Recently on my way back to India, flying over the pacific between Vancouver and Tokyo, I was thinking about the modern day India. As an emigrant from India living in adopted foreign lands for the last 52 years, I have never stopped arguing for and dreaming of a prosperous, just and fair India.
For the fear of being misunderstood as disloyal to their adopted lands, it is difficult for many immigrants to continue to acknowledge the unquestionable pull and the unbreakable bond of birth, nurture and the innate umbilical connection with the lands they have left behind. From the day I left India for the first time at the end of 1964 as an eighteen year old, throughout the heyday of the Khalistani extremists and terrorists in Canada in the early to mid eighties and afterwards, I have continued to honour and cherish my Indianness.
On the next leg of our journey -from Tokyo to Delhi–I couldn’t escape the thoughts of the India I was returning to: the incessant political muckraking amongst parties, the endless sloganeering, the searing corruption, the maddening chaos, the soaring wealth and the crippling poverty; and in the midst of it all the somewhat hyped up but necessary campaign of Swachh Bharat.
There can be absolutely no quarrel with the idea of a physically and environmentally clean Bharat: No ponds of raw sewage next to homes, schools or hospitals and no ubiquitous mounds of stinking garbage. But the planners and the politicians, the theoreticians and the sloganeers have forgotten the one big slumbering and stinking elephant in the room that, left unchecked and undefeated, will remain an almost complete hindrance to a “Swachh Bharat”. Over the years that stinking elephant in the room has been bravely named, called out and challenged but unfortunately for us all, so far only unsuccessfully confronted. Even the admirable efforts by the likes of Jai Prakash Narayan and Anna Hazare have failed to pose a significant permanent threat to it. That so far indefatigable elephant is corruption.
Corruption is not just the financial or other bribes, though they by themselves are toxic and dangerous enough to the future of the country. Corruption is much larger and more sinister than just the money or favours sought from citizens for work or services that should be there just for the asking. It is the unethicality that pervades each and every aspect of the Indian public and private life that is the bedrock of all corruption. It is that which makes us unashamedly ask for, offer and accept bribes or illegitimate favours. It is the very same unethicality that makes us not care for our physical environs as well.
Come to think of it, the physical filth surrounding us mirrors the ethical filth residing in many hearts. In every aspect of life the unethicality runs amok. Many politicians and government employees, from top to bottom, think of themselves as overlords rather than the public servants they are. Many think nothing of squandering or privately amassing public wealth as opposed to pursuing public good.
Unfortunately many in private life are no less corrupt than the politicians, police forces and other public employees we legitimately lambast for their plunder and ruin of the country. Unless all of us become Swachh Bharatis that believe in justice, dignity and equality for all –from the peon to the President, a janitorial worker to the Prime Minister, the day labourer to the National Security Advisor, a peasant in a far corner of the country to the Tatas and Birlas, a constable on the beat to the Chief Justice of India–the idea of Swachh Bharat, great and desirable though it is, will not materialise. Unless we become who we criticise others for not being–the guardians of the ethics and non-corruption in the private and public life of India, the idea of Swachh Bharat, even just in our physical surroundings as promoted by our jhadu wielding Prime Minister, will continue to elude us. Unless we all become fair, just and ethical, we would be unable to build a fair, just and ethical India–in other words “Swachh” Bharat.
And that is because none, not even the Prime Minister, has understood or articulated the odious but powerful truth: The physical and ethical in filth are inseparable twins.
The inescapable, largely unrecognised and bitter truth is that Swachh Indians are the sin qua non of a Swachh Bharat. Swachh isn’t that preaches or hears Swachh. Swachh is that Swachh does. Avuchh Swachh banenga Bharat if we all become and do Swachh!