The followers of Prime Minister Narendra Modi are praising him to the skies after a video of him — balling up a used tissue and putting it in his pocket after the aarti on Dusshera at New Delhi's Madhav Das park — went viral on social media.
Modi can be seen performing an aarti (Hindu ritual of worship)of actors dressed up as Ram and Lakshman and putting tikas on their foreheads. He is then handed a tissue with which he wipes his hand and while the camera pans the guests present at the ceremony, he is seen putting the soiled paper towel in his pocket – presumably to throw it away later.
There were salutes and claps for the PM on Twitter for this "swachh" gesture.
The alacrity with which his cheerleaders praised a gesture that should have been the norm instead of the exception points towards a deeply-rooted civic cultural problem in India.
Of course the PM did the right thing and led by example. He is the face of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan — a grand scheme to clean up Indian streets and instill a sense of civic duty in citizens.
Modi made the clarion call for the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan during his maiden Independence Day Speech in 2014, and in the months since, several BJP politicians took to the streets, broom and bucket in hand, to show solidarity.
Three years later, Indian streets, railway stations, parks and other public places haven't drastically turned into spotless havens — littering is after all a difficult habit to break.
As a society, civic sense is something that we need to learn early on in life, especially since the onus is often solely on citizens to keep their cities clean.
India has a staggering garbage problem. According to a 2014 Planning Commission report, India generated an estimated 62 million tonnes of garbage annually by 377 million people in urban areas. More than 80% of this garbage is disposed off indiscriminately at dump yards by the municipal authorities.
While it is the responsibility of citizens to not litter, it is also the responsibility of the government to provide basic amenities, including dustbins, to them. There are laws and fines for littering, but hardly any implementation.
The responses to Modi's gesture also point towards an attitude that's unique in us — to award qualities that should be the way of life for individuals. We reward and celebrate common decency. When taxi drivers and rag pickers return lost packages or money, they are lauded for their honesty. It's almost as if we do not expect the poor to have integrity.
Hope fans of our PM truly emulate his act of civic decency instead of just cheering him on social media.