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How India’s Greatest Politician Ended Up Being A ‘Neglected Man’

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On May 21, 1991, in Sriperumbudur, Tamil Nadu, the dreaded terrorists of LTTE eliminated India’s former Prime minister and Congress President Rajiv Gandhi. Their death led the nation to a state of shock. After his death, the party won the elections. They approached Sonia Gandhi, wife of Rajiv Gandhi, to take over the post of Prime Minister, but because of her state of shock, she decided not to contest.

Then, Congress approached Dr Shankar Dyal Sharma and urged him to take over the PM’s post. Still, he also refused to do that. Following the second rejection, the Congress party selected one of the most outstanding leaders to take this position, who was preparing to retire from political life. Still, life had other plans for him, and he was none other than PV Narsimha Rao, a politician who had served as the CM of Andhra Pradesh for two years.

Image Credit: The Daily Beast

He was also the former Home and External Affairs Minister in the Cabinet of Rajiv Gandhi and his mother, Indira Gandhi. You would be amazed to know that he had also tried to run for presidential elections in 1982, but unfortunately, Gyani Zail Singh bagged that opportunity. However, now a new opportunity was awaiting him, and that was the post of the Prime Minister of India.

Another exciting thing about Rao was that he was a linguistic man, who knew seventeen languages, in which eleven was Indian, including Hindi and his mother tongue, Telugu, and six foreign languages, including Persian and English.

When Rao took over the Prime Minister’s position, our country was in a state of depression. According to his finance minister and former Prime Minister of India, the foreign exchange was no more than a billion dollars, which was enough only for two weeks for import. He knew that to help India coming out of this depression, he needed to open Indian markets, but that would create a lot of issues for him both from the inside and outside of Congress because masses were hardcore Nehruvian, and were against an open economy.

Moreover, both left and right-wing parties were opposing it, and at that time, he refused to listen to anyone and started his economic reforms. In context to the reforms, he kept the industry ministry under his hand and offered the finance ministry post to the UGC chairperson and former RBI governor, Dr Manmohan Singh.

He also, later, became the Prime Minister of India. Initially, though, with the help of Dr PC Alexander, Rao had approached Dr IG Patel to take over the FM post. However, after his refusal, he had gone to Dr Singh, who later worked under his guidance and helped Rao to open Indian markets. That saved our country from a great economic depression.

Today’s India is one of the top 10 economies of the world, due to the combined efforts of the Rao government. As the industry minister, while he ensured the end of the “License Raj” and confirmed the foreign investment, Dr Singh took off irregular taxes. Although that was Rao’s most significant success, his career is known for the blunders; some by him, and some by his opposition party members.

Ex-PMs Manmohan Singh and Narasimha Rao pictured together in June 1994.(Sanjay Sharma/HT)

Communal Riots And Corruption Charges In His Tenure

In 1992, December 6, a mob of Hindutva gangs destroyed Babri Masjid, which led to nationwide anger and hate between Hindus and Muslims, and that took the lives of millions of Indians. Rao tried his best to save the Babri Masjid; according to the book Unfinished Innings, written by his home secretary, Mr Madhav Godbole, his government wanted to deploy 20,000 paramilitary forces in Ayodhya, under Article 355. He also tried to impose president rule under article 356, so that they could form Kalyan Singh’s government, but because of political issues, he was not able to do so.

Eventually, the black day came when the Babri masjid was destroyed, and according to him, on that day, he was in the house, and he had instructed his employees not to call him, and that he would not meet anyone on that day. However, the story told by Madhav Godbole, his home secretary, was very different. He said that the PM was fully aware of what was happening in Ayodhya. His advisors briefed him about the current situation of the Ayodhya. Because of this demolition, his government faced a lot of criticism, but many other things were waiting for him.

On June 16, 1993, a press conference was held in Mumbai. A stockbroker, Harshad Mehta, and his lawyer, Ram Jethmalani, accused Narasimha Rao of taking a bribe of over one crore rupees in December 1991 in the name of the party fund. Like we all know at that time, Harshad Mehta was involved in a 5000 crore Indian securities scam in which he had cheated many Indian banks, while purchasing securities, including equity, mutual funds, etc.

However, the central ministry, later, said that Harshad Mehta was lying because, on that day, the PM was not in Delhi at all. So how can he meet him at his residence, which is in Delhi? As a consequence of that in 1993, opposition parties presented a no-confidence motion against his government. Still, Narasimha Rao managed to win this battle.

Later, he was accused of giving a bribe of one crore rupees to JMM leaders, including Shibu Soren in exchange for their vote in favour of Narsimha Rao, and Shaliender Mehta exposed that. In 2002, the accusation was declared false and malicious by the honourable Supreme Court. Consequently, Narasimha Rao and Sardar Butta Singh got bail in this case.

He also wanted to make India a nuclear state in 1996. He tried to conduct a nuclear test, but due to immense pressure from the USA, he could not do so, and when Atal Bihari Vajpayee became PM, Rao requested him to complete this work. Later, this story was confirmed by BJP leader, Jaswant Singh, who served as Finance and Foreign Minister in Vajpayee’s cabinet. After the rise of Sonia Gandhi in Congress in 1998, he and other leaders like Sitaram Kesari, Sharad Pawar were sidelined in the party.

He retired from politics, and in 2004, he died due to illness, but his dead body was allowed in AICCC Headquarters by the president of Congress, Sonia Gandhi. His family was also forced to conduct his funeral in Hyderabad, and not Delhi, where Narsimha Rao had spent many years. This is how the greatest politician of India and an ex-Prime Minister, who worked hard his entire life for the country, ended up being a neglected man.

Featured image source: Wikimedia Commons
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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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