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Swatch + Bharath – The sum somehow does not add up

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By Liaquath Mirza

Come October the ‘cleanliness fever’ grips our polity. Mahathma’s birthday is now swatchtha abhiyan day. Mahatma is now the mascot for swatch Baharat initiative. His spectacles now adorn municipal bins and government hoardings of clean and pure drive. Government mandated cleanliness drive takes on fevered and frenzied pitch on 2nd October. Circulars will be sent out to all central, state and PSU offices to compulsorily attend the clean initiative in their respective offices.
Reluctant babus of officialdom looking forward to a cosy family day are dragged out of their homes and made to pick up brooms and buckets. The charade of selfies with brooms unfolds, recorded to posterity and such snaps mandated to be shared with higher offices.
Politicians of all hues from panchayats to parliament come out of the woodwork in colour coordinated clothes and their party flag themed bandanas posing for the press and Tv while enacting the roadside skit of swatch Baharat at important junctions and chowrahas.
Who is who of the film and sporting world, major and minor celebrities descend at fashionable and upscale spots of all metros complete with their pristine pure white clothes, swatch Baharat mission logo tee shirts. Brooms in hand and SBM caps on head, expensive goggles on eyes and then proceed with diligent cleaning while posing for photos simultaneously. All in all taking the menial activity and elevating it into a pretty cosy picture of one giant happy smiling occasion. Depending upon the event managers’ enthusiasm levels there may even be assorted activities of full marathons, half marathons,swatchta walks and such other cultural events. With this done the stars ascend back to their heavenly abodes in their luxurious limos cockles of their hearts warmed with satisfaction of doing their two bit community service.
And yet…. nothing much changes on the ground. Take a ride or drive around the city / town the next day and you will realise that city has been reset to its usual filthy self.
The very scarce litter bins that one may find miles apart would still be overflowing. Empty plots and open lots in residential localities,in up and coming colonies would still bear mounds of littered waste. If one starts early one will also notice the less fortunate amongst us hurrying with mineral water bottles filled with tap water making a dash for the shrubberies or railway tracks for attending nature’s call.
And yet…. open the newspapers you will find Government sponsored centre spreads advertising success stories of swatch Baharat mission. Switch on the TV and you will find the ageing super star of Hindi cinema engaged in a light hearted banter with a cute kid exhorting the villagers to build their own toilets with the help of swatch Baharat mission. His deep timbre voice resonates with the virtues of carrying out morning ablutions behind closed doors. Plus you will find many more such happy faces declaring many a ‘shauchalay’ success stories. The masses are asked to reflect upon ‘izzat’ and ‘maryada of bahu betis.
One nationalistic star even went ahead and produced block buster movie, a love story revolving around the theme of toilet and laughed all the way to bank.
The happy stories, the success statistics somehow did not seem to have added up and translated into reality on the ground. Remove the rose tinted glasses and you will find that cities big and small, villages across the length and breadth continue to grapple with open defecation, unmanageable pile up of mountains of waste and rubble.
One walk around the bus stations, train stations and densely populated roads going past the shanties and slums you will realise that the more the noise of swatchtha mission the less has changed on the street.
Yes, degrees of cleanliness may vary but filth is a constant. Those elite roads and more important posh venues do get cleaned up daily but for the rest, people and waste simply have to learn to co-exist.
Our streets do get an occasional clean up when the locality attracts some VIP movement for some ‘udghatan ceremony’ or some such political event. Then the roads gets spruced, swept and pot holes filled up overnight and if we are lucky we would even get a brand new black topped road. Road borders are drawn and demarcated with white sanitizing powder all along till the venue of udghatan.
But of course the down side to this tamasha would be having to deal with traffic jams for hours and negotiating road obstructing banners and welcome arches narrowing the already narrow roads further down.
Overflowing litter bins with packs of stray dogs and herds of pigs populate the surroundings living off the discarded waste is a common sight. A tour of the neighbourhood vegetable mandis will give you a glimpse of emaciated cows and buffalos let loose feeding not just on the vegetable waste but also discarded plastic wrappers and pouches. Drinking in all these unsightly sights one wonders what ever happened to SBM and its earlier avatar Nirmal Baharat. Are they just illusory optics?
The way I see the problem is that we Indians are habitual litter bugs. Our cleanliness is restricted to the confines of our homes. Majority of us have poor civic sense despite the celebrity appeals and exhortations.
A person driving a top end car would not think twice on opening the door at traffic signals and spewing a river of red paan on to the road. Our public buildings’ stairs and corners would be painted red with paan chewing enthusiasts. The helpless managers of such buildings often invoke all the gods of all religions by getting multi coloured tiles of Ishwar, Allah and Jesus and getting them fixed at ‘strategic’ danger points of corners and stairs.
