Which Indian politician is clean

India's Prime Minister Modi wants to educate his compatriots to be more hygienic. The whole country and especially the Ganges should be clean. These campaigns are also about political advertising.

Flocks of birds migrate over the Yamuna. Sometimes one of the animals starts to descend to fish something out of the water. Perhaps it will catch trash floating on the surface of the water, perhaps leftover food. It hardly catches fish or other animals.

Dirty Ganges

Delhi's city river, the largest feeder of the Ganges and like it a sacred body of water for the Hindus, is considered dead at the height of the Indian capital. The blackish water smells brackish, there is rubbish on the bank, crouching figures relieve themselves in the embankments. A little downstream, industrial plants discharge their wastewater largely unfiltered into the river. Here, in a riverside settlement behind Delhi's old town, comes together what makes India a dirty country in the eyes of many: There is a lack of sanitary facilities, sewage systems, and options for waste disposal.

Narendra Modi wants to change that. In five years' time every Indian should have access to a toilet, waste water should be treated, and waste disposal should work across the country. The holy river Ganges should be clean again. At the beginning of October, the Indian Prime Minister launched the "Swachh Bharat Abhiyan", the initiative for a clean India. A month later he launched the Clean Ganga Campaign in the holy city of Varanasi.

Like much that the extremely popular Prime Minister initiated, the campaigns spread hope among the population that the situation of the country, which is suffering from so many grievances, will improve. As with many other reforms, however, numerous questions remain unanswered. “At the moment, Swachh Bharat is a PR campaign for Modi, not an environmental campaign,” explains artist and environmental activist Ravi Agarwal. "Modi is not a green politician." Indeed, many of his business-friendly reforms aim to soften environmental standards, for example in the rezoning of agricultural and forest areas. Modi is primarily concerned with making political capital out of a popular campaign, Agarwal says.

The instinctive prime minister has undoubtedly recognized a pressing problem. The rising middle class in particular, who have high hopes for the new government, would like their country to be able to keep up with the West in all respects and to shed the reputation of being a dirty kid. India's environmental problems are huge. In no other city in the world is the air as polluted as in Delhi. Half of the more than 1.2 billion Indians have no access to sanitary facilities. The pollution of public spaces, even in temples, is legendary. That does not fit into a modern superpower that Modi wants to make India into.

However, too many detailed questions have not been clarified to believe that the campaigns will have a lasting effect, says environmental activist Agarwal. Building a hundred million toilets in five years alone is a Herculean task. But it's not done with that. A study by the United Nations Children's Fund Unicef ​​shows that in the past not all toilets built by the government were actually used by the population. Changes in behavior take time. There is also the problem of disposal. The installation of chemical toilets is under discussion in certain regions. Without proper disposal, these cause more environmental problems than they eliminate, according to Agarwal. However, none of these aspects are given any attention in the campaign.

Special tax for campaigns

For cleaning the corridor, as is often the case with ambitious government plans, reference is made to Modi's track record in the state of Gujarat, which he ruled from 2001 to 2014. In environmental circles, however, there is agreement that the cleaning of the Sabarmati in Gujarat's capital Ahmedabad cannot serve as a model for the Ganges. A canal was built there and clean water was fed into the city center. The promenade has been upgraded, but the river has not been cleaned up. The bill alone is not enough.

Financing also raises questions. The cost of the “Swachh Bharat” initiative alone is estimated at the equivalent of CHF 10 billion. Parts of it should come from the private sector, Modi speaks of new business areas. Agarwal points out, however, that no direct fees can be charged for the cleanliness of public spaces. “That's why I don't see a business model in this area. If people have to pay every time they use the toilet or sewer, it won't work. "

Nevertheless, there are options for private financing. India introduced a compulsory corporate tax for charitable projects in April. Companies of a certain size have to spend two percent of their net profit on corporate social responsibility. Due to a government decree, expenses for “Swachh Bharat” and “Clean Ganga” are now also covered by this regulation. Agarwal fears that other social projects could be weakened.

There is no doubt anywhere that the power politician Modi is running the campaigns professionally. "Swachh Bharat" cleverly linked Modi to the super-figure Mahatma Gandhi. He launched the campaign on his birthday and chose the Rajghat memorial, the cremation site of the father of Indian independence and a place of pilgrimage for many of his followers. "Gandhi not only dreamed of a free, but also of a developed and clean India," explained Modi. "That is why it is our duty to keep the country clean." The promise is to be kept by October 2, 2019, Gandhi's 150th birthday. Support for the government's cleanliness initiative thus becomes a matter of respect for Gandhi.

Cleaning on Youtube

The campaigns are an example of Modi's way of doing politics. As in the election campaign, the Indian Prime Minister is relying on a strong personal presence and the power of the new media. On the day of the launch of «Swachh Bharat», he himself picked up a broom and swept the forecourt of a police building in Delhi and later a street in a residential area. He called on nine famous personalities to do the same, including famous cricketers and movie stars.

Those named in turn choose nine other people to take part in cleanliness campaigns. Every day the media reports about new participants in the campaign, and countless videos on the Internet show how people mopping and sweeping across the country. Smartphone applications have also been developed for “Swachh Bharat”, for example to identify polluted areas in a city and ask friends to clean them up.

Modi pursues political intentions with his campaigns and therefore primarily relies on marketable success reports. Superficial cleanliness is better suited than sustainable environmental protection. But even the critical activist Agarwal does not want to rule out that the campaigns have a positive effect on the environment. It will be a long time before Delhi's waterfowl can catch fish again in the Yamuna.

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