Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was in Varanasi in February 1916 on Madan Mohan Malaviya’s invitation when, during an address, he sought the permission of the chair to digress and recalled his visit to the Kashi Vishwanath temple, voicing his anguish at the dirt and squalor he saw all around it. Would the temples become clean after the British left the country, he wondered aloud in a stinging admonition. Nearly a century later, 67 years after the Brits left, nothing has changed in the timeless temple town; in fact, it’s grown worse (see box). As if on cue, the latest Gujarati visitor to Varanasi, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has pledged to clean up not just his constituency but the entire country in the next five years, apparently his way of saying ‘thank you’ to the Mahatma in the sesquicentenary of his birth, 2019.
The ambitious, even imperious, call to clean up India in five years—which actually means clearing the mountains of garbage in our villages, towns and cities; cleaning the lakes, rivers and gardens; keeping our roads, public spaces and pavements spic and span; getting our fellow-Indians to eject their refuse in the way developed democracies do, to change their habits to not spit, chuck and litter—may be music to sec ‘A’ ears having visions of Singapore in their eyes.