When invited to weddings and sundry functions we swarm around the food stalls with paper, plastic and Styrofoam plates and cups, eat with gusto and just throw away the plates and glasses where ever it pleases us except of course in the plastic drums meant for collecting them.
To add this madness of free for all littering I have discovered that the superstitious amongst us surreptitiously leave vermilion dabbed lemons, rice and such other assorted items filled in disposable paper plates in the middle of the non-busy roads in colonies. This I was told is to ward off evil and misfortunes that have fallen on them and by leaving the spell cast food stuff they hope to pass them on to unknown unsuspecting strangers who may chance upon crossing them while walking or driving. Much like a baton in the relay race of misfortunes. While nothing will come off it what is condemnable is the evil intentions of such ignoramuses.
While littering is just one angle to the revelries they also hold contests as to who breaks the most beer bottles. And the affluent wastrels among them come with their big SUVs stuffed with coolers inside and loud cacophonous music outside.
The scene resembles a battle front the next day with dead and broken bottles and poor unsuspecting stray dogs getting hurt while running across the splinters. Somewhat saner drunks among them leave the bottles intact for the urchin rag pickers to pick them and make some money at the raddi walas.
Now we look at the spiritual,deeply religious ones who when they update their pooja rooms with brand new photo frames of their favourite Gods don’t know what to do with the old photo frames. They respectfully pack such photo frames and leave them when nobody is watching at the bottom of big trees. Wonder why temple board personnel have not thought of opening a counter at temples to accept such photo frames and deal with them appropriately. This way the devotees need not have to feel pangs of guilt of abandoning the old photos for swanky new ones.
Coming to the responsibilities of Governments and municipalities’ one finds that there is this all important angle of poor infrastructure. Finding a litter bin would be a intensive search endeavour. Municipalities are poorly equipped to deal with the day to day waste leave alone adopt such quaint concepts as waste segregation. Even if concerned citizen’sseparate waste and hand over, the handler would dump it in the same auto or rickshaw and takes it away to the dumping yard. They are poorly staffed and also poorly paid most probably. And my guess is that they are poorly funded also.
And then there is this caste angle to this problem that is unique to Indian subcontinent. Our ancestors in all their primitive wisdom and glory had decided to neatly label outcastes among us as chamars, bhangis, and bestow them with such other demeaning names and reduced them to clearing dead carcasses and cleaning human wastes.
According to a book written by our PM when in scholarly mood in a literary avatar, these untouchables find divinity even in this demeaning job and that’s why they keep doing it despite the stigma, as a God ordained duty. In what wisdom the learned one saw salvation in this inhuman practice only he should know.
We need these untouchables to touch our filth and clean up our mess and yet even touching their shadows is considered polluting. Nothing worse than this kind of segregation. While some of us assign this inhuman task as God ordained duty couched in philosophical jibber jabber, most of don’t even have the consciousness to even acknowledge their existence. If one takes a look at the demographic of class D employees of municipalities, the safai karmacharis tasked with the job of clearing waste, almost all of them would be from these untouchable castes.
Reservations here are in full operation,in fact far in excess, no grumblings from the upper castes here. And yet paradoxically when the same jobs get mechanised and modern equipment is procured and a fancy name is given to it by calling it ‘facilities management’ there is a clamour for cleaning and maintaining such hi-tech office buildings, airports and hotels.
Upper caste business people smell a business opportunity and moneyed contractors vie for a pie in burgeoning service industry. And poor from all castes compete to get such a job which offers them some monetary security.
Despite all the hoo haa about mission swatch Baharat and fund raising by way of swatch Baharat cess riding on service tax payments, no qualitative change appears to have taken place in the lives of people who still have to unclog the city’s drains manually. And still have to keep on losing their lives to the noxious drain fumes. (Wonder why the enterprise of Gujarati chai wallas of making tea from the drain gas fuel has not caught on nationally)
We keep seeing news of people still dying while carrying out manual scavenging work. It’s like their lives are of no consequence to all of us collectively. Their deaths don’t prick our conscience one bit. I wonder what happened to all those crores collected from us as swatch Baharatcess. Why were those funds not utilized to equip all municipalities all across with modern equipment so that not one life is lost to manual scavenging again? I am given to understand that we have enacted laws that have abolished manual scavenging long back and yet here we are witnessing the inhuman crime against a dispossessed community.
When lakhs and crores of rupees can be allocated for corporate waivers and bad loans what stops the Governments from investing a few thousand crores in mechanised equipment and modern waste management technologies?
In conclusion the dream of a swatch Baharat will remain just that… a dream unless there is a large scale change of attitude in us, the citizens and a dedicated approach from the Governments to this monumental problem.
(Courtesy: countercurrent.org)

