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Ashok Gehlot-Sachin Pilot’s Tussle For Power Will Be A Defining Moment For The Congress

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The year was 2004, before the explosion of private news channels, a young boy about 7 years old was watching a show titled ‘Walk The Talk’ on NDTV on a Saturday early afternoon. Not very aware of what watching news meant and why this man named Shekhar Gupta was constantly interrupting the guests, as a child, I had tuned in to watch the show.

Sachin Pilot
achin Pilot too has worked his way up to become a youth icon with a largely urban appeal and experience of discharging duties as the MoS for Corporate Affairs and Information Technology in the 15th Lok Sabha.

I saw two very bright-looking young gentlemen by the names Milind Deora and Sachin Pilot talk about governance and politics at a time when TikTok didn’t exist and talking politics by the youth and kids wasn’t considered ‘cool’. In hindsight, one sees that the Indian National Congress defeated a well-oiled machinery of the BJP and its ambitious campaign of the ‘India’ that only they found shining, by bringing in fresh blood to electoral politics and making the twenty-first century politics relevant to the voices of the twenty-first century.

The Congress made overnight heroes out of foreign-educated, English-speaking, second and third generation legacy politicians at a time when it in itself was just beginning to regain a foothold in Indian politics and restructuring the organisation that had succumbed to ruthless factionalism during the ’90s.

The political crisis in Rajasthan unfolding over the last 36 hours interestingly indicates a strange cusp as would be remembered in the history of the Congress party. This embarrassing moment of reducing the elected representatives of the people into numbers shifting from one possible faction to the other is different from what we have seen in Karnataka or Goa. The Bharatiya Janata Party is not the first in the ‘Aaya Ram, Gaya Ram’ brand of politics in the country. Still, one cannot deny the bloody hands the party command has gone into. Their exclusive experience of only managing mafias and bootlegging syndicates in India’s prominent dry-State has made them adopt a similar approach for toppling University unions.

What happened earlier in the year in Madhya Pradesh and is happening now in Rajasthan are not merely cases in point for the Bharatiya Janata Party’s shameless flexing of money and muscle power in Indian grassroots politics. Not to discredit the blasphemous interpretation of the intellectual might of the great Indian scholar Chanakya by the right-wing incumbent party at the Centre (with an abundance of Asura’s foolish brute force and a tremendous paucity of goddess Saraswati’s blessings of wisdom and knowledge), but it has just barely managed to lend a desperate hand in setting a running car in motion.

The crises in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan are not a result of a failed leadership or factionalism, but a consequence of a bloated sense of entitlement. The increasing claim for a larger share of the pie is what greases the wheel in politics, but the stubbornness in not taking the path as the rest would for a politician only comes from an ecosystem tolerant to the display of divine dispensation. Crisis in leadership is common not just in the Congress but in all of them, “around 1500 political parties in India” (Subhash C. Kashyap).

The tussle for the seat of power between Advani and Modi (despite attempts of revising the truth from everywhere possible) is fresh in every citizen’s mind who voted in the 2014 elections; however, this tussle for power is markedly different. What happened in Madhya Pradesh and is ensuing in Rajasthan does not result from a confused decision of the high-command in December, 2018, but the generosity shown by it setting the wrong expectation for a sense of entitlement earlier in 2002 and 2004, respectively.

One has to look closely to understand why this tussle is different from Advani-Modi, Akhilesh-Shivpal, or Jitan Ram Manjhi-Nitish Kumar. This situation of Rajasthan (and Madhya Pradesh) is unprecedented for the sheer chalk and cheese difference in popularity and experience between both contenders. The only possible parallel to this is the Indira Gandhi-Morarji Desai conflict.

Ashok Gehlot is a grassroots leader who has a demonstrated experience of working in Rajasthan. Given the tendency of the Rajasthan electorate (much like Kerala) that exercises its choice between the available alternatives every successive term, Gehlot is also held responsible for the embarrassing defeat in 2013. On the other hand, Sachin Pilot too has worked his way up to become a youth icon with a largely urban appeal and experience of discharging duties as the MoS for Corporate Affairs and Information Technology in the 15th Lok Sabha. While the Lutyen’s friendly English and Hindi media has always tried to build up a picture of Sachin Pilot going to Rajasthan in 2014 and raising up the party from ashes like a phoenix and later single-handedly leading Congress to victory, the truth is the struggle and resistance to the Vasundhara Raje-Scindia government was a collective effort.

Ashok Gehlot
Ashok Gehlot is a grassroots leader who has a demonstrated experience of working in Rajasthan.

Ashok Gehlot, being a ‘son-of-the-soil’, enjoys an appeal that is difficult for Sachin Pilot to achieve just in a span of six years; therefore, quite obviously did we see a preference for Gehlot in the grassroots while the Lutyen’s media kept crediting Pilot for this victory. Is it not unlikely that a young leader, close to the high-command and having spent most of his active life in politics in the confines of Lutyen’s Delhi, after succumbing to defeat in 2014 from his Lok Sabha Sabha constituency (unlike the prodigal son of Madhya Pradesh), decides to shift base to Rajasthan and single-handedly moves a magic wand that wins Congress back the State in four years? Make no mistake, the Congress’s relevance in Rajasthan is not similar to that of the BJP in Kerala and Bengal or the RLD in Mumbai’s Shivaji Park; the party has fought with all its grit in the state to successfully retain power.

