The Real Change Modi’s Jhadoo Can Sweep In

Why Modi’s Swachh Bharat kick started with celeb endorsements, but had a smarter endgame.

ByMadhu Trehan
The Real Change Modi’s Jhadoo Can Sweep In
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Obviously this broom-vroom is going to go viral like the Ice Bucket Challenge. Prime Minister Narendra Modi nominated nine people for the Clean India message campaign, including Anil Ambani who picked up a broom yesterday (October 7, 2014) in a cute runner’s outfit with red shoes. Ambani nominated nine more, including Amitabh Bachchan, Shobhaa De and Shekhar Gupta. These three names are going to cause angst. Serious angst. Think of all the cringing going on now. Actors, society queens and journalists/editors are now going to be vying with each other to be nominated – by the right person. It has to be the ultimate status symbol. Would love to know what Suhel Seth is plotting to Get to the Top.

Okay, full disclosure coming up. I was nominated by Kiran Bedi. I mailed to ask what was expected of me? Easy, nominate nine more. Fine. I could have some fun with this. I could nominate my brother, Aroon Purie, Editor-in-Chief of India Today.  I can definitely say he has never touched a broom in his whole life. In fact, have any of the famous-nominated touched a broom in their lives? What would Aroon say? Predictably – give me a phatak on the back of my head and say, “You idiot! You think India is going to get clean with me sweeping a corner of it? What about industry polluting rivers?” I just don’t see him picking up a broom until he can see rational benefit.

Who is next? Any corporate head of industry. They would happily pick up a broom to secure a policy favourable to their company.

Next? Rahul Gandhi. He loves this. It’s his thing. Remember pictures of him working in a village carrying bricks on his head? He doesn’t care if it is BJP pushing the campaign. He just likes to hang out where he likes to hang out.

Then – Indu Jain, Chairman of the Bennett Coleman Group. Why? Just to see a replay of the lovely Bollywood cliché –an erstwhile wealthy lady sweeps the floor and her servant, who she can no longer afford, comes running up to her, snatches the broom from her and says – “Memsahib, aap aur yeh kaam? Na, na, na. Jab tak mein zinda hoon, yeh kabhi nahin hoga”.

So, I could go on and on. I will spare you. Obviously, Narendra Modi knows better than anyone that India will not become clean by celebrities taking up brooms. He knows it is the polluting industries that must be prosecuted into submission. It is, for example, corruption in Delhi Jal Board where you have 20,000 unsackable employees. There was a time when you could drink clean water straight from a tap in Delhi. Corruption in the Jal Board, lack of upgraded programmes, employees shrinking from simply doing their jobs has led to arguably the filthiest water in the world. Inadequate waste management gets Delhi’s waste to go straight into the Yamuna, which is now an open sewer. Narendra Modi knows that all of India’s cities desperately need water treatment plants, sewage treatment plants, toilets, waste management programmes etc. Then why the broom?

When my daughter was in school in Delhi, I discovered that one of their punishments entailed sweeping the classroom. When I approached the teacher to ask why they were being given the wrong message – that sweeping is a BAD thing, I simply could not get through to her. I pointed out to her that cleaning a classroom is normal and should be a happy thing to do. Why send out a message that sweeping is punishment? She looked at me blankly and asked how sweeping with a broom could be a good thing.

If a nurse drops Betadine (a dark brown highly-staining liquid) on the floor, she will not pick up a paper tissue and wipe it. It is beneath her status. The liquid will have to wait for a sweeper to come and wipe it off, by which time the stain has turned into a permanent mark on the floor.

This, in fact, is Modi’s message. He has got the broom in upper-caste, middle caste and any-caste hands. Modi is removing the stigma of the broom. The stigma of picking up dirt. The stigma of picking up after one’s self. Modi is clever enough to know these celebrity brooms are not going to clean India. What he does know is that if he puts a broom in celebrity hands, it becomes cool to clean up after yourself. And let it not be forgotten, he has taken one small step forward to heal the stigma of one of the lowest castes – sweepers. Meanwhile, my own sweeper at home can’t wait to get the broom OUT of her hands. She has applied for a village teacher’s training programme in Patna. Her eyes have been dancing ever since.

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