 

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Opinion

Brazen statements on job shortage

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By Mihir Swarup Sharma

Back when Narendra Modi was just a candidate for the post of Prime Minister, he seemed to understand what India’s biggest problem was: jobs. He promised tens of millions of jobs would be created if he were voted to power – India’s unemployed young people would be transformed, he promised, into an army for development.

Four years later, this promise has turned into a weapon for the opposition. His predecessor, Manmohan Singh, pointed out last year that young Indians were “desperately waiting for the jobs that they were promised.”

 

The Modi government’s response has been typical: not harder work, not economic reform, but bluster. Two recent statements from senior ministers who should know better stand out. Piyush Goyal said that the large number of people who are lining up for jobs in the Railways that he oversees – over 15 million applied recently for a minuscule number of vacancies – did not in any way mean that there is a shortage of jobs in India. And Human Resources Minister Prakash Javadekar, whose job is indeed to prepare the Indian workforce for employment, has insisted that each and every sector in India has witnessed job opportunities. “We have to find out why people with post-graduate degrees apply for sweeper jobs in the government,” he said.

Well, minister, the answer is staring us all in the face: that there simply aren’t enough high-quality jobs available. Yes, even low-skilled government jobs provide security; but in a growing economy, the private sector should also be creating enough and better-paid jobs in such a way that security would be rendered irrelevant.

The fact is that when millions of Indians turn up for jobs that they are manifestly overqualified for, it cannot be seen as anything other than a failure of economic management on a massive scale.

There was not even the slightest remorse expressed by the ministers for whatever combination of circumstances may have arisen in the economy to cause this sort of desperation on the part of job-seekers. Nor was there an iota of compassion for these young job-seekers or a comprehension of the lack of choices they face.

Mr Javadekar even said that “people who do not work out of choice cannot be called unemployed”. Is it possible that Modi Sarkar imagines that everyone without employment prefers to watch things on their Jio phone rather than earn a living? It is impossible to overstate how out of touch that sentiment is. Even in the best case scenario, which is that the minister was referring only to the worrying decrease in the labour participation rate of women – fewer women in India are working, while in the test of the world more women worked as development progressed – it still reveals an inability to understand the real problems faced by job-seekers. If women are not going out to work, it is not out of “choice”. It is because neither law and order nor their social relations in their community have allowed them to do so. Is this not something a government should be concerned about – if, that is, it values half of India? Or should it just dismiss the crushing of womens’ aspirations as “their choice”?

