– V.N. Balakrishna | October 14, 2013
Ahmedabad | When the Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi told Delhi youth early this month, “toilets first, temples later” it turned out to be grist for Modi baiters’ mill. Cynics mocked. Modi is saying ‘Jai Jairam’ instead of ‘Jai Shri Ram,’ they said referring to Union Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh statement that country needs “more toilets than temples.”
Modi was into sanitation drive almost from the early days of his chief ministership when Gujarat was rocked in 2001. Seeing devastation firsthand his antenna quivered telling him (public) sanitation no longer can be subsumed to people’s primary need of roti, kapada aur makaan. His ‘Nirmal Gujarat’ celebration of 2007-08 was not for attracting tourists to his Golden Gujarat, as some cynically believed. He made it very clear that every village has to be a Nirmal Gram (clean village) by 2010 and earmarked Rs 261 crore in 2008-09 budget, jump of 55 percent from preceding year’s Rs 168 crore. Nirmal campaign successfully reduced epidemics which followed annual heavy rains and his “Gujarat Gaurav Gram Award” for best performers, especially office-bearers and government employees, perked up the sanitation drive. Sanitation blocks came up for primary schools and even BPL and APL families were roped in. His thrust on community sanitation led to building toilets in panchayats, schools, anganwadis and primary health centres. A scavenging tax too was mooted to intensify village sanitation drive.
All these showed Modi’s approach was sincere and never a one-off campaign. Before the 2012 Assembly polls he announced Rs 300-crore for special public toilets scheme for urban poor in all municipal corporation limits. Obviously Modi’s Cleanliness before Godliness had moved further from “Jai Shri Ram” rhetoric.
Modern youth realize poverty and its concomitant insanitation eyesores are man-made. With 24×7 media and education percolating to more rural and urban areas, mere shibboleths of upliftment of poor sounds hollow and duplicitous. Astute strategist that Modi is, he realized early in his political career that wearing development hat was not enough to keep his bandwagon trudging along the political landmines. Everyone wanted quality of life and this Zephyr wafting in the cool Gujarati air was soon picked up by Modi.
Sadly, India with over 1.25 billion people still has people defecating in open despite the Centre launching its flagship Total Sanitation Campaign (TSC) in 1991. Basic sanitation is still missing from the agenda of many state governments. It was left to Modi to bring a tectonic shift in people’s thinking in tune with Bindeshwar Pathak, founder of Sulabh International, who once remarked: It is a cultural problem that people are opposing the usage of toilets. They need to be told to discard the habit of defecating in the open. Lack of sanitation and hygiene is a national health hazard. And it should be tackled on a war footing. The subject of toilets is much more important than any other social challenge.