By T.J.S. George
Now that a week has passed, we can reckon how many New Year resolutions have already been broken and how many are left to go down the drain. There is nothing here to feel guilty about. What are New Year resolutions for if not for breaking? Anyway, a brand new New Year will come soon enough enabling us to make a whole new set of resolutions to be freshly broken. After all, the purpose of a New Year is not to let us have a new year, as British thinker-writer G.K. Chesterton said. The New Year comes to tell us that “we should have a new soul and a new nose; new feet and a new backbone, new ears and new eyes.”
If we absorb the spirit of that sound advice, in the first place, we won’t make resolutions that bind us to exercise every morning for half an hour, to save ten rupees every day, to drink 12 glasses of water without fail, etcetera. We will be able to look at traffic jams, pickpockets and politicians with new eyes and new nose, drink unsafe water and breathe poisonous air with a new backbone. In other words, we will be able to cope with what we cannot control.
And what about resolutions that should be made but are not? Justice S.R. Sen of Meghalaya High Court recently showed us how to proceed in this area. He said that there should have been a resolution by the makers of modern India to declare the country a Hindu nation. He urged a new resolution that would allow non-Muslims of Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan to come to India and claim citizenship here. Any takers?
The Union Government, for its part, appears to have resolved to lease out islands in Andaman and Nicobar to private firms to build holiday homes for foreign tourists. These are islands the ecology of which is famously fragile. They are also considered important in terms of defence. Until recently there were restrictions, for strategic reasons, on visitors to Andaman and Nicobar. All caution is now gone as the islands are being opened for “private firms.” Which are these private firms and how private are the forces behind them?
A resolution that should have been passed with some sense of urgency was one banning misinformation by the Government. Since nothing of the sort was done, the Finance Ministry and the PMO itself have been feeding us with false claims and false statistics. The repeated claims about the success of the Swachh Bharat campaign are an example. This mission, with Mahatma Gandhi’s spectacle frame as its logo, grabbed headlines with a show of the Prime Minister sweeping a road. It describes itself as “the world’s largest cleanliness drive” with “53,565 pledges taken, 26,565 activities done, 40,651 active participants.”
The campaign was launched in October 2014. At the end of four years, how clean is India? Of the 15 most polluted cities in the world, 14 are in India; the capital city of New Delhi hit the headlines in 2018 with the air going noxious. According to Lancet magazine, 1.2 million Indians died in 2017 due to air pollution problems. In the Environmental Performance Index, India ranked 141 out of 180 in 2016. In just two years, it slipped further down to become 177th out of 180. Lakes in Bangalore became a science curiosity by catching fire; accumulated filth had turned into poisonous white foam covering the surface of the water. In the Global Hunger Index, India stands 103rd out of 119. The highest number of malnutrition deaths in 2017 took place in India. The highest number of stunted children is also in India. Even the aftermath of the Union Carbide disaster 34 years ago received no attention from the authorities. The remains of the catastrophe that killed 4000 people continue to poison groundwater in the area.
This is how Swachh our Bharat is.
The listing of failures can go on because attempts to deceive citizens have not worked. Ten million jobs were promised, for example, while only 1.4 million materialised, doubling of farm income promised, but only a 5 percent rise materialised. But there is no need to go on because the picture is clear in spite of the usual tricks of denial. India has gone backward, not forward despite the New Years that have come and gone. That reality will prevail even as new promises and new claims rain on us this election season. “Happy New Year” has lost its glamour. It’s more relevant to wish “Happy Old Years.”