There was a time when international media reporting on Bharat was limited to the country’s supposed lack of development, poverty, unemployment, lack of sanitation, maternal mortality, child mortality, miserable living conditions of Bharatiyas in general, etc. Bharat has undergone such a rapid transformation, a metamorphosis of sorts over the past decade that it’s hard to imagine that this kind of news dominated the international media circuit barely 10 years back.
Now of course, with the western media increasingly running out of topics to chide Bharat for its supposed lack of economic development, critiquing Bharat’s “Hindu majoritarian government” for its supposed oppression of minorities is the new trope in western media. But that apart, let’s talk about the phenomenal campaign launched by the Modi government during the first year of its first tenure – the Swachh Bharat Mission.
The Swachh Bharat Mission was launched by the Modi government in 2014. The mission not only successfully eradicated open defecation in Bharat but became a point of mass mobilization for improving cleanliness and sanitation conditions across the country. Words like “toilet” and “sanitation” became cool buzzwords. The Swachh Bharat Mission received widespread coverage from the international media. It was perhaps the first-ever such movement in the world where the head of the government himself became the leading participatory figure to mobilize and inspire people from his country.
Visuals of Prime Minister Modi, armed with brooms as it were, participating in a cleanliness drive along with Bharat’s sanitation workers were splashed all over the media. Critics might call this gimmicky but even the biggest of naysayers can’t deny the fact it’s rare to see the head of a state participating in such a drive with cleanliness workers, even if it’s just for the sake of spectacle. Since then, PM Modi has made it a point to promote many developmental initiatives of the government by himself becoming the face of these campaigns. The latest case in point is the PM’s promotion of tourism in Lakshadweep islands by sharing visuals of his Lakshadweep visit proactively on social media and through his X posts calling on Bharatiyas to add Lakshadweep to their travel bucket list.
But Swachh Bharat Mission was the first such initiative where the Head of a state became the face of a government campaign and the world more than took notice. It’s hard for even the staunchest of Modi government’s critics to call the Swachh Bharat Mission a media gimmick and government propaganda. Mainstream international organizations like the United Nations, whom the Lutyens elite and the woke gang always seek certification and affirmation from, have also recognized the success of the Modi government’s Swachh Bharat Campaign.
According to the UN, the Swachh Bharat Mission realized over 100 million household toilets were constructed, benefiting 500 million people across 6 30, 000 villages. The UN further says that households in open defecation-free villages saved up to INR 50,000 every year and total benefits exceeded costs by 4.7 times for them. It also cites a 2019 UNICEF Report based on which it says that the Swachh Bharat Mission created an equivalent of 7.5 million full-time jobs.
The statistics quoted by the United Nations regarding Bharat’s Swachh Bharat Mission are the same as statistics quoted by the Bharatiya government. According to Swachh Bharat Mission’s website, the programme led to the construction of 100 million individual household toilets taking sanitation coverage from 39 percent in 2014 to 100 percent in 2019, when around 6 lakh villages declared themselves Open Defecation Free (ODF).
It’s hard to imagine that Bharat had such poor sanitation coverage till 2014. With the unprecedented coverage of the Swachh Bharat Mission, the coverage jumped by more than 50 percent in just a couple of years. Again, the data is out there for everyone to see. The solid groundwork done under the Swachh Bharat Mission cannot be dismissed by even the worst of naysayers.
Modi government’s Swachh Bharat Mission also became a case study in fostering innovative public-private partnerships to further the country’s developmental agenda. There are numerous examples of successful PPPs in sanitation that have been implemented in Bharat, covering multiple aspects such as the construction of toilets, operation and maintenance, faecal sludge management, wastewater treatment, etc. For example, Dr. Bindeshwar Pathak’s Sulabh International has been at the forefront of the Swachh Bharat Mission. As per their website, Sulabh International has built over 1.5 million household toilets. The organization was also awarded the Gandhi Peace Prize in 2016.