If Sachin Pilot was no second-fiddle in mobilizing the anti-incumbency wave then so wasn’t Ashok Gehlot, and neither was senior Congress leader C.P. Joshi (currently serving as the 15th Speaker of the Rajasthan Legislative assembly). One cannot deny that as many stories of factionalism come out of the Congress party, there is as much room in the party for building consensus and moving forward with collective consultation. Despite having a strong high-command throughout its history, the party never organizes itself with a man holding a whip standing at the Centre. Only a circus and materialization of ruthless ambitions with fake degrees can play out like that. Therefore, to say that choosing Gehlot as the Chief Minister is a blunder by the high-command that it has to pay for, is a claim that holds no ground.

Gehlot has proved that he is a choice of the people and local leaders while Pilot, who was parachuted into the political mess that Rajasthan had become for the Congress, was an emissary of the high-command. The truth is an MP at 26, MoS at 31, Deputy CM at 41 has been given so much on the plate that the appetite and precedent makes him demand for more. This has been a culture of the Congress for which, even in the bougainvillea-covered Akbar Road, it finds no bush to hide. To say in the quintessential disgruntled voice of a Congress sympathizer that the party has no place for young blood also ceases to find a logical substantiation in the situation.

While it is true that the party, on many instances, has shown a tendency toward placating the old first and then making plans for the new; but with legacy politicians, it has been overtly generous in compensating for the cushy corporate jobs on Madison Avenue they leave to alleviate India by contesting elections with bigger pictures of their fathers than themselves. You may vilify or glorify Gehlot, but in no way you can say that he has outlived his scope for serious political ambitions. He is no Motilal Vora; in fact, he is just about four months older than the Prime Minister of the country. While evidence may prove otherwise, theoretically, a Prime Minister’s job requires more physical and mental strength than the Chief Minister’s. The Bhilwara model in the recent past has shown us while the age is the same, who is more equipped for the job; and Gehlot clearly passes this litmus test.

For an overhaul in a party, there is always an organic cleansing that precedes. While most stay, it lays out for all who later in the day is capable to lead. Very clearly, the large-hearted gesture of 2004 is turning out to be a failed gamble. More than setting precedents, what is important is setting straight priorities of our politicians in the public eye. How suddenly amidst the COVID crisis does a one-and-a-half-year old harboured desire becomes crucial or when does a Rajya Sabha seat from a party that very rightly carries out the Suresh Prabhu-treatment with defectors feels more personal, or when does an exclusive endorsement by an industrialist that funds propaganda against one’s party becomes a political masterstroke by another legacy politician, are questions that are very quickly finding answers.

The youth always dreams with a foresight and remains committed to the future that is theirs; does “losing the young brigade” (largely consisting of self-serving leaders suffering from political myopia) really harm the party’s interests? Quite practically, all one knows that it is not an emphatic yes.

My school was on Kasturba Gandhi Marg in New Delhi and had a wall which students climbed out of to bunk school and that wall faced the Rajesh Pilot Marg. Not only the colonial bungalows, but also the story of Rajesh Pilot for no plausible reason, feels very personal to me, passing to and from the road every day from the 2000’s to 2015.

Talking of school, as much the NCERT’s revision is dangerous for the country, the Congress’s revision is crucial for its safe future. Verified sources glorify Rajesh Pilot as the milkman-turned-politician, who at the age of ten, came from his ancestral village of Vaidpura near Noida with his uncle and started tending to cows and cattle with him in New Delhi. He used to stay in an outhouse of 12 GRP Road and deliver milk to politician residents in the vicinity. As fate would have it, the son-of-the-soil later stayed in the same bungalow after rising up the ranks in Indian politics. He too had his share of fallouts like the defeat in internal elections of the Congress party with Sitaram Kesri but handled it like a gentleman, qualities that his son too shows with due diligence.

Whatever be the eventual consequence, the truth is that the Congress party cannot afford to lose power in a major state at this hour; neither can it lose out on a promising and young leader right now.

Legend also has that one hears from old and trusted chauffeurs working for politicians in Delhi that, one day, a young boy landed in Teen Murti with a large canister to deliver milk and was spotted by Chacha Nehru who called him aside. The guardian of the young boy was called, and people working for Nehru arranged for his education. The young boy later went on to become an IAF Pilot who served the country not only in the 1971 Liberation-war, but later went onto become a committed politician whose popularity in Dausa still is unmatched. If Chacha Nehru would have just allocated a large piece of land as a sweet gesture for the boy’s future, would that have produced an invaluable asset to the nation?

One must always hold the hand and take a child in the right direction, even if he is the prodigal son. The right direction is not the appointment or suspension from a post, but to fight one’s battles with maturity and grace. One can just hope that the high-command fulfills its duty of showing the path forward and finds the equilibrium where all have their heads on their shoulders. Whatever be the eventual consequence, the truth is that the Congress party cannot afford to lose power in a major state at this hour; neither can it lose out on a promising and young leader right now.

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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.

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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 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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