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Child rights: AAP takes on civil society for being "too weak" on demands from established political parties

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By Our Representative
The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), which created a flutter by grabbing 28 of the 70 assembly seats in Delhi recently, has come down heavily on Gujarat’s struggling civil society for being “too soft” towards government authorities. Speaking at a workshop organized by high-profile non-profit advocacy group Child Rights and You (CRY), meant to ask political parties to include child rights issues in their election manifestos ahead of the 2014 polls, AAP’s Gujarat convener Sukhdev Patel said, “The 10 demands you have identified are very weak. You do not aggressively insist that child rights be included in manifestos. Your tone seems suggest you are, as if, begging from them.”
An activist-turned-politician who initiated AAP in Gujarat early this year, Patel, who was himself Gujarat’s foremost child rights activist before joining the fledgling political party, said, “It is not the language or spelling mistakes that make it weak. It is weak because it fails to address the issue of child rights with force. Take, for instance, the demand which says that right to education (RTE) should apply to all non-adults, i.e. those up the age of 18. The civil society has been making this demand for the last one decade, but with no results. You are again pleading for it without realizing indifference on the part of established political parties.”
Specifically referring to the need to amend the Constitution (Eighty-sixth Amendment) Act, 2002, which inserted Article 21-A in the Constitution of India to provide free and compulsory education to all children in the age group of six to 14 as a fundamental right, based on which the RTE Act, 2009, was put into force, Patel said, “It is difficult to understand why have you not referred to the need to change Article 21-A. Before allowing Article 21-A to be passed in Parliament, Congress president Sonia Gandhi, opposition leader in 2002, initially suggested the need to bring about the change to include all pre-18 children under it. But she strangely allowed it to be passed without any changes.”
Patel was one of the three political respondents to the “demands” worked out by Gujarat’s civil society for CRY campaign to include child rights as part of political agenda in the polls – the other two were former state finance minister Babubhai Meghji Shah, who was defeated fighting on Congress ticket from Rapar, Kutch district, in the last assembly polls, and Congress' Patan MP Jagdish Thakore. While on the sidelines of the workshop, Shah told Counteview he was right now with “no political party”, Thakore said it was unfortunate issues related to right to education do not become part of campaign of any party and people remained unaware of this important right. BJP refused to send any representative to the workshop.
Patel, riding on AAP’s unexpected show in Delhi polls, stole the show, criticizing the Gujarat government’s failure to curb child labour and declaring that AAP would forcefully campaign for child rights, claimed, during the last 10 years of Narendra Modi rule “21 lakh children became child workers.” He added, “Education formed 22 per cent of the budget before the Modi government came to power in 2001. Now it is 14 per cent.” Patel alleged, the CRY-sponsored manifesto is “not just weak on demands, it has factual inaccuracies.” He added, “Way back in 1960s, the Kothari commission recommended education budget be six per cent of the gross domestic product (GDP), yet even today it is around three per cent.”
The workshop, which took place at Gandhi Vidyapeeth, Ahmedabad, saw participation by backward sections of society, including Dalits, tribals and large number of women. NGOs working on child rights’ issues in Gujarat, including important child rights advocacy groups Janvikas and Human Development and Research Center (HDRC), took part in preparing the list of demands from political parties. The demands included were -- political parties should accept that 0-6 and 15-17 years of children should be covered under RTE, there should be right to health to every child, and there should be a special focus on migrants’ children to ensure their admission in schools. Claiming signature of 4 lakh supporters in favour of the demands list, one of the important ones insisted on “common schooling” and abolition of privatization of schools.
Urban middle class party?
Bouyed by its huge successes in Delhi, AAP – which is “preparing” to contest all 26 Lok Sabha seats from Gujarat – has claimed “unprecedented” response from “all sections.” AAP’s Gujarat convener Sukhdev Patel told Counterview, “If before the Delhi polls, about 3,000 persons were enrolled with AAP, now the numbers have swelled to 27,000.” He added, “Of the 27,000, about 17,000 have registered themselves onlineas AAP members. Everyday, more than 2,000 new members are enrolled, and majority of them are enrolled online.”
Saying the “highest number of online registrations has come from Narendra Modi’s constituency, Maninagar,” Patel said, “There is already a fear in BJP. We had put up around 10,000 AAP posters asking people in two days to join the party all over Ahmedabad.  The BJP workers went on rampage overnight to tear nearly half of them.” Does such "huge response" online should mean that AAP is emerging as an urban middle class party, Patel replied to Counteview, “It would seem so.”

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