The ministers complained that there was not enough data to prove that jobs were not being created. This seems to undercut various other claims made by government apologists that jobs are indeed being created – on the basis of the pension records kept by the provident funds, for example. Many economists have poked clear holes in this theory. At best, that reveals that under pressure from demonetization and the GST, some jobs are coming into the formal sector – but it does not reveal whether or not jobs are being created overall. While it is amusing to discover that not even the Modi government ministers believe its own propagandists, the politicians’ statements are still important. Their complaint about the lack of official data is shared by many.

Yet data is scarce, of course, for a very specific reason: the survey of unemployment in the country, conducted by the Labour Bureau every year from 2010 to 2016, was discontinued by the Union Labour Ministry – in a strange coincidence, the Survey showed sharp job losses after the National Democratic Alliance government came to power in 2014. So when the ministers – and earlier the Prime Minister himself – complain that there is no data on employment, what they should instead explain is why the government chose to stop collecting data on employment.

The reason, of course, is that this government does not want the release of any data that would reveal the true state of the economy. The manipulation of the backseries of GDP data revealed exactly how desperate it is to whitewash its unusually poor record.

The Modi government seems to believe that voters are comically stupid. That they will not only believe that jobs are being created, but also that mobs of people applying for a few government jobs is a sign of how many other jobs there are. That they will also believe that a lack of data that the government has itself organised can be replaced by earnest assurances from the Prime Minister and his Cabinet that large numbers of jobs have indeed been created.

The most reliable independent source for jobs data are the reports from the Centre for Monitoring the Indian Economy, or CMIE. Their latest report, issued earlier this month, indicated that 11 million jobs had been lost in 2018. Think about that – 11 million jobs were lost, not created. This comes at a time when most economists believe that we need to create between 6 and 12 million jobs a year just to keep pace with the number of people entering the job market. Nor were previous years better – demonetization in particular wreaked havoc, costing millions of jobs.

There is little doubt, therefore, that Modi has failed to keep the promises that he made before being elected. The question is whether he will be held accountable for those promises. Perhaps if the Prime Minister or his colleagues had been open about their failures and accepted that they understood where they had gone wrong and how more jobs could be created going forward, they might have been able to retain some credibility. Instead, they have chosen to deny that a problem even exists and to pretend instead that the promises have been fulfilled. This is brazen even by the standards of Indian politics.

There are good reasons for greater urgency. India’s window to create high-quality manufacturing jobs – the sort that helped countries like China move up the income ladder – is closing. More and more processes are being automated, and the scope for mass manufacturing that takes in lower-skilled workers and gives them solid secure employment is narrowing. But the World Bank has insisted in a recent report that there is still enough time. Given its vast numbers of young people, it is India that should be benefiting from these last decades in which manufacturing will matter. But instead the government has failed to undertake genuine economic reform, relying instead on adulatory press handouts and ministerial statements – managing the headlines and not the economy, as Arun Shourie put it. India’s young people, lining up in their lakhs in the hope even of a job as a government sweeper, deserve better than this callous indifference to their fate.

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Opinion

Is Rahul Gandhi emerging as a reliable brand?

The Kashmir Monitor

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By Shuchi Bansal

The Congress’s recent victories in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh have put the spotlight on its president Rahul Gandhi.

While an earlier column spoke of brand Modi and whether he has lost some of its sheen, little has been said on Rahul Gandhi and if he, as a brand, has come of age. Or whether, despite his party’s recent wins, it is too early to think of him as a dependable brand.

 

Interestingly, the resurgence of the Congress and that of Rahul Gandhi in particular seems to represent an almost textbook example of a challenger brand.
The Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) unexpected poor performance is also perhaps a classic case of what a market leader should avoid—complacence, overconfidence and petty-mindedness being on top of the list.

“While it’s true that Rahul Gandhi has a long way to go before he can match the perceived stature and the personal popularity of Narendra Modi, he has certainly been able to narrow the gap between them. I would say this is an outcome of some of his bold initiatives helped to a great extent by the missteps of the latter,” says Samit Sinha, managing partner, Alchemist Brand Consulting.

