In the last 5 years, the Narendra Modi-led BJP government has tried very hard to portray itself as the “good boy” of the country. The idea? Use ‘cleanliness and godliness’ to win the support of the people.
And to do this, the Modi government has made dedicated, if not successful, efforts to clean the country off corruption and open defecation – two of the many grave vices of the nation. For this, the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, Beef Ban, and Ram Mandir have remained some of the flagship campaigns of the government over the five years.
So with elections coming close, let’s have a closer look at how the party has maintained to keep cleanliness and godliness in the limelight throughout its rule.
Clean India movement
Swachh Bharat, a campaign that we’ve been hearing about so frequently since 2014 when the Prime Minister picked up a broom to sweep the streets on Delhi. The movement for cleaning India was larger than what any government had ever envisaged before. The aim was to create a behavioural change in the people towards local cleanliness. And of course, the BJP’s ever so awesome IT cell did its best to market the campaign as “cool” and “humble” – from asking citizens to post selfies with a broom to the PM washing the feet of cleanliness workers.
India has a higher open defecation rate than any other developing country. According to the 2011 census, 53% households in the country didn’t own a toilet. The government, therefore, under the Swachh Bharat campaign, announced to make India Open Defecation Free (ODF) by 2nd October 2019. And in the rush to meet this deadline, it went on a crazy spree of building toilets. An Independent Verification Agency under the World Bank support project to the Swachh Bharat Mission Gramin confirmed that as many as 96.5% of the households in rural India have access to a toilet in 2019.
Now, this was a remarkable feat to achieve, if only the rural people cared to use the toilets. The 2011 census also revealed that 66% of rural households preferred defecating in the open in farms or railway tracks. There is a mass perception among the rural population that homes are a “place of God” and hence using in-house toilets are against religion. Which is why, even after building so many toilets, the bigger challenge for BJP was to convince people to use these toilets. As a result, movies like “Toilet- Ek Prem Katha” were released to emphasize on the importance of toilets. Yet, it failed to make a massive impact on the populace. And the resultant failure of ODF posed a massive roadblock to BJP’s good boy image.
Pollution has been one of the major focus areas of the government’s cleanliness campaign. India ranks amongst the worst countries in the World Pollution Index. And in order to tackle this, BJP has implemented various schemes and laws.
For one, the Environment Minister, Harsh Vardhan announced, on World Environment Day, announced that by 2022 India will ‘eliminate all single-use plastics from our market’, joining countries like Italy, China, South Africa in their efforts. Since then, several states like Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Himachal Pradesh have banned the use of plastic in phases.
Second, the government launched the Ujjwala Yojana in May 2016 to provide LPG connection to women from Below Poverty Line households. Though the primary reason for this was the health hazards from the use of fuels like kerosene oil, cow dung, etc. in cooking, the underlying reason was the elimination of indoor pollution caused by these fuels. As a part of the Yojana, the government increased subsidies on LPG and gave away free LPG to northern villages during winter months.
Since winters are harsh in states like Punjab, Delhi Haryana, people burn dried leaves or farm produce for cooking and to create heat. This increases pollution and is one of the core reasons for low air quality is such states.
The government’s free LPG give away was to encourage people to switch to a non-polluting fuel. Through all these efforts, it’s clear that the BJP’s trying hard to clean India or at least put forth an image of a cleanliness-oriented government.
Saffron Rising in Ayodhya
Saffronisation is BJP’s trump card to winning elections.
The BJP has been rallying to construct the Ram temple in Ayodhya at the earliest. Even though decision regarding the Ayodhya issue lies with the Supreme Court, the party is making all efforts to ensure that it is resolved before the 20019 Lok Sabha elections. So while the country groans about unemployment and price hikes, BJP’s affiliate organisations like RSS and VHP have been taking out protests in the city to pressurize the SC. Protests waved orange flags while marching on the streets, literally painting the town saffron. This, in turn, has created an air of intimidation and fear of riots among the residents of Ayodhya.
But that doesn’t matter to the government that thrives and reigns on religion.
Cow – another vote bank!
Cows have received more importance in the country in the last 5 years than ever before. And the government has fallen into innumerable controversies regarding ‘cows’, be it for the cow protection tax from our wallets, the forced beef ban or the crazy number of lynchings that happened in the name of the cow.
The problem is that this “cow economics” is killing India’s real economy. One of the new rules by the government mandate that cows, camels, and buffalo may be sold to farmers only for agricultural purposes, not for slaughter. But in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state, one out of every 1000 work in cow-related industries, including slaughterhouses and the leather industry. The town of Kanpur recently saw several slaughterhouses close down, putting out of work over “400,000 employees linked to leather industries”, according to a Reuters report.
The supply of local hides has declined precipitously, leading to a decrease in Indian sales of leather and leather products. From April 2016 to March 2017, total leather exports dropped 3.23% from the previous year, to US$5.67 billion from US$5.9 billion. India also does enormous trade in meat. In 2015, the main market for its buffalo meat was Vietnam, which buys up US$1.97 million worth of it, followed by Malaysia, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Iraq. Last financial year, annual production was estimated at 6.3 million tonnes and exports totaled US$3.32 billion, according to a report in the Economic Times. That’s down from US$4.15 billion the year before. In Uttar Pradesh alone, attacks on cow related-businesses have already triggered losses of US$601 million on the state’s export business.
But none of this will matter now with elections in sight. Because the economy does not take precedence over religion for BJP’s vote bank. When it comes to BJP’s winning strategies, cows play with a major role in wooing mooing voters.
Godmen as CMs
What bigger display of godliness than putting a goddamn godman in charge of one of the largest states in the country. Placing Yogi Adityanath as CM of UP was such a strategic decision considering how UP not only has the largest religious diversity but also the most seats in the parliament. UP’s winning ticket is, no doubt, godliness and that’s just what the BJP is doing.
Not just this, the party is also preparing to push Adtyanath as a PM candidate in the 2023 elections. This has made some BJP fans super happy.
Sabarimala vs BJP
And finally, we talk about the Sabarimala verdict that shook BJP’s ‘godliness’ agenda.
When the Supreme Court ruled in favour of allowing women to enter the temple (for equality), the BJP took out dharnas and rallies in Karnataka blaming the SC for hindering in religion. Malayalam dailies quoted local BJP leaders as saying they will lie down at the entry points to try and block women’s entry into the temple. So much vehemence to support religion was somehow meant to put BJP in the good books of voters.
If you observe carefully, you can see an apparent trend in BJP’s five-year term. Some of the most popular/prominent works of the party fall into either category of cleanliness or godliness. And even though a lot of these works have been controversial (beef ban, Sabarimala) and unsuccessful (Swachh Bharat, Ayodhya) they have definitely secured a voter base that thinks BJP is the perfect ‘good boy’ for the country.