad of reasons, he opposed the Congress—much like the Congress is trying with the current government—he said he’d be better at governance. Similar claims were made by the Congress, but the crux was lacking in the Congress; while his claims were based on the evidence of the Gujarat model. He said, “I will make the Gujarat Model prevalent throughout India”. Not one of the Congress’ Chief Ministers is as efficient an administrator as they seem to be party loyalists. The Congress in its manifesto talks about water bodies’ restoration mission, which is admirable, but it seems not to implement these when running its own states, states which, under our Constitution are responsible for water management or use points like these against the government.

The spurious argument made about Nehru and Indira facing no opposition cuts no ice. Nehru had Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee, someone with even fewer seats than the Congress now, and was formidable to the extreme. Indira Gandhi had lost when the opposition came together. Even more importantly, having no opposition and by default, getting back into power is not something that anyone should aspire for in today’s times.

Consider the Indian Parliament: the Congress beautifully made another mistake by making a rather tepid member as their leader in the Lok Sabha. Someone who I predict will be lacking in the vigour needed to counter the government, made all the more urgent by securing only 52 seats. His belligerent pedantry might be taken as a passion but will never be seen as a credible effort to oppose the government. However much I disagree with him, Dr Shashi Tharoor would have been an excellent option. Another opportunity lost.

Regional parties will either be constricted to their constituencies or lack the unifying appeal to come out as a reasonable alternative. These five years were a propitious epoch where the Congress could have been a dignified and precise opposition in terms of their attacks on the government. Opportunity lost. It seems as though it is more of the same: walkouts and interruptions at the slightest opening—same things the BJP did, which were certainly not responsible in them attaining power in 2014.

We, the supporters, must be the opposition. Utilising as many forums and platforms to voice critiques against the government. (Photo by Kevin Frayer/Getty Images)

The opposition, hence, must come from within. It is not that this country lacks ingenious ideas, but, the idea to enforce them; to make sure they see keep seeing the light of day instead of being extinguished after a ‘job done’ way of thinking is our failure. That is why it is harder to maintain community toilets instead of constructing them or repairing roads instead of constructing them. Therefore, not the opposition, but the people who voted for this government in the ballot box must be its check. Otherwise, its result will percolate insidiously to us all.

We, the supporters, must be the opposition. Utilising as many forums and platforms to voice critiques against the government. Many in the BJP still think that genuine criticism is either unpatriotic or a nefarious plot by a neighbouring country. In no way is this either sane or should be reflective of the party. It took the Prime Minister to condemn the absurd remarks of Pragya Thakur before any BJP spokesperson did; there should not be any hesitancy to call out the party if it strays off-course or if it partakes in anti-Indian behaviour itself.

The way to do it must be more nuanced. It is said that the BJP and the Communist parties are the only ones who have any ideology. That still precludes addressing that there are various factions in the BJP: a harder right wing as well as a more moderate stance. That is why the supporter’s critique must be based on fending off a particular stance, viewpoint or decision (or indecision) as opposed to the wholeness with which the non-supporter would. In India, this sort of politics is desperately needed. This must and must manifest itself into our politics. More simply put—critical on policy not politics. The Prime Minister very famously has said that criticism is necessary; criticism is a component of democracy. There should be no hesitation in this.

Look at the Conservative Party now in power in the UK, or the Republican Party, now with a Republican President and a majority in the US Senate (and until January 2019 a majority in the House of Representatives); here, many dissidents of the parties openly critique their own parties. Senator Rand Paul votes against bills from the Trump administration, while supporting others from the same, similar to the ERG (European Research Group) in the Conservative Party, both feisty in their repudiation of certain actions of their party. The BJP had made small strides here, when it did not thankfully, expel Yashwant Sinha, Shatrughan Sinha or Kirti Azad for speaking against the party line, although many would argue that they did ostracise in spirit. This inner-party democracy abjectly lacks in our current political atmosphere.

A party’s MP, standing up for their constituency or the party’s ideology would be radical. Our political culture still seeps into heavy groupism, or within those, sub-groupism, rather than individuals serving their constituency. And why wouldn’t they? For in India, it is mainly the party and not the individual who is elected as a Member of Parliament. Expecting criticism coming from a place of love or support might be too far-fetched in India’s body politic. The healthy culture of debate and deliberation this would engender, would be unheard of in India. No longer would a state leader or an MP need to hold his tongue when the Centre does not invest in his state as much as he wants or is necessary.

There would be compelling arguments before taking decisions, and moreover, there would be informed discussion of the issue without everything becoming political. For if the only reprimand comes from the opposition, it is bound to be political. Of course, this would indeed arm political opponents with more ammunition; however, if anyone shies away from accountability, perhaps they should not be in government. The opportunity to be true to the people who elected you as well as not be disingenuous to the party that gave you that opportunity is required.

Many MPs switch parties when the wind blows the other way; famously so, there are a lot of examples; however, fixed and rooted support lies in ideological backing. It is there, with the confidence that your party at least partly—for it is rare that any political party would 100% reflect the exact views you have—views things as you do. If criticism is to come from such a place as that, then, it is not just genuine but vital for the party to listen.

Many in India are still not ideologically bound; willing to vote for different parties at the state or Centre as well as different candidates. That means on a certain limit of divergences; a party is bound to lose support. In as many words, the supporters must not hesitate to criticise the government for self-interest. To elect his/her government again requires constant accountability. It makes no sense to become the spokesperson of the government, but inexorable, to have a good government to be its pragmatic adherent.

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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.

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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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