Friday, October 6, 2017

What does Swaach Bharat Undermine?

India is getting over the annual hangover of cleaning the country. Narendra Modi, in one broom sweep has created an eternal monument to himself. Whenever a broom is picked up in front of cameras thoughts go out to our dear Prime Minister. Many also point out that he has reduced Mahatma Gandhis philosophy to that of just ‘cleaning up’.

Mahatma Gandhi, by cleaning his own feaces indicated that we should be responsible for the dirt we generate. He was also putting the Indian community on notice for the horrifying treatment they had been meting out to sections of people for millenia, which continues to this day.

By working on the photo-ops that the Swaach Bharat campaign generates our leaders and their followers are doing very little to really clean up the mess. In modern parlance the Swaach Bharat campaign is all about End-of-Pipe solutions.

Cleaning up is what one does after things get dirty. So, the question remains why should we allow things to get dirty? Therefore shouldn’t the campaign be about not dirtying India? The answer to both is a socio-economic one.

The Social Aspect
‘This is not my job’ is what the caste system and Dharma is about. For centuries the caste system insured that there was somebody else to clean up after the rest. Dharma also stated that one should do ones duty according to ones caste. Thus there was one particular group of people who were supposed to do just that - clean up after others.

Not long ago I was speaking to a cleaner at a hospital who shared an incident with me. She said she had stopped a person from spitting on the wall and had asked him who would clean up. He answered that was her job.

But, this is nothing new, as Indians we constantly litter and spit. It has got so bad that walls have tiles portraying Hindu gods and symbols to prevent people from spitting there. It is not that there are no bins, people refuse to go close to the bin to dispose their waste. Like bad hoopsters they throw their waste from distance, hoping it enters the bin. So, one finds the area around bins covered with waste. People are unwilling to make the minimum effort to properly dispose the waste they generate.

Which brings us to another issue, the habit of keeping a home clean at the cost of their surroundings.  Amitabh Bachchan has been promoting the Mere 10 Guz initiative. As per this campaign people are asked to keep a few square feet around their house/office/shop clean. Where will all the waste and dust go? This campaign could inadvertently begin ‘border violations’ between neighbours.

The Economic Aspect

Tapping the bottom of the pyramid has not only increased the quantum of non-biodegradable waste but has introduced it to new places.  Capturing new markets, both in terms of consumers and geography, packaging has played a pivotal role leading to more waste.

Growing consumerism increases the quantum of waste generated - both biodegradable and non biodegradable. One does know that composting or bio-methanation are ways to deal with biodegradable waste, but what about non-biodegradable waste. What does one do with the 1 Re sachets and the kaleidoscope of packaging? The easiest answer is convert them them into fuel pellets. This is once again an End-of-Pipe solution which is not only polluting but also exonerates the companies who use and push such kind of packaging. Companies that manufacture and sell products need to be responsible for the packaging they use. What this means is that they should have a system to ensure that the packaging is returned to them. Thus, Coke and Pepsi would have an empty bottle collection system, a similar system would be necessary for white good manufacturers. As the size of products sold by FMCG companies varies they should pay a fee to municipalities for the waste they cause and for the proper collection and disposal of the packaging.

Currently these companies are not paying any social and environmental cost for the use of packaging. Indian citizens are paying a social, environmental and health cost because of such packaging.

Further, is it hypocritical to promote such a campaign even as the government simultaneously goes hammer and tongs in promoting dirty and polluting technologies like coal fired thermal power plants?

The Swaach Bharat campaign has led to clones. The Rally for the Rivers is an example. The Rally for the Rivers suggests growing trees on the river banks to save rivers. Like the Swaach Bharat campaign this one too is foisting an untenable End-of-Pipe solution. No mention is made about the rivers dying because of agricultural run-off and the dumping of raw sewage into rivers. The photographs of the aftermath of the Ganesh and Durga poojas shows another aspect of the threats faced by rivers.

The Swaach Bharat and other similar campaign undermines the nations ability to act responsibly and seek accountability from others. The solution it suggests is a facade  that prevents acknowledgment of a greater problem which is our ingrained mindset that permeates our social and economic behaviour.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Who is the next face after Prime Minister Modi?

 India’s current Prime Minister, Narendra Modi of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP),  rose from the ranks of  the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). The RSS is a Hindu-Nationalist Rightwing organisation which spawned the BJP. However, even though the BJP draws its ideology from the RSS,  Modis  tenure as the Gujarat Chief Minister and his subsequent 2014 national election campaign gave the illusion of him being his own man. In his campaign there was no blatant mention of a Hindu agenda or the construction of a Ram Mandir which his party has worked for earlier. Modi spoke of his 56 inch chest, alluding to him being the Alpha Male. The promise was to build an India that Indians could be proud of, an India that would hark back to the ‘glory days’ of yore.

Modi led his party to a resounding victory in the 2014 national elections even though the opposition made much of the Gujarat riots during his tenure as Chief Minister. As India’s 14th Prime Minister, he hopped across the globe basking in the adulation of the Indian diaspora as his image managers built a profile of global appeal; a form of ‘Halo Effect’ on a much larger scale. During the election he portrayed himself as the THE Indian; with his foreign jaunts he gave a new face to India. The image of Modi playing the Taiko drums in Japan, bear hugging leaders of foreign lands sent a message of arrival to all at home. The RSS had been trying to create an image of a macho Hindu to deal with what they believe was its emasculation over the last hundreds of centuries caused by non-Hindus ruling this land. This need to regain their perceived lost manhood could explain their quasi martial rites and the use of violence or its threat by organisations spawned by it. Modi with his exploits brought a long absent sense of bravado and machismo, revitalising and infusing a sense of purpose into the lives of many people who felt wronged by history.  

