India’s new Prime Minister is quickly getting the image of being the new “Mr. Clean”– in the literal, not political sense. Those around him, including Ministers, bureaucrats and party MPs, are beginning to take serious note of his fascination with hygiene and cleanliness, his love of neat and orderly work places, and his grand vision of a filth-free India (quite different from his Congress-mukt Bharat slogan). Some of the BJP’s first-time MPs who attended the first day of the recent orientation camp at Surajkund were struck by the high priority being accorded to not only the conduct and behaviour, thoughts and ideas, dress and manners (Aachar, Vichar & Vyavahar) of elected representatives in Parliament, but also to the action agenda to clean-up the country’s streets, hospitals, public places and government offices on mission mode.
When the President in his ‘Address to Parliament’ made a pointed reference to the ‘Swachh Bharat Abhiyan,’ not many within the party had paid much attention. But over the past month it is becoming increasingly clear that this is one of Modi’s pet projects, and indeed obsessions, and not just another extension of the the UPA’s National Rural Health Mission. Moreover, Modi clearly meant it when he insisted on inserting a poll promise to deliver a Swachh Bharat by 2019 in the much delayed BJP poll Manifesto. All of a sudden it has dawned on the party rank and file aspiring for plum posts in the new dispensation, that they cannot make any headway in politics and governance under the Modi sarkar unless they show the Prime Minister that they are as obsessed with cleanliness and tidiness as he is. There is a long and detailed list of Do’s and Don’ts in this regard. No work tables cluttered with old files. No unkempt hair or crumpled kurtas. Worst of all, no spitting on staircases.And no watering of lamp-posts either.
Apart from personal care and hygiene, Modi’s vision of cleanliness evidently spans the concept of litter-free public places, garbage-free main streets and muck-free urban mohallas. It is not by accident that he set up a Ministry to sanitize the River Ganga and entrusted the project to Sadhvi Uma Bharti. As far as hospitals are concerned, the Prime Minister is said to be appalled at the dirt and filth inside and outside all urban medical facilities and rural health clinics. He is also keen to revamp and upgrade the entire health infrastructure in the country. Not only has he laid emphasis on modernizing and updating technology in government hospitals, his vision to set up an AIIMS in every state, repeated in almost every speech, is a reflaction of his revulsion at the state of affairs in grimy government hospitals.
Allied to his allergy to filth, is his faith in the traditional schools of Indian medicine like Ayurveda to improve the health and physical fitness of rural and urban youth. Evidently drawing upon his own training at RSS shakhas, Modi firmly believes in the benefits of yoga. In this context, Health Minister Harsh Vardhan’s idea of making the teaching of yoga compulsory in all schools, which became a bit of a controversy earlier this week because of his apparent aversion towards mandatory sex education, is now being seen as being in synch with, if not inspired by, the Prime Minister’s own strong views. The other salient features of the Swachh Bharat 2019 mass mission are the campaigns against the scourge of open defecation, the promise to provide universal access to toilets and setting up modern sewage management systems even in the smallest urban cluster. While these are laudable but medium term projects which party MPs and IAS offi cers have no diffi culty in whole-heartedly endorsing, there are some personal habits and lifestyles which are proving more problematic and painful. The urge to please the Boss and be in his good books, has put his Ministers and bureaucrats under severe pressure to adapt to and keep up with the rigorous work ethics that Modi evidently follows. Not since former Andhra chief minister NT Rama Rao (who used to wake up at the unearthly pre-dawn hours of 3 am every day) have government officials and party workers alike been forced to rest their biological clocks and change their sleeping habits to this extent.
Modi’s 18 hour a day routine is fast becoming the stuff of dreaded legend in political and government circles. Even young Minister of State for Home Affairs Kiren Rijiju has been quoted as saying that the main problem faced by Modi’s staff is that the man himself is up and running at the crack of dawn even aft er working till well past midnight. Also, Food Processing Minister Harsimrat Kaur Badal is quoted as saying she got a call from Modi as soon as she had got up in the morning asking her to meet him in 10 minutes. “I was still bleary-eyed but I simply rushed because I know the PM frowns on late-Latifs”. In the eagerness to emulate the Prime Minister, several new central ministers have reportedly started holding back fidgety babus till long past regulation office hours and making phone calls early the next morning to discuss policy or issue instructions. Goaded by the apprehension that Modi may personally make surprise spot inspections of the ministries, the corridors of power in Shastri Bhawan, Udhyog Bhawan, North and South Blocks are being subjected to frantic spring cleaning, with old and dusty files being either burnt or sold to kabadi-wallahs, depending on whether they are marked ‘top secret/eyes only’ or are just general memos and circulars.
Some babus, used to the good life, are worried about their hobbies and leisure activities. According to the grapevine, at least one senior civil servant has hired a firm of interior decorators to re-locate the private bar from his living room to an out-of-sight store room at the back of the house. During his interactions with senior bureaucrats, Modi is believed to have advised some of them to devote more of their working hours to clearing files, rather than wasting time playing golf. Word of this conversation has evidently spread like wildfire and led to instant results. A British newspaper has estimated that some 900 in-service civil servants who frequent Delhi’s many golf clubs are not only distancing themselves from the game, but also vociferously running down the elitist sport, hoping their ersatz assertions will reach the Boss’s ears and earn them a few brownie points.