After the successful completion of Phase 1 which focused on making Bharat Open Defecation Free, phase 2 of the Swachh Bharat Mission was launched in February 2020. Phase 2 of this campaign is focused on sustaining the ODF status of the concerned villages and further concentrates on covering these villages with Solid and Liquid Waste Management to move these villages from ODF to ODF plus. Overall, phase 2 of the Swachh Bharat Mission prioritizes solid and liquid waste management through measures such as composting and setting up of Biogas plants, collection, segregation, and storage facilities for plastic waste management, construction of soak pits, waste stabilization ponds, Faecal Sludge Management, etc.
The success of the Swachh Bharat’s mission has also led to the initiation of similar sanitation campaigns in other countries. According to the UN, the model of this Mission is being mimicked by other national campaigns and has influenced similar kinds of policies in countries like Nigeria, Ethiopia, and Indonesia. Nigeria, for example, is in a dire situation when it comes to sanitation. According to a research paper by the Bharatiya environmental think tank Center for Science and Environment (CSE) published in 2019, almost 76 percent of Nigerian households live in rural areas.
The study further quotes Nigerian government data to say that barely 26 percent of Nigeria’s rural population has access to basic sanitation and water services. “The latest WASH-NORM Survey says that 47 million Nigerians – which is 24.4 percent of the population – practice open defecation. Not only households, schools also face a sanitation and water crisis. Only 15.7 percent of schools have access to basic water and sanitation services. Around 40.3 percent of the schools do not have any toilet facility in the premises”, says the study.
Bharat could indeed play a pivotal role in helping other developing or underdeveloped countries tackle various developmental concerns by sharing its expertise in areas like sanitation, poverty alleviation, housing allocation, etc. We have already taken a lead in forging a consensus on building global health resilience. The COVID-19 times demonstrated the hypocrisy of the west as the availability of COVID-19 vaccines and other medications became strategic tools for the west in its quest to showcase its apparent superiority and chase brute profit motive even in the times of a pandemic.
At that time, Bharat became a beacon of hope to the global south as it distributed free vaccines to various underdeveloped and developing countries. It’s no surprise then that the Bharatiya government under the leadership of Prime Minister Modi is rallying for a more just and equitable global health infrastructure. Bharat has also taken a bold lead through its now successful campaign of making the African Union a permanent member of G 20.
Modi government’s Swachh Bharat Mission is one of the best global examples of an innovative grassroots campaign keeping in mind the local conditions and leaving ample space for improvisation. Apart from the concrete difference made at the ground level, the successful hallmark of any campaign is its ability to motivate common people. After all, the government can only do things till a point.
Sustaining responsible behaviors when it comes to sanitation and hygiene, and taking local initiatives is ultimately in the hands of local people and communities. On that account, the Swachh Bharat Mission has done rather well as the government continues to engage common Bharatiyas through the Swachhata portal. Innovative e-campaigns like the Swachhata Pakhwada motivate the citizens to proudly display their contribution made at the grassroot level towards the success of the Swachh Bharat Movement.
Swachh Bharat Mission is also one of its kind women-led movement. The village women became the agents of change taking the lead in campaigning for the construction of toilets in their respective villages. Lack of household toilets affects the health of women the most. Lack of adequate sanitation facilities affects the overall health of women and is also a leading cause of maternal mortality. Women acutely feel the indignity of not having access to a toilet, especially during the time of their menstrual cycle. Swachh Bharat Mission successfully tackled all this by making women the agents of change and by making their health a priority.
The movement also had a huge impact on the popular culture of Bharat. In 2017, Akshay Kumar co-produced a Bollywood movie called “Toilet: Ek Prem Katha”. Starring Akshay Kumar and Bhumi Pednekar, the movie inspired by the success of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, dramatized a villager’s quest to get a household toilet constructed for his newlywed wife as the lack of a toilet becomes the reason for the breakdown of their marriage.
“Toilet: Ek Pem Katha” was a huge risk for the filmmakers. It was perhaps the first time that a commercial Bollywood movie was being made on the subject of toilets and open defecation. But surpassing all expectations, the movie was a commercial success domestically as well as overseas, especially in China.
As the Modi government is all poised to complete its second term in office, the time is apt to revisit the Swachh Bharat Mission, its most successful and captivating developmental campaign to date that still continues to inspire Bharatiyas.