It will not be surprising if much of India’s attention on a less than intellectually stimulating final Presidential debate in the United States will be focused on President Donald Trump’s description of this country and its air as filthy.
Not surprisingly, and by a bizarre leap of logic that only the Congress is capable of, the main Opposition party has trained its guns on the government for the remark. The Congress’ reasoning appears to be that Mr. Trump, the Prime Minister’s great friend who was feted at rallies in Houston and Ahmedabad, has somehow stabbed Mr Modi – and by extension India – in the back.
One senior Congress leader asked sarcastically if the President’s remark was a “fruit of friendship”. The correct question for the Congress to have asked was whether Mr. Trump was right. Certainly, he is, if the daily reports on air quality emanating from the National Capital Region are correct. He is just as right about the filthy state of the country, notwithstanding the effort put into the Swachch Bharat initiative, because outside select enclaves – a handful of them – India is a filthy place.
The proper response to this summation would be to redouble efforts to clean up both the country and its air. And the Congress party could begin by asking its government in Punjab to stop burning crop stubble and to introspect on all that it did or failed to do during its years in power to contribute to this sorry situation.
A leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party, too, has reacted to Mr. Trump’s statement by admitting he is right, and then adding, “In Delhi, we are breathing poison”, as if to suggest that the national capital – not ruled by the party – is the only place in the country with filthy air. Gurgaon and Noida are parts of states that the BJP rules, and the people there breathe the same poison that Delhi’ites do.
In short, and reacting along predictable lines, our political class finds every opportunity to berate opponents without once making substantive efforts to address problems. All of last year, and the years before, large swathes of northern India grappled with foul air and winter pollution. Politicians talked up a storm, debated who was more responsible, resolved to ensure that the right pollution control equipment was procured, and announced grand plans to ensure the problem would go away the following year.
And here we are, at the beginning of another winter, and back at square one, attempting to slay a dragon with a flyswatter by ineffectually switching our cars off at red lights. We have a Graded Action Plan in place to ensure how citizens can be inconvenienced incrementally for the sheer incompetence of our political class. It isn’t just our air that is filthy, it is our thinking.