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Are The Right And Left Wing Are Using ‘Populism’ To Change The Political Discourse

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Populism is one of the few words that is being used in a general and widespread form in contemporary times, yet nobody has a complete understanding of it. Populism is also one of the few social science ideas that have been declared essentially controversial. The main reason for the controversy is the absence of a general opinion about populism.

Some people consider populism as a movement, some consider it as an ideology, some consider it as a political strategy, others see it as a special type of political discourse. The general understanding of populism is that of political space which is divided into two parts where there are common people on one side and the elite on the other. The theoretical basis of populism is linked to the idea of popular sovereignty.

Muller, Mudde And Laclau: What Does Populism Denote?

Populism was first used in North America regarding the labour and peasant movement (the 1890s). Today populism is being used for certain governments, leaders, and strategies. Populism is also divided into two forms, one side is leftist and the other side is right-wing. Many people are studying populism, some of whom can get an accurate understanding of populism, including Jan-Werner Muller, Cas Mudde, and Ernesto Laclau. These three thinkers see populism in different ways:

For Muller, it is politics, for Mudde it is an ideology, for Laclau, populism is a discourse.

According to Jan-Werner Muller, populism is a moralistic imagination of politics where populists are not only anti-elites but also anti-pluralists. Populist people and populist governments have three characteristics, colonization of the state system, corruption, and mass clientelism, and the suppression of civil society.

Muller believes that populists, on the one hand, bring a silent majority to the centre of political strategy, while taking steps against constitutional values (control of the will of the majority, protection of minorities, fundamental rights) that exist in a democracy.

At the same time, Cas Mudde offers a different opinion about populism. According to him, populism is a thin centred ideology that believes that societies are divided into two homogenous and antagonistic groups where on the one hand there is a pure general public and on the other, there is a corrupt elite. The ideology of populism is made up of three central ideas: People, Elite and Common Desire.

People are imagined as pure and authentic and reflect an ideal self-perception, Indian as Hindu. The elite is registered as the corrupt and evil remainder, which frustrates the people because of favouring special interests or foreign/immoral ideals. Populist ideology has two enemiesthe elite and pluralism.

According to Ernesto Laclau, populism is a discourse by which political boundaries are created within a society where marginalized people mobilize against those in power. Laclau views populism as a desire to achieve radical democracy.

How Did Right-Wing Populism Become Dominant Today?

Right wing populism

The type of populism that is dominating today is right-wing populism. The rise of right-wing populism in the whole world is the result of economic insecurity and cultural nervousness spread by the policies of neo-liberalism which the leftist populists did not understand, which was directly availed by the right-wing populists.

The rise of right-wing populism in India was also due to the inability to establish political integration in the context of neoliberal policies and new problems such as corruption. Duncan MacDonell and Luis Cabrera believe that the contemporary populism in India can be understood by the populism of the case Mudde.

The Bharatiya Janata Party which is introducing right-wing populism in India is doing three things

  • only Hindu is a common man
  • there are an elite, Congress, intellectual class, and anti-Modi media
  • and the other is a minority which is Muslim.

The Bharatiya Janata Party is using this populist technique to establish the idea of Hindu Rashtra. Ashutosh Varshney believes that they can do all these three things because they have fully understood communication politics and is using it for political goals. Along with the right-wing populism in India, we are also seeing the form of leftist populism Left-wing populism is largely associated with the idea of Laclau.

The leftist populism recognizes radical equality and the common people’s sovereignty-based democratic system, which is seen in the contemporary Dalit movement led by Chandrashekhar Azad Ravana. It has not only been able to connect the Dalits, but it is challenging the upper-class Hindu system by bringing together as many backward classes. Both types of populism can be seen at the same time in India.

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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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