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2014: The 1st AD of Indian Politics

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George Bernard Shaw nailed in one single sentence, what activists and political influencers struggle to deal with every day, when he said, “The power of accurate observation is commonly called cynicism by those who have not got it.” This is in the context of what activists and political influencers struggle to deal with every day.

Politics is often called the game of optics. It becomes imperative for both types of leaders – either democratically elected or ruling by authority – to appear that they care for ‘real and genuine welfare’ of the people. So powerful is the force of ‘optics’ in politics, that often perception mires reality, shrouds it, and then presents a defragmented picture. A picture that is too complex to be of any discernible or comprehensible value to a commoner, and a picture that makes the task of activists and political influencers so daunting, that many-a-times, the accurate observer is labeled cynical, as pointed out by Shaw.

This quote by Shaw holds great relevance for India, post-May 16 2014. It was this date when the Indian National Congress (INC) was relegated to the backbenches of history, with a paltry total of 44 seats, and the BJP emerged as a political behemoth with 284 seats. It was historic because, for the first time, BJP had formed a majority government of its own.

This was followed by a frenzied celebration across the country. A new wave called the Modi Wave’ gripped the nation, and India seemed to rise like a phoenix from the ashes. Now, no one could stop India from becoming the superpower that it was destined to be.

Now that India had the right man leading her to glorious heights, she rightly deserved as a place in the international arena.

But that was 5 years ago, and in today’s fast-paced age of internet and supercomputers, 10 years is equivalent to a whole new generation; so you’d expect that after ‘half a generation’, India would have already been transformed, metamorphosed into that fantasy each Indian dreams of.

Also, now that we are mid-2019, five years after BJP’s first majority government, and into the second term of an even (electorally) stronger BJP at the helm of affairs, where do we stand?

Sadly, it’s not so easy to evaluate a culturally diverse, ethnically rich and linguistically distinguished country like India, but there are certain indicators that we can certainly talk about. Since no one likes bad news, so let’s begin with the good news.

The good news include the long-pending GST bill, removal of Article 370 and 35A, the Ayodhya land dispute, and many financial bills passed along with the much-debated and controversial Triple Talaq Bill.

In fact, in the few months into Modi Sarkar (government) 2.0, around 30 new bills have been passed. Laws are being formed at breakneck speed and voila, our hitherto defunct parliament seems to have actually started working! In a country where days turn into months and months into years, and not a single bill gets passed, we now have a new law each day to discuss at breakfast.

Isn’t that great? But it remains to be seen how much the life of an average Indian has changed, from what it was prior to 15th May 2014, and what it has been after May 16, 2014.

Here’s where some bad news follows. But before getting into that, let’s take a moment and dissect the title of the article. I chose to use the title, ‘2014: The 1st AD of Indian Politics’. Why?

The answer lies in the political narrative that was built by the BJP with Narendra Modi at the forefront. Narendra Modi is, undoubtedly, a dynamic leader, and an excellent orator, (barring a few goof-ups, but let’s give him some leeway), and it was the power of his speeches in the run-up to the 2014 elections that mesmerised Indians with the hope of a new India.

Modi did not leave any stone unturned in creating a narrative, that India probably did not exist prior to May 16, 2014. Every small inefficacy of the system was attributed to Jawaharlal Nehru and Co., an excuse used to justify the shortcomings of Modi Sarkar 1.0.

In a manner that I felt was a nauseatingly belligerent, the government kept making references to the period before Modi took over as the PM of India, prior to May 15, 2014, when he forgot the period from 1999 to 2004 was actually a full-term BJP-led coalition government. The BJP as well as its parent, the Janta Party, had also had some minor stints at governance before that.

So, what was essentially 52 years of rule, not constant but distributed, was easily converted into an apparently seamless 70-year rule of the Congress, and a new narrative was set.

A narrative which said that the last 70 years had ruined India, and from May 16, 2014, a new India had ushered in an unstoppable world leader. Now, as I had said earlier, politics is a game of optics. So, reality can take a backseat, or the cynics can just gnaw at it. Hence, the title – ‘2014: The 1st AD of Indian Politics’.

Indeed, it has to be a new India where overnight, currency notes are rendered illegal financial tender, the long-standing Article 370 was abolished, and the geography, as well as the history of Jammu and Kashmir is changed forever, by the imposition of emergency-like conditions. Plus, a host of so many other ‘developmental things’ done by Modi Sarkar 1 & 2.

So then, what is the bad news? The bad news is the timing. Recall January 2019. Modi Sarkar 1.0 is in its twilight, facing backlash all over the country regarding the slumping economy, falling Rupee, job loss, no decisive promise about the Ram Mandir, the ghost of demonetisation’s dastardly failure coming back to bite the government, and a host of other criticisms.

