Is it time for India to move beyond photo ops & tokenism?

Rohit Chandavarkar
Thursday, 21 June 2018

“India is seen as an unclean country by the westerners and rest of the world, most of the countries all over the world are many times cleaner than our country. We must change this and it starts with people of India,” said the PM in his speech.

When Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke from the Red Fort in Delhi on India’s Independence Day in 2014, people were very eager to hear what he had to say. After 10 years of Congress-led UPA’s rule and lots of allegations over corruption and alleged bad governance, people voted for the BJP in overwhelming numbers and there were high hopes so this speech was very eagerly heard by the nation.

PM Modi launched the idea of ‘Swachh Bharat Abhiyan’ in this speech for the first time. “India is seen as an unclean country by the westerners and rest of the world, most of the countries all over the world are many times cleaner than our country. We must change this and it starts with people of India,” said the PM in his speech. The idea was well taken. Then in 2015, the Prime Minister’s office asked cricketers, film stars and industrialists to show active participation in Swachh Bharat Abhiyan and lead the movement. So we had the media publishing pictures showing everybody right from Amitabh Bachchan to Sachin Tendulkar and hundreds of other sports and film personalities and even industrialists, holding brooms in their hands and cleaning some public place or the other.

Four years down the line, in cities like Mumbai, Delhi, Bengaluru, Pune, Kolkata, Chennai and most other urban centres in India, not much has changed in terms of the solid waste management. Municipal corporations of all these cities are struggling to manage hundreds of tonnes of garbage that gets generated every day and in cities like Maharashtra’s Aurangabad, we actually had a crisis like situation because of heaps of tonnes and tonnes of garbage lying on the roads for weeks together just a couple of months ago. So it transpired that the nationally famous celebrities cleaning city roads for a day remained just a ‘photo opportunity’ which made no impact whatsoever in any city in India.

Now, it’s time to think whether we as Indians are slowly getting used to these kinds of token photo opportunities and mere symbolism in almost every welfare activity?

Prime Minister Modi’s intention may be honest when he launched the concept of Yoga day three years ago, but on Thursday, what was seen happening was mostly tokenism similar to photo opportunities displayed by celebrities at the launch of Swachch Bharat Abhiyan. Photos of dozens of ministers and other politicians doing yoga on International Yoga Day were flashed across media and most of them also spoke about how Yoga is good for the body and mind. The point is if one takes a look at most of these politicians’ daily schedule and even if you look at their physical weight and (in most cases) obesity, it becomes obvious that they have not been practising yoga on a regular basis. A similar argument may be made about most other celebrities who were seen giving photo opportunities to the media on Thursday. So the question in people’s mind is ‘has yoga day too turned into just symbolism or photo opportunity which is to be done just one day in a year?’

The need now is obviously to move beyond such tokenism and actually practice some of the welfare ideas and bring regularity in it. For starters, it will be a good idea to reduce the hype and have more action on the ground.

Prime Minister Modi’s intention may be honest when he launched the concept of ‘Yoga Day’ three years ago, but on Thursday what was seen happening was mostly tokenism similar to photo opportunities displayed by celebrities at the launch of Swachch Bharat Abhiyan. For starters, it will be a good idea to reduce the hype surrounding these initiatives and have more regularity or action on the ground.

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