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The BJPs Campaigning Makes Them Favourites For 2021 Assam Elections Despite CAA Backlash

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A massive uproar occurred in Assam against the BJP led central and state Government for enacting the Citizenship Amendment Bill that aims to give citizenship to a particular class of immigrants. The protest was more about indigenous Assamese people’s cultural and linguistic identity rather than religious freedom and secularism.

Five people lost their lives during the agitation and there was a complete shutdown of the internet for many days. During those days, people spontaneously came out to the street and showed their resentment against that act. The protest was self-organised and mass-driven rather than marshalled and directed by a single group.

However, as time progressed, the agitation was primarily taken over by the All Assam Student Union (AASU). The state BJP leaders, who were being defensive during the hustle and tussle, changed their gear from this phase.

Anti CAA protest in Assam was massive during December 2019.

To counter the CAA protests, peace rallies or “Shanti-Samadals” were organised in different parts of Assam by the state BJP. Clause 6 of the Assam accord was also highly publicised to show that the saffron party is committed to safeguarding indigenous people’s language and culture. At the same time, AASU continued to question the BJPs motive.

Amid such disarray, the main issue of protest, which was the identity crisis of ethnic groups, leaned towards a dull political squabble. By and large, the ruling party’s well-thought-out strategy worked very well in getting the situation under control. The Covid-19 pandemic also favoured the state’s cause, and anti-CAA sentiments got lost in the shuffle in the later stages.

The health minister of Assam, Dr Himanta Biswa Sarma, took charge of the situation and did a decent job. The way the state Government manoeuvred the CAA protests gave the required undercurrent to the saffron party, just one year before the 2021 assembly election.

On the opposition side, anti-BJP forces are finding it very difficult to come under one umbrella. A fraction of the Congress party has proposed a pre-poll alliance with Badruddin Ajmal-led AIUDF. The alliance has recently contested the BTR election.

On paper, this combination looks detrimental to the saffron party in many constituencies. If we see some numbers from the previous 2016 Assam assembly election, BJP candidates got 46,343 votes in Batadroba constituency while AIUDF+Cong combined got 71,480 votes. In Bilasipara (East), BJP got 59,206 votes while Cong+AIUDF got 97,323 votes. In Sonai, BJP got 44,236 votes and Cong+AIUDF combined got 68,792 votes.

The overall vote share of BJP+ was 41.9% and that of AIUDF+Congress was 44%. This voting pattern strongly suggests that an alliance between the Congress and AIUDF would change their fate in the next election.

But the perception of this alliance is very different from the reality on the ground. Many leaders within the Congress party have shown their unhappiness regarding the alliance with AIUDF either due to their reservation or fear of losing candidacy to AIUDF members. Reportedly, some sitting congress MLAs are in talks with the saffron party and they may switch sides right before the election.

Former Congress Minister and sitting MLA Ajanta Neog and Rajdeep Goala are also set to join the BJP in the next few days. The loyal Congress voters of Upper-Assam are unhappy about the Congress’s love affair with AIUDF as they see Ajmal’s politics as pro-migrant-Muslims. So this crucial chunk of Upper-Assam voters might shift towards newly formed regional parties that emerged from anti-CAA protests.

The legislative assembly election of Assam is scheduled to be held in Assam in March–April 2021. In the 2019 Loksabha (LS) elections, AIUDF contested for only three LS seats out of 14 in Assam. There was a direct contest between Congress and BJP in 9 LS seats. Out of these, the Congress got only one while BJP won the remaining. This shows that the AIUDF-Congress combination did not work well in 2019.

In the recently held BTC election, the Congress and AIUDF combo got only one seat out of 40 council seats. The lone winning candidate of the Congress later joined the BJP. The Tiwa Autonomous Council election result was also an embarrassment for the Congress party as the party secured only one seat while the BJP got 33 out of 36 seats.

The political equation is not as easy as a simple mathematical equation for the Congress party. They must consolidate their vote base by empowering loyal party workers and AICC has to play an active role in doing so. The recent death of Tarun Gogoi, the fatherly face of the Assam Congress, may also give rise to lobby politics within the party.

The ruling BJP party, on the other hand, have massively strengthened their grass root activity. The Government also initiated schemes like Arunodoi and SVAYEM, which are engaging in nature with the public. With these schemes, an environment of belonging with the Government has been successfully created. In rural areas, everyone seems to be busy with these schemes of the Government. Importantly, these schemes have touched everyone in the state irrespective of religion and caste.

The state BJP is aware of the 34.22% Muslim population of Assam. Although communal politics is on the rise, the BJPs organisational structure has reached many Muslim populated areas. A recently surfaced viral video of minister Himanta Biswa Sarma talking with a villager of a minority community via Whatsapp indicates that the state BJP does not want to take a tough anti-Muslim stance. Their party is growing stronger in rural Muslim areas where communal polarisation or social media outbursts do not seem to penetrate. The only thing these villagers care about is “roti kapda aur makaan”.

A recent decision of banning High Madrasa schools by the State Government also created a massive nationwide buzz. But in reality, the banning applies to only state-run High Madrasas. The Madrasas that preach religious texts belong to private organisations such as Jamiat Ulama-e-Hind, and these will still run as they were. In these circumstances, we should not be surprised if a few Muslim majority constituencies go to the Saffron party’s tally in the 2021 election.

For many voters, food, clothing and shelter is much more important than religion.

To stand as a formidable electoral force, the Congress party must clear its stand on CAA and NRC. In Bengali-dominated Barak valley, they project a pro-CAA view while in Brahmaputra valley they oppose CAA wholeheartedly. Their alliance with the AIUDF is also very foggy.

Lack of loyal stature and trust deficit among party workers is another concern for the opposition. There was a tremendous opportunity for regional forces to grab the political space left vacant by Assam Gana Parishad after the CAA agitation. A delay in decision making and lack of political experience hindered their progress. Some anti-CAA leaders joined the Congress party; some joined BJP while others are busy forming political parties without thinking about political sustainability.

The campaigning drive of Assam Jatiyo Porishod (AJP) born out of the anti-CAA movement seems promising, but it is too little too late. The road for Sarbananda Sonowal to serve his second term as chief minister of Assam seems clear unless the opposition does something miraculous in the next few months.

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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.

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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 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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