Of Brooms and Sweepers


I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: India doesn’t lack sweepers, but has too many people throwing garbage everywhere.

And that was true even before the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan was started, the big Indian cleanliness campaign. Since the inauguration on October 2nd, everyone who loves a good picture took a broom in his hand, asked some helpers to drop rubbish on the floor, and swung the stick till the photographer was done clicking.

The Prime Minister himself, Narendra Modi, swept the road. And so did the Heavy Industries Minister, the Civil Aviation Minister, the Minister for Science and Technology, the Minister for Minorities, and so on, and so forth. If that weren’t enough: Every single government office had, by order from the top, to administer a cleanliness pledge.

In fact, thousands of central and state government officials were forced to come to their workplaces for the start of the campaign. And that was, thanks to the Prime Minister, on a national holiday. So no long weekend for all of them.

Needless to say, many people doubt the campaign can be successful. Twitter was full of comments on “Muggle Quidditch” and the appeal to better sweep away corruption. My most favorite comment on the whole thing comes from the political psychologist Ashis Nandy. In an interview with the news website scroll.in, he said about Modi:

“[H]e believes in controlled democracy and wants the world to know India by cities which are spic-and-span. Image is very important to him, that we shouldn’t be considered second-rate by the white-skin or the yellow-skin ones.”

And further: “But some good will come out of this campaign. Government offices are excruciatingly dirty. It is not because they don’t have money. Habits are dirty. People have not learned to look for cleanliness outside their homes. They will pee on the wall. Cleanliness in the public place is not what is understood.”

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