Cleanliness is Godliness?

Cleanliness is Godliness?

From Madison Square Garden to Mandir Marg, Narendra Modi has made a clean sweep.

We live in schizophrenic times. Shortly after the Prime Minister tried to revive khadi on All India Radio, Doordarshan beamed some margdarshan — the RSS chief’s annual address to his flock, now elevated to the status of an address to the nation. A day earlier, the PM had inaugurated the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan with: “Gandhiji had two dreams, free India and clean India.” Pity the poor suckers who waste their lives writing fat tomes on Gandhian thought. They have no idea it’s just a one-liner.

On Gandhi Jayanti, Modi snatched the broom from the nerveless hands of Arvind Kejriwal, and then he made a clean sweep by inviting the citizenry to upload videos before and after cleanup drives in their localities on The “during” videos were supplied by cable television, which was all over the place in the crucial hour of the launch. Stirring animations everywhere, too — India News had a human hand sweeping magically clean across the Swachh Bharat logo, just like in the detergent ads. Incidentally, if Swachh Bharat works and India cleans up its act, Dettol soap will shrivel and die. Or it will need a new TV ad which does not have to peddle the fear of dirt to sell the product.

But not everyone held the line. News Nation played both Narendra Modi’s show and their own event: a programme in a mall in which young people were asked what Gandhigiri meant to them (the choice of location was not meant to be ironical). The answers suggested that education is flagging — no one had heard of The Story of My Experiments with Truth, except a parent named Shabir Ahmed, I think — but at the same time, it was clear that in an increasingly unsafe age, the young have developed a healthy fear of violence.

Perhaps to assert its autonomy, Rajya Sabha TV did a guftagu with Anurag Kashyap in his hotel room while everyone else was covering Modi’s clean sweep. Shall we hear the distant thunder of heads rolling? Or maybe, on the contrary, it will be held up as a mirror to Doordarshan, which is autonomous, while RSTV is owned by Parliament. And there’s no stopping free enterprise — while Modi swept away, Samay spent a lot of time trying to sell a Hanuman Chalisa yantra on a free gold-plated chain. But India TV made up for everyone with the utterly breathless: “Modi has picked up garbage with his hands!”


Earlier in the week, in New York City, Rajdeep Sardesai had also encountered some garbage and talked some garbage himself, when he got into an unseemly tangle with Modi-bhakts outside Madison Square Garden (which Indians are familiarly calling MSG; used to mean the monosodium glutamate in Chinese food). The bhakts think he is a Modi-baiter, though he has taken some baiting himself. There was a notable incident in the Gujarat chief minister’s campaign bus, in which he had crouched at his feet, to be told that the Sardesai shop ran by selling the riots story. Or words to that effect — the bus-borne interview is online, check it out. So are the videos and counter-videos of Sardesai’s run-in with the bhakts. These days, cameras have become so evolved that they have conflicting opinions, like humans. Soon, they’ll demand voting rights, too.

But despite the Prime Minister’s stirring show at MSG, the desi jhadu is the unchallenged visual emblem of this week. But hang on a moment, shouldn’t it have been an e-jhadu? There are such things. One sees them scooting about the airports, and they clean the streets of Western capitals. But for imagery, there is nothing to compete with the traditional Indian broom.