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Cleanliness is the new nationalism

Narendra Modi certainly made a sweeping statement during the launch of the ambitious and much-needed Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, as he pledged allegiance to a still missing national culture of cleanliness. Directing an elaborate political playacting in which high theatre is the state and the spectacular is the substance, Modi, in his characteristic flamboyance, injected a phallic potency in the humble broom, fusing a hard-to-detect sense of cultural hygiene with the technocratic dream of a growth-on-a-high-gear future.

His mission, to make India ‘clean by 2019’, coinciding with the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi, is, despite all the sound and fury, certainly an important and bold reimagination of the national ideal. As the PM has spelt out, sanitation and hygiene are above and beyond partisan politics and his reaching out to everyone in the political quarters as well as his attempt to rope in prominent opposition leaders such as Shashi Tharoor or Bollywood superstars like Salman Khan and Aamir Khan attest to his using this project as a springboard for a better tomorrow.

Marrying cleanliness with patriotism and nationalism, ala Gandhi, and promoting Swachh Bharat in New York City and Washington DC to cheering NRIs, US Congressmen and the American president Barack Obama, Modi has spun the project as something more than a run-of-the-mill political showmanship to yield electoral brownie points and ensure post-poll longevity.
    
But Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan is a five-year-long campaign covering 4041 statutory towns and with a goal to build tens of millions of toilets, ensure civic sanitation facilities for 1.2 billion Indians, especially those in the rural heartland. The total expenditure, approximately Rs 62,009 crore of which about one-fourth will be centrally assisted, is expected to be raised via public-private partnerships, citizen contribution, foreign donations, etc. Even though the PM has expressed indebtedness to his political predecessors for laying the proverbial cornerstones for this grand campaign, it must be said that no other mass leader after Gandhi has been able to achieve the symbolic capital that Modi has been able to rake up within barely four months into his maiden attempt to man the central government.

Yet beyond the marvelous immediacy of PM Modi holding a broom at a slum-dwellers colony for safai karmacharis and escalating his sweepstakes, formidable challenges remain. Modern sewage and drainage systems are still a distant dream for more than 70 per cent of Indian cities, townships and villages.   

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