Dheeraj Sinha, managing director (India) and chief strategy officer (Asia) at Leo Burnett, agreed that Rahul Gandhi has emerged as a viable challenger with the recent wins in the Assembly elections.

However, he argues that challengers don’t win the game in India, leaders do. “Will Rahul be able to position himself as a viable leader of the country is the question. Just being a challenger won’t make it happen for the Congress,” he says.

Advertising veteran Sandeep Goyal who has done his doctorate in human brands, says that a challenger brand is defined by a mindset. It has ambitions larger than its conventional pool of resources and is prepared to do something bold. The most common narrative associated with the challenger brand is that of the underdog.

However, challenger brands are today more often focused on “what” they are challenging rather than “who” they are challenging.

“Rahul Gandhi is, therefore, by definition, truly a challenger brand. The important thing that everyone seems to be missing out on is that he is cleverly not really challenging Mr Modi but challenging incumbency, unfulfilled promises, growth agenda, and the performance of the current government, ‘mistakes’ like demonetization and GST (goods and service tax). In politics, these are really the ‘category drivers’. Rahul is also focusing on disenchantment/ unhappiness with jobs/economy, which is really challenging the ‘user experience’ with the current government,” says Goyal.

Sinha feels that Rahul’s underdog image helps him. He began his political career as a fumbling novice, which earned him the Pappu sobriquet.

“It’s because not much was expected of him is why his stock goes up every time he exceeds expectations, even for accomplishments that are less than extraordinary. On the other hand, his rival suffers a huge disadvantage for having set unrealistically high expectations, and whatever be his achievements, they are bound to fall short of the promise. This has no doubt negatively impacted both his credibility as well as popularity, which has helped Rahul Gandhi seize the narrative. When one starts at the bottom, the only way is up. The converse is equally true,” points out Sinha.

Brand Rahul seems to be gaining some traction. “His speeches have improved both in form and content. He is more consistent, more combative.

The hesitant, reluctant brand Rahul of yore is slowly but surely transforming into an astute leader who has pedigree and lineage,” feels Goyal.

Of course, none of this guarantees a defeat for the BJP, or a victory for the Congress, in this year’s general elections. Goyal says that as of now, brand Modi is stronger and better resourced, but beginning to fray at the edges.

Also, a bit hurt, if not bruised. In 2014, brand Modi epitomized “hope” and “progress.”

“In 2019, he cannot stand for Hindutva or Ram Temple or The Cow. That would be a big mistake. In 2014, brand Rahul was untested and nascent. In 2019, he is portraying himself as progressive, secular, empathetic and pedigreed… Both brands have their own appeal,” he says.

As Leo Burnett’s Sinha says, leadership brands need to appeal to the whole market.

Will brand Rahul be able to cover this distance from being a challenger brand to the leader brand in the next few months remains to be seen.

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Opinion

Your waste: someone’s taste

The Kashmir Monitor

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By Zeeshan Rasool Khan,

While we every other day listen to boastful claims that the country India is developing fast. It has become very difficult for most of us to accept the brute reality that here the people die because of hunger. Yes, death due to starvation is the unthinkable, reality of India. According to sources, about 14.9% of the Indian population is undernourished. Half of the world’s hungry live in India. Thousands are those who do not know if the next meal would be availed or not. Reports say, everyday 20 crore people have to hit the sack with an empty tummy. In the year 2018, many cases of hunger-death were reported in India. This bitter truth is being cloaked with bragging. Global Hunger Index 2018, which has placed India at a 103rd place out of 119 qualifying countries, is a testimony to this fact that India is not what media shows i.e., all is not well within the nation with respect to common masses. Howbeit, it is not any matter of berating the nation. There is no question of cutting anyone to size in connection with this issue. Instead, it demands serious contemplation from everyone irrespective of our positions in society.

