By using Mahatma Gandhi’s spectacle as the logo for the ‘Swachh Bharat’ programme, the Government has reminded us about the attention Gandhi paid to cleanliness. In his description of life on Tolstoy Farm in South Africa, Gandhi goes into an elaborate description of how one ‘could not find refuse or dirt anywhere on the farm.’ Rubbish was properly buried, waste-water collected and used to water trees, a pit dug for nightsoil and converted to manure for use on the farm.

He does not mince words and his descriptions are vivid. ‘By our bad habits we spoil our sacred river banks and furnish excellent breeding grounds for flies with the result that the very flies which through our criminal negligence settle upon uncovered nightsoil defile our bodies after we have bathed.’

With such an obsession (he would personally clean latrines), it is no surprise that he used the inauguration of Benaras Hindu University in 1916 to talk about visiting the Viswanath Temple and asks ‘Is it right that the lanes of our sacred temple should be as dirty as they are? If even our temples are not models of roominess and cleanliness, what can our self-government be?’ And he frequently talked about cleanliness in the villages where he stopped during the salt march to Dandi in 1930. And on. And on. Yet, he could not change the minds of our people.

Following Gandhi

Poor Modi, having chosen Varansi as his constituency had little option but to pick up Gandhi’s unfinished business. When he first announced the Swachh Bharat campaign, my skeptical response was ‘Where is Modi going to succeed when Gandhi failed?’ I’m not alone, for a cynical attitude is something we seem to imbibe with the water in this country.

Many knowledgeable commentators and politicians have decided they need to point out all that is wrong with the campaign rather than help it succeed. Regular articles complain about the absence of bins, so where would people throw the garbage, huh? If municipalities do not regularly clean the bins, of course it will overflow, duh! And opposition politicians who believe they must oppose everything the government initiates have a lot to say about the appropriateness of the programme when there are other priorities.

On the other hand, this seems to be a programme that will make an impact for the government is trying hard to engage the people rather than merely make pronouncements. Apart from the Ministry of Urban Development that houses it, other ministries are playing their part. The Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation is giving a push in the rural areas with the ‘open defecation free by 2019’ goal. Collectors are motivated to meet targets of toilet construction, and realising that is not enough, people are being motivated to use toilets. Educational institutions are being asked to help and many are responding.

This programme presents a great opportunity for corporates. The theme of cleanliness and hygiene spans several businesses - pharmaceutical industry, health and personal hygiene products, cleaning products, bathroom fittings and supplies, tourism businesses, and so on. For these firms, a cleaner, trash free country is complementary to their strategy and they can made good use of their CSR budgets to work with the objectives of the Swachh Bharat movement.

The writer is a professor at the Jindal Global Business School, Delhi NCR, and Suffolk University, Boston