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Books written by B G Verghese

While many Indians thought Modi had taken the US by storm and held his audiences spellbound, RSS acolytes beat up Rajdeep Sardesai for being critical, while leading American commentators said the visit “fell short of expectations” and was little more than a “getting to know you visit”

Broom and The Boss

Wonderful slogans for Clean India need to be matched by infrastructure and and 21st century thinking that shuns casteism.

By B G Verghese

6 October, 2014

After a US visit that was more spectacle than substance, Mr Modi rushed back to India to inaugurate Swachh Bharat – a clean Indian campaign, a great idea. So Gandhi Jayanti saw everybody wielding a broom that provided a lot of photo-opportunities. And the icing on the cake a day later was the RSS Chief’s 110 minute live Vijaya Dashmi broadcast which Doordarshan, obviously acting under orders, found “newsworthy” even before its contents were known.

While many Indians thought Modi had taken the US by storm and held his audiences spellbound, RSS acolytes beat up Rajdeep Sardesai for being critical, while leading American commentators said the visit “fell short of expectations” and was little more than a “getting to know you visit” after a post-2002 period of frostiness, “with expression of goodwill but little in the way of concrete deals”. The hard work to get investments and agreements, as on the nuclear liability issue, must now commence.

But reflection was cut short by the frenzy over Swachh Bharat. Clean India is a wonderful slogan but taking up a broom symbolically on occasion is simply not good enough. Modi invited nine brand ambassadors join the drive and asked each to recruit nine others and those nine to recruit nine more until the whole nation was involved. Let us wait and see what transpires.

The problem with Modi’s call to build toilets or wield the broom is that neither movement has been fully systematised. One may build a toilet, but is there water and sewerage and sewage treatment all down the line, or is the muck to be merely removed from point A to point B by manual scavengers or left to drain into a depression or be blown by the wind?

Modi’s Swachh Bharat is not conceived nor funded or staffed as a system. The danger is that the drive might just peter out or be transferred elsewhere or be transformed. The manual scavenger, abolished by the Constitution and regularly thereafter- this is something of a joke for which all governments are responsible - is still active in large numbers. Apart from systems, the still oppressive caste system will not allow it to die easily. This is a problem that Modi and the RSS have not addressed. In Bihar in late September a temple was washed after the chief minister, Jeetan Ram Manjhi, a dalit, visited it. Not a casteist blinked. This is par for the course. Who is going to lead the way to abolish caste. Will the RSS step forward?

The RSS Chief, Mohan Bhagwat was on Vijaya Dashmi given the signal privilege of a live broadcast over Doordarshan that, according to one report, lasted 70 minutes! This is unprecedented. Mr Javdekar,the I&B Minister, says Prasar Bharati has complete autonomy to cover events based what it considers newsworthy. True, but coverage can last some minutes live, or be reported later on merits, but cannot be mandatory live viewing in toto in the case of a private functionary. BJP spokespersons on TV argued that the Pope’s Christmas Mass has been covered live. But only as a news item for some minutes and not verbatim live. Mention was made of Sonia and Rahul Gandhi. But, when have they been given the privilege of broadcasting an unseen 70-minute script live. Never. This is the first time this has happened.

But who is Mohan Bhagwat, but the head of a secret and unaccountable organisation associated with a clutch of communal offshoots that have been spreading violence and hatred in the name of Hindutva. Let there be no mistake. Hindutva has nothing to do with Hinduism, but is an ultra-nationalist movement that assumes overlordship over all minorities who shall only live on its sufferance. Read Savarkar and Golwalkar’s texts and the current “love-jihad” and other strong-arm campaigns to discover its narrow, divisive, fascist nature. Among other things Bhagwat spoke of cow slaughter and beef eating and infiltration from Bangladesh. Mr Modi gave his ex-post approval to Bhagwat’s social reform agenda.

There were protests in Madhya Pradesh last week after a Christian youth married a Hindu girl, both majors, over the objection of her parents. The girl has been returned to her family after “right-wing activists” threatened mayhem and the man was arraigned for not notifying the district magistrate and getting his approval for the marriage a month before the ceremony, under a bizarre and possibly unconstitutional State law. Mohan Bhagwat proclaims this brand of Hindutva as the “identity of India”. Certainly not for all civilised Indians among whom a vast majority of Hindus must be included.

Modi’s Vijaya Dashmi radio broadcast over AIR was however a good innovation as a means of reaching out to the people. He has promised to make this a monthly or even fortnightly event which would be all to the good for mass communication. Mrs Gandhi did a monthly radio broadcast in Hindi and English on the model of Roosevelt’ fireside chats for the first three years she was in office. So Mr Modi is following a good example.

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