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Cleaning drives are typical to Indian subcontinent. They have no relevance in developed countries like US, Germany and Japan. If Obama takes the broom on a street of New York, people might think the US President has gone insane. In India, nobody gives a damn to cleaning drives. Common people think the leaders do it for publicity, and most of them actually are. But, things have taken a turn under India’s new Prime Minister Narendra Modi. He is much more serious about cleaning the country than any of his predecessors were. Lakhs of cleaning drives were held across the nation since Modi announced the Swachh Bharat Mission. Even if some did it for publicity sake, the purpose was done. Many dirty streets became clean, letting people give a second thought before littering them again.

The Modi fever has gripped some most unlikely corners. The other day, Jammu and Kashmir witnessed one of the biggest political rallies in history when the maverick Prime Minister was addressing it. Tura, a remote town in Garo Hills of Meghalaya, did not escape either. Days ahead of the scheduled inauguration of the first train to Garo Hills by Modi via video conferencing, a ‘Clean India’ drive was organised by Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha (BJYM), a youth wing of BJP. Most interestingly, cadres of the Achik National Volunteer Council – Breakaway (ANVC-B) led by its chairman Rimpu Marak also took part. Participation of the under-truce rebels in a so-called ‘saffron’ programme allows observers to read many things between the lines.

Garo Hills had been a bastion of Purno Sangma, the former Lok Sabha Speaker, whichever party he was in, till the 2013 assembly election. The people have been loyal to either Congress or parties born out of the country’s oldest party. The BJP was quite unheard of in the region. In fact, the saffron party was seldom welcomed by any of the Christian-dominated hilly states of the North-east. Under such circumstances, participation of ANVC-B cadres led by their chief in a BJYM-organised cleaning drive has more than what meets the eye. Are north-eastern rebels, who always try to project an anti-Indian image, going to change their mindset under Modi’s influence? If the cleaning drive in Tura was any indication, there might be better days ahead.

(Published as editorial in The Meghalaya Guardian on November 28, 2014)