One of the root causes of hunger is poverty that has been challenging to every developing country and India is no exception. Despite the reports of GHI, which says, the poverty level has reduced by 0.9 % since 2011 we must accept that our efforts have been too meagre to achieve any feat in this direction. Let us accept we have failed in defeating poverty. But, that does not mean we will rest on our laurels and let poverty-stricken die. If we cannot eradicate the gigantic issue of poverty but we have immense potential to secure poor. If we cannot build palaces for indigents, however, we can provide them shelter to hide at least. If we cannot raise their standard of living but there is no doubt that, we can mitigate their problems. Likewise, if we cannot provide them with sumptuous food, at least we can make sure that they will not sleep hungry, die due to hunger and starvation.

 

There is no dearth of food. Credible reports suggest that India produces sufficient food to feed its population. However, access to the available food is lacking. And this inaccessibility is partly due to low income of people and mostly due to our behaviour of wasting food. It has been estimated that nearly one-third of the food produced in the world for human consumption is wasted every year. This wastage starts from processing continues up to packing, supply management, and consumption.Due to imperfect packaging methods and inefficient supplying system, a considerable amount of food is lost. According to one estimate, about 40 percent of fruits and vegetables and 30 percent of cereals are wasted and do not reach the consumers because of improper packaging and supplying techniques. Prevalent ways of processing and subsequent supplying of paddy and other grains result into wastage of a part of it. Common Fruit growers know it better, while packaging, what quantity of fruits is wasted. Fully ripened fruit is often discarded as ‘rotten’ because of apprehensions about its transportation. Same is the case with vegetables and other foodstuffs.

These squandered grains, discarded fruit and vegetables make a large part of wasted food. Imagine if these grains, ripe fruit, and vegetable reach any poor, how great it would be. At the consumption stage, significant levels of food wastage occur. The gluttony, most people are indulged in is itself a form of wastage. Some people eat like a horse without thinking about health risks that overeating leads to. They keep on inviting ailments rather than getting any benefit but never cogitate, how by exercising moderation in eating we can help others. The excessive food that we take can easily become a morsel for a destitute.

Our weddings, events, restaurants, hostels, and houses are a major source of food wastage. At weddings, a huge amount of food is wasted. A large amount of food including multiple dishes are served, which results in leftovers that finally finds a place in trash bins. It would have been far better to have control mechanism at our weddings for prevention of food-wastage. However, even in absence of a mechanism, we can play a significant role in reducing wastage of food by best use of leftovers. Leftovers from weddings and even from our homes, restaurants, hostels, and hotels are often thrown away. But there is an option for us to make better use of it. We can recycle leftovers. We can make many other dishes from it, which can be used for the next meal. Massimo Botturra of Italy – the world’s best chef has come up with this innovative idea. He has founded the association namely ‘Food for Soul’ with the motive to fight food waste. He uses surplus food /leftovers productively to tackle food wastage and nourish poorest people of the city. Most of Hoteliers and restaurateur, across the world particularly India, have followed suit that is a good sign. Others, who are not aware of this idea, should imitate the same .So that more and more necessitous are benefited. In fact, using leftovers to feed the poor living in our vicinity would be one of the finest uses of leftovers. By this way the uneaten edibles from our homes, restaurants, etc. can fill the bellies of many and eliminate their hunger.

Efforts are on throughout India and fortunately, in our state too, to reach out the hunger struck population. No doubt, some NGO’s are working to utilize extra cooked food and give it to needier. But, the challenge is big and efforts are small. Broad-gauge efforts are required that must be started from the individual level. While processing, packaging, supplying, and consuming, utmost care needs to be taken to check the frittering. Through this mindfulness, we can preserve lot of food and can make it available to the poor. In addition, if everyone would refrain from wasting food and take care of penurious people of respective communities, we can ensure food availability for a maximum number of deprived people.

It is worth to mention, feeding hungry cannot obliterate hunger as it is related to several problems. However, we cannot deny the fact that hunger itself is the root of various other troubles. Hunger deprives a person from growth. It increases the vulnerability of a person to a myriad of complications, which can have an adverse impact on social, behavioural, emotional, and physical health of a person. Satisfying one’s hunger can make him eligible to earn livelihood otherwise his destiny is elimination. So, we must think logically to gain the best of both worlds.

(The writer can be reached at: [email protected])

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