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With Politics Different From His Father’s, Can Tejashwi Yadav Change Bihar’s Fate?

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Elections in any democratic society should be seen as a normal act wherein people elect their representatives who undertake the responsibility of governance to ensure a better standard of living and dignified life for all citizens. In that sense of the term, political parties who are in the profession of governance should put forth their promises for people to vote them to power based on their performance.

But, for quite some time, elections in our country have become instruments to ‘encroach’ power, and given rise to all kinds of alliances.

The recent developments in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan indicate a new low in this direction. It is important to see and evaluate the current election campaign in Bihar against this backdrop. In a telling rebuttal to the ‘development’ narrative of the NDA that had denigrated the ‘caste, clan, and community’ politics of the Mahagathbandhan in the past, the allies have hit back. Real issues, like jobs, education, health, and industry are the new focus of the election narrative in Bihar 2020.

Turning the tables on the ruling JD(U)-BJP alliance, the Mahagathbandhan’s Chief Ministerial candidate Tejashwi Yadav has stressed on 15 years of non-performance of the Nitish Kumar government by raising common people issues like unemployment, education, and health.  If the crowds attending his rallies are any indicator, he seems to have struck the right cord with them. Unemployment in the state is at an all-time high, and the youth and students are worse affected by the jobs cuts or delay in the recruitment process for the central government jobs.

In many ways, Tejashwi’s oratory style is reminiscent of his father Lalu Prasad: the way of addressing and resultant connect with the audience, but the tone and tenor of his speeches have changed. On more than one occasion, the RLD scion has emphasized that his “politics is different from Lalu Ji’s; now is the need for economic justice, which is required for all”. He speaks about government jobs and promises to start the process for recruitment in his first cabinet meeting if he gets elected. He is also promising school teachers ‘same salary for the same work.

As Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and Prime Minister Narendra Modi lash out at dynasty rule in Mahagathbandhan with the ‘double Yuvraj’ phrase in an apparent hint to Tejashwi and Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, their detractors view it as lack of confidence on the part of government which has nothing to show on the performance front.  Apart from the natural anti-incumbency factor, working against the government, the official figures on unemployment and infrastructure have also put it on the back foot.

According to the ‘Handbook of statistics on the Indian States 2018-19,’ unemployment rate in Bihar has risen steadily in the past 15 years. While the urban unemployment rate was 64 per 1,000 in 2004-05, it went up to 105 in 2018-19. Similarly, the rural unemployment rate went up from 15 to 102 in the corresponding years. Add to this the burden of an estimated 22 lakh migrant workers who returned to the state in the wake of the Pandemic. It has been reported that a majority of them are still to find work.

Photo: Economic Times

Is NDA Losing In The Election Battleground In Bihar?

The grand alliance with RJD, INC and the left appear more consistent and sure vis a vis their strategy as well as campaigning during their second experiment to build an alliance based on political commitment after their impressive success in Jharkhand last year. With clear agenda and plans in place, it is rolling on the ground with full conviction and trust within alliance partners. But this kind of clarity and strong bonding is missing in the NDA, which is grappling with inherent contradictions.

For the NDA alliance, PM Modi has taken the charge to rejuvenate energy into his supporters and mobilize votes for Nitish led NDA alliance, but the latter has been not accepted by all the party members including many state-level leaders, who crossed BJP and are now challenging Nitish Kumar on LJP symbols, thus sending confusing signals to grassroots workers.

Adding to the NDA’s woes is one of its own scion or chirag (pun intended).

Chirag Paswan’s (LJP) decision to fight the state elections independent of NDA, and at the same time pledging loyalty to the Prime Minister is having a negative impact.

How can one regional party fight election against another main partner within NDA, which has declared its CM candidate?

Many disgruntled ex-office bearers of BJP are contesting the election on LJP tickets. This will only enhance division of the NDA vote to the advantage of the opposition alliance.  Although LJP is hardly likely to win a seat or two, it could dent the JDU vote share because in many constituencies LJP will able attract BJP core voters. It’s interesting to note the commentary by some experts: They say Chirag’s decision to contest elections against JDU candidates will not harm the BJP, but they are not admitting that ultimately the NDA alliance stands to lose out on seats.

Also, I can see that for BJP, it is a double anti-incumbency wave, one for its 15-year alliance government with Nitish Kumar, and two, the central government, as there could be many genuine grievances, which were not fulfilled during the past six years of Modi government.

In contrast, the projection of Tejashwi as the leader from his party for this election, has not met with opposition within the grand alliance. There are some minor partners RLSP, HAM and VIP who were in the alliance during 2019 Lok Sabha Polls, but are not in the coalition for the assembly elections. Understandably, as the leader of RLSP is a CM aspirant it is obvious for him to go it alone. The grand alliance seems to have also learned from experience in other states, that the baggage minor alliance partners can cost dearly in the current political environment due to shifting loyalties of small players.

Several poll analysts have observed that Congress has taken more than its ‘winnable’ share of seats to fight the election. Yes, the Congress is not strong, but the grand alliance is capable enough to support it in all aspects.

As for the Left parties, this assembly election is crucial to reclaim their lost ground. CPI-ML had three members in the outgoing assembly. This faction of Left was beautifully able to combine the peasant and workers struggles with social justice agendas. The CPI-ML also followed the Bahujan formula of Kanshi Ram, regarding taking care of 85% of the population and giving representation to those communities in the leadership.

Why I am saying this? If you look at the current three MLAs of the party, all of them are from the lowest rungs of society.  The party indeed has fostered new leaders not only to lead its protests and struggles, but also made them capable to lead in the legislature and speak for their own people. This is the big shift seen in the left political approach in the recent times.

Problems Of The Migrant Labourers Of Bihar
While other states rushed to the rescue of their native people during the peak of the Corona crisis, the Bihar government had said, it did not have the resources to help. Representational image.

Everything That’s Wrong With The Governance In Bihar

On the performance front, one may recall that only a few months ago in the pick of the COVID-19 cases, the Deputy Chief Minister of Bihar government had put the onus of bad health facilities in the state on its predecessor. However, the present government has been at the helm of affairs for almost 15 years, and their entire campaign was based on reforms and governance in the Bihar. So their argument on this count does not hold water.

The migrant labour also seems to have been rubbed the wrong way by the government. While other states rushed to the rescue of their native people, the Bihar government had said, it did not have the resources to help. Images of Bihari students in Rajasthan seeking the state government’s intervention to return home during lockdown are also fresh among people.

Even before the pandemic exposed the poor health infrastructure in the state, the outbreak of Acute Encephalitis Syndrome (AES) in June 2019, wherein nearly 117 children lost their lives, it was clear that the health system did not have the capacity to prevent the situation. According to Nation Health Portal (NHP) 2018 data there is one doctor for 28,391 people in the state.

Equally grim is the education scenario. With university sessions and examinations not being held on time, it’s not difficult to imagine the quality of education or teachers presence in schools or universities. The large scale migration of students to other parts of the country for education speaks for itself.

As the campaigning reaches a crescendo, and we still have a few days to go before the fate of political parties for the Bihar Assembly is sealed on November 7. The results will be declared on November 10.

Notwithstanding the poll outcome, one thing is clear in this election, the shift has clearly been on talking about the real bread butter issues of employment and job.

It will be interesting to see how much faith the Bihari voter reposes in Tejashwi’s promises on job, health, education, and irrigation fronts. Defying initial rejections by pollsters and journalists, who had predicted a walk over to NDA, Tejashwi has emerged as a strong contender for the CM’s post and a force to reckon with.

Featured image: IANS/File
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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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