scorecardThe top two political parties in India are bickering over who’s better at building toilets
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The top two political parties in India are bickering over who’s better at building toilets

The top two political parties in India are bickering over who’s better at building toilets
PoliticsPolitics4 min read

The current BJP-led administration takes its toilets seriously.

In its quest to eliminate public defecation by 2019, the government claims to have constructed 70.5 million household toilets - around 83% of its intended target - under the Swachh Bharat Mission - in villages. It has also constructed 4.6 million toilets in urban areas. The program was launched in October 2014.

Earlier this month, Parameswaran Iyer, the secretary of the Water and Sanitation ministry, said that the number of rural Indians defecating in the open had fallen from 550 million when the mission was launched, to 200 million by early 2018. This information was based on “government surveys”, which count on a random sample of participants to answer questions with utmost honesty.

In February, a video of Janardan Mishra, a BJP member of Parliament from Madhya Pradesh, was seen unclogging a toilet with his bare hands went viral online.

Like most political parties do ahead of an election, the BJP seems to be raking in the grandstanding and declaring its achievements. However, yesterday, as part of its campaign in Karnataka, it chose a rather questionable statistic to boast.

In 4 years of UPA, only 20 lakh household toilets were built with Rs 350 crore, whereas in 4 years of NDA 34 lakh toilets were built with Rs 2,100 crore. #KarnatakaTrustsModi

— BJP (@BJP4India) April 26, 2018 ]]>

If the facts are right, over the course of the BJP-led government’s tenure, 70% more toilets were constructed but with 6 times the total funding that the Congress-led government had. The Congress responded accordingly, pointing out that it had built each toilet at a fraction of the amount it cost the BJP.

Cost of construction per toilet:
under UPA: Rs. 1750
under NDA: Rs. 6177
#ChhotaModi + #BadaModi = #SwachhBharat

— Congress (@INCIndia) April 26, 2018 ]]>

Surprisingly, the original tweet by the BJP is still up, perhaps because deleting the tweet would have been an admission that it was an error to begin with. But it seems that the government does not make mistakes.

The medium is the message

Social media is all about brevity and soundbites. Statistics are cherry-picked. Opinions are made to sound definitive. The more eyebrow raising the claim, the greater the reach. The truth is what an organisation can get its supporters to believe.

The ruling party at the Centre has been quite effective at harnessing social media to disseminate information to the Indian public as part of a concerted effort at winning an ideological war against the Opposition parties. In anticipation of the upcoming elections in Karnataka, both the BJP and Congress have dedicated social media teams working round the clock on outreach and on highlighting the work their respective rivals have not done.

Inevitably, social media platforms have turned into becoming battlegrounds where barbs and ad hominem remarks are traded at the drop of a hat . Until very recently, the world faced a legitimate threat of nuclear war as a result of a Twitter spat between the leader of a world superpower and a rogue nation.

Back at home, India’s two national parties - the protectors and enforcers of the country’s democracy, our leaders in these troubling times marked by rising public debt, toxic air, farmer suicides and communal violence - are currently squabbling over toilet statistics.

Dear @INCIndia, do not stoop lower than your President’s IQ. Central govt gave Karnataka govt Rs. 2100 crores for toilet construction. If you say not enough toilets were built, ask Mr. SiddhaRupaiya!

— BJP (@BJP4India) April 26, 2018 ]]>

So, now the BJP is trying to reframe the tweet as evidence of its generosity and portray the Siddaramaiah government as corrupt and inefficient. However, the BJP does not finance the construction of toilets with its own funds but with the taxes each and every Indian pays as Swachh Bharat cess - which totalled ₹164 billion in 2016 and 2017.

In all fairness, the president of the Congress, Rahul Gandhi, is no stranger to the mathematical gaffe. In December 2017, he posted a table from his Twitter account that contained information about the rise in prices of essential items like cooking gas, tomatoes, onions and pulses from 2014 to 2017 under the BJP regime. However, he overstated each price rise by 100 percentage points. The BJP fired back by referring to him as an “immature prince”. Gandhi later deleted the tweet and uploaded a revised table, but not without thanking the BJP for pointing out his mistake.

Development, not division

As campaigning for the state elections in Karnataka enters its final phases, the barbs and finger-pointing will likely escalate. As is usually the case, development has become the focal issue of each party’s campaign. The BJP was rather straightforward about its three aims- development, development and more development.

We have a three pronged agenda for Karnataka,

-Fast paced development
-All round Development

BJP has given primary importance for politics of development!#KarnatakaTrustsModi

— BJP Karnataka (@BJP4Karnataka) April 26, 2018 ]]>

Soon after it posted the tweet above, the BJP’s social media team retweeted another development-related tweet from its Karnataka unit.

We know other political parties hesitate to talk on development because development can be quantified. This was unacceptable to those parties which only concentrated on division. We govern and also fight elections based only on development model : PM Modi#KarnatakaTrustsModi

— BJP Karnataka (@BJP4Karnataka) April 26, 2018 ]]>

It seems that the BJP is the only party comfortable with proffering development data.

Oh, the irony. Maybe it would have paid for the BJP to concentrate on the mathematical process of division instead of the kind that involves polarisation.