The Greenness is Blinding Us All

Thomas Crowley compares Modi’s ‘Swachh Bharat Abhiyan’ and Hero MotoCorp’s ‘Manufacturing Happiness’ to the extent of politicising their supposed environmentally beneficial endeavours in order to reveal a neo-liberal mindset …

It is perhaps no coincidence that Narendra Modi’s ‘Swachh Bharat Abhiyan campaign and Hero MotoCorp’s ‘Manufacturing Happiness’ campaign launched in the same month. Granted, the two campaigns have plenty of superficial differences: one is a government drive, while the other is a corporate ad blitz; one is aimed at the upliftment of the nation, while the other is aimed at selling more vehicles; one is invoking the legacy of Gandhi, while the other is unintentionally paraphrasing Noam Chomsky. But look beneath the surface, and the congruities emerge. Both campaigns are guided by the same insidious logic, the same dangerous presumptions about the development of a glittering India, the same neoliberal mindset.

Enough has been written about the vacuity of Modi’s cleanliness drive, and its absolute lack of engagement with issues of caste (who actually does the cleaning in India?) and class (how much, or rather, how little do they get paid?). Also noted: the obvious clash between Modi’s cleaning program and the environmentally damaging nature of his industrial policies. He has already made clear that he will weaken environment regulations, including the Forest Rights Act. More than one publication has concluded that Modi’s government has launched a quiet “war on the environment.” What the ‘Swachh Bharat Abhiyan’ actually seeks is a facade of neatness and order, clean streets to make NRIs proud, all the mess pushed out of sight and out of mind. The campaign also fits well with Modi’s mastery of the media, and his penchant for catchy phrases and photo ops. In this age of politics as marketing, Modi is the ultimate brand manager.

The Hero ‘Manufacturing Happiness’ campaign did not generate as much buzz as its governmental counterpart, but it employed many of the same techniques – full page newspaper ads, online videos, social media. The campaign was launched to inaugurate the opening of Hero MotoCorp’s so-called ‘Garden Factory’ in Neemrana, Rajasthan. The factory was designed by William McDonough, the world-famous ‘green’ architect and entrepreneur, tireless promoter of the phrase ‘cradle-to-cradle’, and mastermind of the $2 billion remake of Ford’s original manufacturing plant in Michigan. (Incidentally, McDonough was also the subject of a devastating profile in Fast Company magazine, which portrayed the architect as a “vain, litigious and greedy self-promoter,” in the words of one reviewer.)

McDonough was not the only big name associated with the Garden Factory. Vasundhara Raje, the Chief Minister of Rajasthan, attended the unveiling of the factory, and chose the opportunity to promise that clearance procedures would be streamlined in order to encourage investment in the state. This, of course, has been a major theme of BJP governance, and the language of ‘streamlining’ and ‘cutting red tape’ is currently being used to gut environmental legislation and to empty all ecological safeguards from the environmental clearance process. So Raje’s appearance at the Garden Factory – to promote solar energy, among other things – reveals the fundamental hollowness of the ‘green development’ rhetoric. A veneer of greenness on the one hand; and a policy of full-steam-ahead, environment-be-damned resource extraction and exploitative development on the other. And then there’s the whole irony of making an ‘eco-friendly’ factory that produces private vehicles, which will further add to the dangerous toxicity of air in Indian cities.

The duplicity does not stop with environmental matters. One of the selling points of the Garden Factory is that it ‘manufactures happiness’ not just for company managers and consumers, but also for its workers. The green environment of the factory is, ostensibly, meant to be enjoyed by all, including those actually making the vehicles. It has rejuvenation areas! And ’oxygen greenwalls’! But then Raje, in her celebratory speech, also touted Rajasthan’s recent labour reforms, which are being promoted as a model for the entire country. The reforms make it easier for managers to fire workers; increase the amount of overtime a manager can demand; make it more difficult for workers to form unions; expand the scope for hiring an army of underpaid apprentices’; contribute to the continuing erosion of the organised sector by making more and more factories exempt from industrial regulations; and legalise the use of contract workers for core production. The new Hero worker may be in an extremely precarious position, underpaid and overworked, easily replaced and harshly punished for organising; but he has an eco-friendly break room!

All these contradictions find their perfect expression in the website launched by Hero to promote their new factory. (Although kudos to them for actually getting the domain name This is truly a ‘world-class’ website; sleekly designed, with embedded videos and a tasteful white-and-green color scheme. The website highlights sixteen key features of the factory, a total of two of which are actually devoted to the condition of workers. Each feature gets its own 26-second YouTube video, presented in cinematic widescreen, with a voice-over by an Indianised equivalent of Morgan Freeman and classical piano playing in the background. Each feature also gets its own overblown spin on the ’Manufacturing Happiness’ tag line; for instance, for skylights that let in natural light, we get the slogan, ‘Being recharged by the rhythms of nature is generating happiness.’ It all looks a little too good, a little too happy. The workers in the video don’t look like workers at all; they look like well-paid actors. And then, there are inconvenient questions like: how many jobs will be lost due to the automation technologies the website is so proudly featuring?

Of course, the Garden Factory is just one piece in a much larger puzzle. Located in Neemrana, just on the border with Haryana, it is an appendix to the automobile manufacturing belt that stretches from Gurgaon to Manesar and Bawal and Dharuhera, in the shadow of the national capital. That belt, it should be noted, has been roiled by unrest, as workers’ militancy has increased and protests have erupted in many factories, from major companies like Maruti Suzuki and Honda to smaller suppliers like Autofit and Munjal Kiriu.

But this goes far beyond the National Capital Region. The Green Factory is the latest extension to the NH8 Industrial Corridor, which – according to salivating industrialists and politicians – will one day expand all the way from Delhi to Mumbai, with not a regulation or labor law in sight. This is the real face of ‘eco-friendly development’, a green future that is dark indeed.

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