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Mainstream, VOL LII, No 48, November 22, 2014

Clean Epitome, Loam Pattern

Saturday 22 November 2014, by Amna Mirza

‘Cleanliness is next to Godliness.’ These towering ideas of Mahatma Gandhi have been there since a long time. The recent act of ‘Clean India’ in the form of ‘Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan’ by Prime Minister Modi has captured the imagination of masses towards this dictum.

It is often pointed out that even in the past such initiatives were taken. However, this time the idea of a polity which is uncontaminated has been ushered in at the governance plank. The era of globalisation, the peculiarities of people’s needs, yardstick of ever-rising expectations have made it imperative for political forces to downplay the idea of government as the only factor. So, therefore it is being put forward as a mass movement with people from various fora of society to be roped in.

There can be no dispute over giving credit to the thumping majority as swept by the image of the Prime Minister. Nonetheless, the rhetorics are marked by symbolism where the deeper implications of various measures initiated seem hollow. The idea of a clean nation was also heard in the previous government’s policy of ‘Nirmal Bharat’.

As far as the novelty of the dirt-free nation is concerned, the crusade is surely praiseworthy. However, the effort cannot be just taken at its face value. When the muck pervades in other social processes, mere sparkles of neat ambience shall do no good. The country is witnessing a time where coalitions are under suspect with the rise of one single party. Alongside is the base of people’s mandate where the idea of ‘good days ahead’ with a new regime looms large. An uncanny episode here is the rise of forces which perceive things in the extreme—be it be rise of moral policing as happened in the case of vandalising coffee shops in Kozhikode recently or riots in face of intolerance as witnessed in Trilokpuri or fanaticism towards the youth as seen in the ‘love-Jihad’ case.

An attack on liberal values of co-existence, consensus as a way out to deal with diversity, respect for pluralism has been subtly professed in such incidents. The fabric of society is seen to be tutored in a way which rents asunder the synchronicity. The past has been a witness to the fact that such acts of detestation breed more odium.

Though the initiative deserves all the merit, yet the fanfare involved in this episode needs to answer certain perplexing questions. Can a movement of immaculate polity move in complete denial of revulsions erupting based on magnification of the majoritarian ethos? The legacy of the Father of the Nation—Gandhi—is being reduced to paying tribute in 2019 to him at the cost of sheer neglect of harmony that he called for always. Further, history is all along contextual where texts speak to each other. The cleanliness act will be half-way without throwing light on reform of the Hindu social order in the light of the division of labour with reference to Ambedkar. The hierarchy—legitimised by religion and society—has been the cause of exploitation for several masses since ages. The silence of the current dominant discourse on basic sanitation facilities for many in rural areas further makes the paradigm only on an elitist urban terrain.

Therefore, the need of the hour is to usher in cleanliness not only at superficial surface terrains but deep down the hearts that the ethos of the country has always preserved. An effort has to be made to relocate the state of axis of purity not just to the broom act but also purge the society of evils like backlash in the name of fundamentalism, majority-minority clashes, and rise of fundamentalism. If the idea of a clean nation has to be elemental in terms of appreciating deep-seated Gandhian values, it is vital for the new regime to factor in accord amongst all. The congruence amongst all communities, the coherence of rural and urban India shall be the real foundation of a pure nation as Gandhi dreamt. Religion is always a source for purity for all; let us not relegate it to rebellions for vested causes. An apt tribute to Gandhi in 2019 shall be saying no to uprisings and unrests which steal the real essence of cleanliness.

Dr Amna Mirza is an Assistant Professor of Political Science, University of Delhi. She can be contacted at email:

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