~ By Prasanna Karthik
It has been some time since the launch of the “Swachh Bharat Abhiyan” and India’s streets are not sparkling clean. To many naysayers and critics, this is an irrefutable testimony attesting the colossal failure of the campaign launched by India’s Prime Minister (PM)NarendraModi. Many critics of the PM and the campaignboycotted the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan as they claimed that the campaign was merely a photo-ops event driven purely by political motives.ThePM of the world’s largest democracy has tobe a politician and every act of his will be covered by the media, but that does not mean that the PM should shut himself within the walls of his office? Secondly, when an average Indian (which includes the critics of the campaign) picks the broom and sweeps the streets, no journalist would come to takepictures and publicise it. The campaign was clearly an occasion for the average Indian to clean the nation and make a difference without posing for the shutter-bugs.
Nobody believedthat a day’s effort could remove the dirt accumulateddue to conscious negligence and wilful indulgence by a nation of 1.25 billion people over a period of 67 years. In fact, even if the whole of India were to come together and wield the broom on a single day, nothing much would change because sweeping alone is not the solution to India’s cleanliness problem; there are other issues as well such as sanitation infrastructure, garbage bins, waste management, town planning, civic training etc. However, is it advisable to wait till every requirement is in place or should a start be made with whatever is available and intelligent improvements are made as the campaign progresses? For 67 years Indians have waited, allowing theirstreets to stink and the nation to rot.
People committed to a clean India and those who heeded the PM’s call; do not believe that cleaning India is easy; they only believe that it is feasible and that needs to be done at any cost. Sweeping the streets on the 02 October was not an act of tokenism but one of symbolism – symbolising the possibilities Indiacan create if only Indians fire their moral imagination and get their act together. The critics should understand that there are bound to be short comings in the start to this long journey, but criticising is not going to improve things. Viscerally criticising the campaign trough myriad ways of intellectualisation and theorising on the issue, is only a mask to cover intentions to promote oneself at the cost of the nation. Supporters of the campaign should understand that sweeping the streets on a certain day can only be the beginning and never the end.
While politicians are criticized for politicizing issues of national and social importance,by labelling the campaign as a politically one, it is the critics of the campaign who are politicizing it; preventing politiciansfrom doing any good to the society. The dislike for a certain leader should not fester into a hardened opposition to noble tasks. Leaders come and go, however,the idea of India is eternal and the quest for a clean Indiapermanent. It is high time Indians begin to differentiate between a political move and a national movement. Sadly there are manyIndians who would want theirPM to fail, than have their nation succeed.
In India, sweeping is mainly reserved for people from certain social groups; this is inhuman and has to change. The act of coming together and wielding the broom was an opportunity for people from all social groups to challenge a discriminatory norm, by doing a job reserved for social groups that many assume are condemned by birth to take up such tasks. This was an opportunity to get into their shoes (many actually can’t afford a pair though),feel their pain, and change it. All those who criticise this campaign are in a way saying that cleaning is a job reserved for people of a certain social group only. Caste based discrimination is cruel and no social group should be earmarked for any tasks, be it the task of leading the world’s largest democracy or sweeping its streets. However, if people choose to become sweepers not out of compulsion or choice-less-ness but out of their own volition, they still need to be provided the right pay, amenities and technological supportso that their job doesn’t entail loss of human dignity. Sitting back and criticising the campaign will not help anyone move an inch in promoting cleanliness or restoring human dignity.
The campaign has several stages of progress, but its start has been effective. For the first time, the brand ambassador of a national campaign is not a cricketer or a Bollywood actor; but the PM himself and this puts a lot of pressure on the administration at every level. The PM also realises that having him alone as the brand ambassador may not be sufficient and hence he roped in nine other well-known people, cutting across political and social divide, to lead the campaign in their circuits. These nine people are news makers in their own way and can givefurther impetus to the movement by their own actions and by furthering the chain of nominations. So clearly, the campaign was launched not as an event that will peter out in a day, but as a movement which will have its own self-sustaining mechanism and momentum to reach out to every corner of the nation and remove the filth and dirt present there.
When Jacquiline Kennedy, the former First Lady of the United States visited India, the then PM Jawaharlal Nehru invited a snake charmer to his residence to show her snake charming tricks. From there, we have moved on to have a PM who is keen toshow India’s best face to the world. Unfortunately, there are many areas where India and Indians needs to change; fortunatelyIndia’sPM is willing to take charge and lead from the front. But a nation of 1.25 billion people cannot be cleaned by one Prime Minister; but if 1.25 billion people join hands in this noble mission, they can achieve what even the PM cannot achieve. On 02 October, every Indian had the chance.
Now that 02 October is over, the real job begins. Indians need to commit themselves to keep the nation clean by not making it dirty and by not allowing others to make it dirty. Indian politicians should be held accountable in this area of work. Public must use the communication channels (www.mygov.in) introduced by the PM to share ideas that will make this campaign better. Voters must know who in the political-governance structure is responsible for which aspect of cleanliness and push them to do their respective duties. But before that, Indians need to rise beyond differences of all kinds.
Lack of cleanliness is a huge problem to be ignoredand need to be solved expeditiously. The PM has given it a time frame of five years; India should not miss the chance.
Prasanna Karthik is a management consultant and the views expressed are his own.