Behind the gloss, Swachh Bharat aims to build new national ethos

  • Zia Haq, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Oct 18, 2014 00:42 IST

The Modi government is scaling up Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, its flagship cleanliness mission, as a deeper national project aimed at building a new national ethos, riding on a high pitch of popular culture and public messaging, official communications accessed by HT show.

For instance, the government is considering using a slew of top television shows, such as KBC, Satyamev Jayate and Comedy Nights with Kapil, to amplify its reach.

Ads targeting “minds of the people” are also being planned, according to an official communication HT has seen. The information and broadcasting ministry has been asked to hire the “best media agencies” for “behavioural change ads” to activate a “triggering mechanism” with a “large-scale effect”.

The letter suggested at least two episodes of Comedy Nights and Satyamev Jayate, a show on social issues by actor Aamir Khan, are devoted to sanitation, apart from one episode of KBC. “The current season of KBC is ending and we can’t comment on the next season yet,” Siddharth Basu, the producer of KBC said.

The Swachh Bharat mission is similar to the tidiness project of Singapore’s first Prime Minister, Lee Kuan Yew. Yew launched a modernisation drive based on an ethos of cleanliness, introducing fines and penalties for litterbugs.

The government’s project is not as aggressive as Singapore’s and appears to be primarily an intensive awareness programme for a new value system. “(The government is) working in the domain of values and civilisational memory,” said social scientist Shiv Visvanathan.

It is to an extent a “nationalism project”, Visvanathan says, but not yet a “social revolution”, he said. “For instance, what does it mean for Dalits…these implications are not clear.”

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