The na­tion raises the red flag on air and wa­ter pol­lu­tion, but says life is other­wise good un­der Modi

India Today - - SOCIAL - By Da­mayanti Datta

ADAY AFTER Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi kick­started his ‘pu­rifi­ca­tion drive’ against black money, apoc­a­lyp­tic grey skies hung over In­dia. Toxic smog thick­ened, harm­ful par­ti­cles in the air be­came so dense that they could not be mea­sured by stan­dard in­stru­ments. About 1,400 school­child­ren sent a let­ter to the prime min­is­ter on Novem­ber 10, ask­ing for a Na­tional Clean Air Day. They didn’t make news. But, in a way, the chil­dren chimed with the mood of the times, the col­lec­tive un­con­scious.

Clear the tox­ins, go for rit­ual pu­rifi­ca­tion. That idea has al­ways held a se­duc­tive, if not moral, fas­ci­na­tion for In­dia: think about the idea of karma, about yoga, about ayurveda. With the PM’s re­lent­less com­mit­ment to purge the na­tion—of garbage or black money—the Mood of the Na­tion (MOTN) poll on is­sues af­fect­ing life, lib­erty and the pur­suit of hap­pi­ness this time around, is re­flec­tive, yet, preg­nant with ex­pec­ta­tions of things to come.

In the very first MOTN sur­vey after Prime Min­is­ter Modi took of­fice, the pop­u­lar con­cerns were about com­mu­nal­ism, pol­i­tics over school text­books and the rise in sex­ual crimes. In 2015 and 2016, the pub­lic at­ten­tion was on un­em­ploy­ment, price rise, episodes of cor­rup­tion and com­mu­nal ten­sion. This year, how­ever, all that seems to have fallen off the men­tal map. The vox pop has made its pref­er­ences known: from dirty air, pol­luted wa­ter, the state of hos­pi­tals and schools to law, or­der and jus­tice.

Seventy-three per cent of those polled be­lieve that air and wa­ter pol­lu­tion is a con­cern; “a very se­ri­ous con­cern”, say 32 per cent. Sixty-five per cent feel that politi­cians are in­dif­fer­ent to their plight, with about 18 per cent adding that politi­cians “care only for vis­i­ble is­sues that fetch them votes”. They are not off the mark: as per the World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion’s ‘Global Bur­den of Dis­ease’ re­port in midNovem­ber, In­dia has over­taken China in the num­ber of deaths due to am­bi­ent air pol­lu­tion for the first time. For the first time, the av­er­age par­tic­u­late mat­ter ex­po­sure is higher for In­dian cit­i­zens than for the Chi­nese.

But don’t ex­pect a not-going-to-take-it-any­more at­ti­tude. More than half the re­spon­dents say that their qual­ity of life has be­come bet­ter, with the Cen­tre get­ting credit even for ser­vices that are in the states’ do­main: 58 per cent be­lieve that schools have be­come bet­ter un­der the Modi gov­ern­ment, while 59 per cent say the same about hos­pi­tals—al­though much of the re­sound­ing ap­proval comes from the BJP-ruled states in the west and east of the coun­try. The ju­di­ciary, how­ever, is hold­ing its own, de­spite two years of cor­ro­sive bat­tle with the gov­ern­ment: more than ju­di­cial cor­rup­tion, the re­spon­dents hold a lack of courts and judges to be the big­gest hurdle faced by the jus­tice sys­tem. And 64 per cent are up­beat about the re­cent Supreme Court ver­dict making the na­tional an­them manda­tory in movie halls.

“There’s no global prece­dent of what In­dia has done. Peo­ple have re­de­fined the con­cept of sacrifice.” That’s what the prime min­is­ter said on De­cem­ber 31, in his speech to the na­tion after more than 50 days of de­mon­eti­sa­tion. Call it sacrifice, en­nui or con­fu­sion, but the prime min­is­ter’s detox route to cleanse the body politic has worked for him. The sup­port­ers of this nar­ra­tive see a new op­por­tu­nity to ‘pu­rify’ the sys­tem. And they look prin­ci­pally to the Modi gov­ern­ment to save the day: clean coun­try, clean cur­rency, clean air, to be­gin with.


NO BREATH­ING SPACE Protest against ris­ing air pol­lu­tion in the cap­i­tal

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