The new found post-Modi-victory-virility has percolated to the the tone and depiction of Hindu memes and religious motifs. One of the iconic images of the monkey king Hanumanji, the much loved devotee of the Hindu god Shri Ram, has been of him tearing open his chest to show the image of Shri Ram and his consort Sitaji. However, Hanuman has gotten a makeover, he has been converted into a monkey king with a dark  sinister and hostile look that promises violence . The genteel beatific look that shone through in the countenance of Shri Ram and Laxmanji in their individual pictures or as they stood together has changed. Today they are ripped and look hard and determined, their long hair ruffled but contained.  

The creation of these images and their oozing through society goes hand in hand with the RSS and their cohorts constant desire to undo and rectify the past, to remove the black mark on, what they believe, is an otherwise unblemished history. One outcome is  patriotism morphing into rabid saffron hued nationalism. Is an environment similar to that before the ‘Kristallnacht’ being inadvertently created? 

Which brings us to the choice of  a nationalist Hindu priest - Yogi Adityanath -  as the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh. Uttar Pradesh has the highest number of  Parliamentary seats (80) out of which the BJP won 71 and is also the state where the disputed Babri Masjid-Ram Janma Bhoomi (birthplace of Lord Ram)is located. The RSS and Hindu nationalists want to build a temple on that spot. Building a temple there has religio-nationalistic overtones. Its construction will, in one swipe, sanctify the birthplace of Shri Ram,  begin to undo the destruction, and the resulting psychological scars’, caused by the Muslim invaders  and simultaneously cock-a-snook at fellow citizens who are Muslims.
When Adityanath was chosen as the new Chief Minister, media houses tripped over themselves to show that he was not rabidly anti-Muslim. They wrote and broadcast stories of how Muslims work as his staff without fear. Strangely these stories never came out when this very same man spewed venom on Muslims over the last many years. 

With a Hindu priest as Chief Minister in Uttar Pradesh, the RSS has an opportunity to make real part of their fantasy. The success of their venture in this state has the potential of  galvanising other BJP led states into further action.  Modi was the image for the aspirational Indian who was given reasons to begin shedding the burden of self-anointed victimhood foisted by history. In this new enterprise, Yogi Adityanath will become the face of the Indian who finally realise their India’s aspirations. Will Yogi Adityanath then become the First Priest and Prime Minister of India as a Hindu state?

Monday, July 10, 2017

International Yoga Day - A Fine Example of Multiculturalism

The media bent themselves backwards covering the 3rd International Yoga Day. Photographs of people in various asanas at various iconic locations - from the Great Wall of China to Machu Pichu littered on-line and off-line media. Cities across the world carved out space and time for their inhabitants to practice this ancient form now seen as an exercise. The Indian Army had their soldiers perform postures along the country’s snowy borders, the Indian Navy had their sailors perform asanas on board their ships, the Indian Air Force could not find any asanas to perform in the air. The Prime Minister of India crowed that Yoga binds the world. It would seem that the Prime Minister, like every other proud India, has laid claim to the power of Yoga. Unfortunately, enlightened as he may be, Modi like the rest of his brethren are willy-nilly ignoring the worlds willingness to try out something alien to their culture. They choose to repudiate the global open-mindedness that results in the acceptance, respect and practice of Yoga.  

It appears as if Prime Minister Modi is doling out largesse to the rest of the world. The imagery of the world being gifted by India does make many Indians proud. Be that as it may, is the very reason for such benefaction the predilection for recognition, something which Modi of the ruling Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) and their ideological fount the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh covet so hungrily? Should there therefore be pride in such an oblation when the underlying rationale is more selfish and less selfless?

There is a concentrated endeavour to internationally showcase and promote this land as being a societal and civilisational cradle. The need to be acknowledged and celebrated as being some kind of originator and an original bolsters the argument of this lands glorious past and validates attempts to return to this bygone era. The process to regress to this much heralded glorious past requires divisive repression of minorities. Thus even as Modi feeds of the world’s multi-culturalism to promote Yoga, the idea of diversity, its, practice and respect is dying in India.

One can see this trend. What began as a sly mudslinging has now become sinister and life threatening. The word secular was morphed to ‘Sickular’, while liberals were branded as ‘libtards’. However, now people identified as such face death by proponents of the Right Wing Hindutva philosophy. In the recently concluded meeting of Hindu organisations, Sadhvi Saraswati is quoted saying seculars will be the first to be attacked.

This conclave which this individual was part of deliberated on ways to ensure that India would be converted to a Hindu state by 2023. People at this conference also disavowed the Indian Constitution and stated that the constitution for India was written by Ram and Krishna. They also demanded the public execution of those consuming beef. One would have drawn strength and comfort from the thought that it was the fringe speaking if it were different from what elected BJP politicians  have been voicing. These politicians are suggesting the death sentence for those found guilty of slaughtering cows. States ruled by the BJP have in place laws that provide for life imprisonment, while police in some of these states plan to use parts of the National Security Act in such cases.

Today, it is hard to ascribe the location of the fringe. Is the elected government part of the fringe or the fringe part of the elected government?

It is disconcerting that the international multi-culturalism that Modi and his ilk enjoy and manipulate is not accorded or practiced in India. The Prime Minister of India, the RSS and the proponents of the so called Hindu Rashtra should learn from the acceptance of plurality and diversity that has resulted in the global celebration of Yoga. But it seems that they would rather use this multi-culturalism abroad to achieve their own saffron hued mono-cultural xenophobic wonderland at home.