And then, miraculously, 300 Kgs of RDX moves through the valley, and despite intelligence, 60+ CRPF Jawans are martyred in a cowardly attack in Pulwama. This is followed by a controversial Balakot Air Strike and PM Modi is back in the game, ‘defeating’ Pakistan, upholding nationalism.

Suddenly, all the real issues have evaporated into thin air, and we are holding on to the thin, fragile and malleable line of ‘nationalism’ and the ‘anti-Pakistan narrative‘.

And it’s good. The anger was totally justified. But what’s problematic is the timing and the usage of the Pakistan issue to bolster domestic ground, amidst criticism, and sway the electoral battle. What’s even more problematic, is that the blanket of nationalism and the anger against Pakistan is used to cover up shortcomings in crucial deliverables like jobs, economy and financial meltdown.

History repeated itself again when Article 370 was abolished. Barely weeks before this, the Congress-JDA coalition government in Karnataka was dissolved after a few MLAs rebelled. According to the grapevine, these rebel MLAs were in bed with the BJP and finally, a BJP government was formed in the state, even though it failed to secure absolute majority in the Assembly elections last year.

The new budget had brought a ‘depression’ in the market, India’s economy is slipping, and the RTI act diluted. Modi Sarkar 2.0 seems a little down in the dumps! It is missing the pomp and fanfare of Modi Sarkar 1.0.

Then, the twist in the tale came after a lull, amidst chaos and complete lack of transparency, the J&K Reorganisation Bill was passed, and Article 370 is amended, rendering it ineffective. With this single step and the colourful speeches in the Parliament, all the other shortcomings of the Modi government were sidelined.

It would be an understatement to say that this was done in haste. No, it was a well-planned strategy by the BJP, right from forming the coalition government in the valley 4 years back with PDP, then backing out, forcing the Assembly to dissolve, which then led to the imposition of President’s Rule.

Then, taking advantage of the President’s Rule, the move is executed at a time when the BJP was losing support, even from its most ardent supporters, over violating democratic and constitutional practices. For instance, while forming governments in Karnataka and Goa.

Not to mention, the subversion of democracy in the valley, which has put millions of people at jeopardy. Their loved ones outside Kashmir, worried and paranoid that a democratically elected government of a sovereign country would resort to military force to make a change that is well within the Constitution.

If the Modi Sarkar was confident that the move was for the benefit of the Kashmiris, why was the lockdown necessary? I’ll tell you. Because, the lockdown evoked reactions, garnered attention and it made the abolition of Article 370 an internationally debated topic, giving the Modi Sarkar enough time to take measures which can otherwise attract dire criticism.

I am no fan of the Congress either, and I am equally angry at Congress for all the scams and a host of other reasons for which it was voted out. But what I always liked about Congress, was that it didn’t resort to jingoistic pomp and the fanfare of claiming that it is the only party that can work for India and that all others are ‘anti-national’.

I also think, and it is pertinent to mention here, that during Congress rule, dissent was allowed, and in general, people were aware of what was the government up to. But I strongly feel that under the BJP government, a lot of people have stopped questioning the government, and now it is ‘anti-national’ to question PM Modi or BJP. It is almost anti-national, for me, as a citizen to exercise my constitutional right to question a democratically elected Govt.

Recently, the Kamal Nath Sarkar in Madhya Pradesh made sticks out of cow-dung to be used as fuel in funerals. It’s a green initiative, as it recycles dung, saves forests from being cut, and is an age-old practice already followed in many regions of South India. It’s a brilliant move, but what you won’t see is the chest-thumping by Congress that they are pioneers and how they are the champions of the day, the only ‘White Knights’ and so on.

What PM Modi and the BJP do not realise, is that his pomp and fanfare, not only costs the public exchequer a huge outflow of money (11 Billion INR to be exact for a period of 2 years between 2014 and 2016), it also polarises India into two sections –

  1. Pro-Modi
  2. Anti-Modi

Both these sections are fighting with one eye closed, and I strongly feel that is creating a confused and distorted narrative of India, especially for our adolescents and teenagers who are just getting exposed to politics, nation, and what India means for them.

I do support abolishing Article 370 and the fact that it is now giving Union of India a greater say in the valley affairs, but the politically convenient timing to scuttle criticism and the spectacle used to execute it, makes me worry as to what exactly, are we, the commoners, dependent on the media and official press releases, are missing out in the smokescreen being created.

This article was first published here.

Featured Image Source: Vipin Kumar/Hindustan Times via Getty Images
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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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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