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The more we thought about cleanliness, and a clean India, and the absolute neglect of this issue among us citizens, and among India's political and administrative leaderships, we decided to dedicate our learning of lobbying and entrepreneurship to the cause of a clean India. Thus began our journey of the Come, Clean India campaign.
So, three years ago, on Jan 30, 2011, Mahatma Gandhi's martyrdom day, we began a bold and nationwide effort to create awareness, pressure public policy, and push for innovations that would help towards a clean India.
Listening to PM-elect Narendra Modi's victory speech on the banks of the Ganga was a landmark experience in pursuit of cleanliness. His vision to make cleanliness as one of the top items on his agenda, and a promise to deliver a clean India by 2019, must be roundly applauded with all sincerity.
Why a clean India
A clean India is something which every citizen of India - be it a child just born who opens eyes, to an aging parent in the evening of his or her life, and all of us in between - desires, deserves, and dedicates to mother earth, and to the lands, water, and air of India.
However, all of above appears a wishy-washy idea. We the people of India have allowed a narrative that says that nothing can be done about cleanliness, to become the dominant psyche of our nation. This is the national narrative that we seek to shake and dismantle in the Come, Clean India campaign.
A non-clean India kills around 1,000 children every day and poses health problems to millions. A non-clean India hurts the tourism economy of India to a magnitude of which we have no estimation. A non-clean India damages the image and soft power of India to a degree of which we have no idea. And a non-clean India degrades our self-respect as Indians.
The way ahead for a clean India is simple - it needs strong political will. With Modi's clarion call, there is hope. It is widely understood that there are three components which can help to clean up our towns and waters - our own civic habits, strong and effective policy and administration, and technology and innovations for waste management. All of this is to be capped by iron-fisted political will and demonstrable results.
So far our leaders have let us down woefully by neglecting cleanliness. I sometimes wonder why some newly elected chief minister does not make sure that the state capital is clean within 6-9 months of his taking office - there is political advantage to doing this. If he does this, people will see a visible change under the new chief minister, and he can burnish his credentials as an effective administrator. But, alas, no chief minister has adopted this strategy for political and civic benefit.
A clean India is a credible India
The way ahead also needs the will of people - through self-discipline, otherwise through penalties and fines. The US was as dirty in the 1950s, as the India of today. A national effort made the country clean within a decade. Today, with advanced technologies, and newer means of communication to spread awareness, the same can be achieved in five years. Modi's call for a clean India by 2019 is absolutely do-able, and the country looks forward to how he will go about making this a reality.
The biggest crisis facing India today is about its credibility. The number one reason that can restore investor confidence is to be a nation which is credible. The number one reason that can improve exports of our manufactured goods is again quality, credibility. Within the country, the credibility of several institutions has been taking a beating over time - our democracy has to be strengthened by enhancing the credibility of our institutions.
A dirty India also damages our credibility. People see a nation which cannot manage its waste, and which has allowed even its holiest of rivers to become dirty beyond description. It implies that its leaders and citizens are numb to the garbage they see all around, and thus do not respect health, quality, and environment.
There are several steps that Modi will have to take to restore India's credibility. There are several steps that Modi will have to take to make India clean by 2019.
(24.05.2014 - The writer is president of Imagindia Institute, and chairman of the Come, Clean India campaign. The views expressed are personal. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)