“Sadiyon raha hai dushman daur-e-jahaan humara. Kuch baat hai ki hasti mitt’ti nahin humaari.” Why is it that India is among the very few ancient cultures that survives to this day? How have we managed to hold on to our culture and identity for so long? One of the reasons is, whenever we have faced existential crises, those that threaten the very core of our nationhood, we have had mass movements that have rejuvenated our culture. Through these movements, we have held on to the best from the past, and yet reformed it by bringing in something new. Over the last few centuries, we have been rejuvenated by movements triggered by noble souls such as Swami Dayananda Saraswati, Swami Vivekanand, and many others, on issues as varied as equality among social classes, empowering women and religious coexistence.
‘Mann ki Baat’, the popular monthly radio broadcast by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, is an example of one such mass movement. As it completed 50 episodes last Sunday, it would be instructive to look back at the India of 2014. Home to the largest young population in the world, the India of 2014 had, for almost a decade, been generating headlines about scams and misgovernance. There was a sense of general drift, out of tune with what one expects from a country of such huge demographic dividend. ‘Mann ki Baat’ was an out-of-the-box experiment in such a time. The PM would talk directly to the citizens, without any intermediaries, once a month. The conversations would be seemingly mundane, such that by their very design they would involve everyone. The medium, in an age of digital media, would be radio, thus allowing everyone to feel a certain connect with the PM. And Modi would promise one more thing. That, in as politicised a time as ours, this monthly conversation would have nothing to do with politics.
Fifty months into this fascinating experiment, one can now see that only a leader like Modi could have pulled off a programme like ‘Mann ki Baat’. Who else could advise the youth to inculcate a spirit of volunteerism than one who had lived by the same credo? Who else could inculcate a sense of pride in becoming a swachhata ambassador than one who believes in the dignity of labour? Who else could make khadi cool again than one who, by the very simplicity of his lifestyle, set up a new fashion trend? Who else could motivate our young children to give up the fear of exams than one who had never flinched at facing any exam in his life?
Modi is as much a creation as he is the creator of the mass movement of Jan Bhagidari. In his days as chief minister of Gujarat, Modi first pioneered this concept of Jan Bhagidari to promote the politics of development and governance. Soon after becoming prime minister, one of the first initiatives he took was to launch MyGov, a citizen interaction platform. And, in October 2014, he started ‘Mann ki Baat’. The two platforms have been intrinsic in shaping a discourse where a politics of attrition is not the be-all and end-all of all conversations. A healthy society expects and demands more.
Pawan Acharya, from Alwar, Rajasthan, used the September 2015 ‘Mann ki Baat’ forum on MyGov to make a request to all Indians to use as many earthen lamps (diyas) as they could that Diwali. He said it would not only help the environment, but will also provide employment to many potter families. It was one of the themes discussed in that month’s ‘Mann ki Baat’. Cut to the Diwali season of 2018. One of most loved and viral social media campaigns of recent times has been a short video by a private firm promoting the use of earthen lamps.
The inherent urge to promote goodness and positivity in our society was always there. The megaphone that the Prime Minister of India gives to these urges makes them mainstream, and then the creativities of a billion people take over. And so it was, that when we faced a crisis in 2014, our inherent resilience helped develop another rejuvenating mass movement — ‘Mann ki Baat’.