The Thrill of Ambitious Targets

Representatives of a people need first to feel a passion for a grand project to create a consensus among the population and give them something to look up to and be proud of

The Indian Prime Minister and the French President were jointly awarded ‘Champions of the Earth’ award for environmental change makers. UNEP’s environmental honour comes at a moment when India is deploying tremendous energy in a vast sanitation campaign, Swachh Bharat, launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014. Far from ebbing away and retreating into slumber, the project which created a synergy between policy makers and the huge population of India is constantly on the move. Celebrities upheld the project through active participation right from the start. Currently, Amitabh Bachchan is boosting Cleanathon with his deep personal involvement. Banega Swachh Bharat is not only a key factor in sustainable development goals but displays a pervasive patriotic spirit and a strong will to take a country to higher levels.

This year, Swachh Bharat Abhinav is also marked by the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi. MGISC, Mahatma Gandhi International Sanitation Convention takes a new dimension as the first Assembly of International Solar Energy has been inaugurated in New Delhi by the PM. Indeed, championing the cause of international alliance, the PM lays out the government’s policy of maximising production of solar energy countrywide. Private organizations initiated the move to massively use solar power years ago. For instance, Sai Baba ashram has resorted to a large surface covered by solar panels to run its association and feed thousands of people daily.

At the first Session of International Solar Energy, Mahatma Gandhi’s words on sanitation and health resonated far beyond the shores of India. In keeping with the spirit of India, the PM gives the international public the mantra of One World One Sun and One Grid. Thus, the mantra has been beautifully sung worldwide in Sanskrit with tribute to Surya, the Sun. It was a global choir, comprising different cultures and countries, of people chanting in unison with one heart and one mind to protect the environment and share the benefits of clean energy under the sun. From India, Nepal, China, Thailand to Central Asian countries Uzbekistan, Tajikistan to Mongolia and Iran, from Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Pakistan to Portugal, Cuba, Africa and New Guinea, the chanting of the mantra in unison almost carries a spiritual fervour. It is a great moment of shared humanity and unity when peoples of the world bound by the same concerns and goals express their wish in poetic style in one of the oldest languages in the world.

India faces huge challenges ahead, among which the removal of poverty – Garibi Hatao – initiated by late PM Smt Indira Gandhi. The task of creating decent living conditions for 500m needy inhabitants is far from being accomplished. Tackling poverty, unemployment, integrating new technology, developing infrastructure, planning to make maximum use of space energy: the government displays unwavering commitment to uplift the country for one and all.

Notwithstanding the Herculean tasks to be carried out in his country, by organizing a worldwide project of Solar Alliance in Indian style, the Indian PM is in tune with the age-old Indian ethos of the World being One Family under the same Sun. The international chanting of the mantra is a perfect illustration of India’s view of the world. Men and women in traditional dresses from Nepal, China, Saudi Arabia to Singapore, Maldives, Sri Lanka, from Africa to New Guinea and Iran’s talented singers united in poetic mantra chanting convey a powerful image of a world aspiring to create a healthier atmosphere for future generations.

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Undoubtedly, Cleanathon is an uphill battle in a huge country populated with millions still living in poverty. Lack of proper organization and proper infrastructure are likely to prompt people to litter streets and public places with plastic bottles, cups, glasses and plates. Bags in cloth and paper are increasingly used to replace plastic. Like China, India is struggling to clean its cities from toxic polluting fumes, and it is no small task. In their own way, both big countries galvanize their people around great national projects. National projects instill enthusiasm, pride and hope in the general public.

To be fair, efforts are being made to create a cleaner environment in Mauritius, and folks react positively to environmental concern. However, in such a small area of an island, no great project from genuinely-committed policy makers has emerged to create a significant synergy in the population as regards sanitation and cleanliness. In the early 2000s, former minister Rajesh Bhagwan sounded determined to clean up the country and make it plastic-free. Though late, it was the beginning of an awareness campaign to sensitize the public on the issue.

Overall, no major Swachh Mauritius Banega or anything of the sort with politicians stepping out of chauffeured-cars and taking a broom to clean up public places. A big chunk of the population has benefited from a fair level of formal education, and the country is not plagued with dehumanizing, wretched poverty. Despite efforts made by the authorities in the main towns, the general picture of streets littered with wastes is far from being attractive.

Folks are pretty stubborn over here, aren’t they? Health issues like diabetes, blood pressure, cholesterol, overweight, and cleanliness are rife. However much government officials try to create awareness on radio and television, folks cling to old habits. Same foodstuffs, same flavours, same tastes, same drinks and couch potato lazying around in spare time. Cardiologist Dr Gunness sounded exasperated and desperate in his concern for a sick population after giving out alarming figures on heart operations. Awful indeed.

Cleanliness awareness is likely to follow the same fate as health programmes on television, with people half-listening and carrying on with business as usual. What makes folks so stubborn and careless?

Consider the case of devotees during religious festivals. Just incredible. If you don’t want to be in low spirits, avoid some places after some festivals. Lately, after Ganesh Chaturti, beaches were mercilessly littered with plastic cups, glasses and plates. It is mind-boggling to see how devotees who should be imbibed with a sense of respect and devotion are totally insensitive to the necessity of keeping a public place clean. As if they came from planet Mars. As if there was no bond whatsoever between them and the beach they tread upon. As if all concentration is channelled solely towards reciting verses and chanting and observing rites. And they couldn’t care less about civic responsibility and respect for shared public places. Marathi associations should do something to create awareness on the issue.

It is even worse during Shivaratri festival. Downright revolting. Shivala yards are carelessly strewn with devotees’ personal wastes in the same careless and disrespectful manner. Broadly speaking, the Sanatan Dharma Temples Federation and others should explain to the flocks that they cannot leave murthis in the sea, or red cloth, lamps and other items in the seas and rivers of the island, which is a public place for all Mauritians and visitors and not their private property.

A late afternoon stroll in the capital shows a disheartening picture of disorder, filth and stench. Is it so strenuous to observe a few duties as human beings and citizens of a country?

In all likelihood, representatives of a people need first to feel a passion for a grand project to create a consensus among the population and give them something to look up to and be proud of. Embellishment of the country has been vaguely aired, and so far, either for lack of funds or strong will, things are lagging behind. Is any grand project pertaining to material or moral sanitization of the country doomed to follow the fate of Drugs Commission or promise of cleaning up by ICAC? Too many skeletons in the cupboard, presumably. Be the change you want to see, Mahatma Gandhi wrote. Committed and ambitious leadership is expected to lead by setting the right example.

Disappointing and demoralizing, isn’t it? It looks like the sickness a cardiologist is so worried about is not likely to evaporate into thin air any time soon. Not much thrilling ambition around yet. Just keep being hopeful and patient.

* Published in print edition on 5 October 2018

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