If you are a regular at the Shram Shakti Bhawan in New Delhi, which houses various government offices, you might come across a figure clad in orange, wielding either a broom or a duster, as she diligently cleans a part of the premises.

That is Uma Bharti for you. Long


after other ministers have had their photo-ops to endorse the prime min­ister’s cleanliness mission, the Union minister for water resources, river development and Ganga rejuvenation continues to brandish the broom. She has made it her mission to personally clean one section of her workplace every day that she is in Delhi.

“I have learnt from Modiji how to work with a free heart,” she once told


a media gathering. Bharti considers the prime minister her guru, the one per­son she would rush to consult during her days as chief minister of Madhya Pradesh. She has taken as her guruman- tra a sentiment Modi expressed during his anointment speech at Rashtrapati Bhavan: Vikas ko janandolan banao (make development a people’s move­ment).

Bharti, who handled portfolios such

as youth affairs and sports, coal and mines and tourism in the Vajpayee government, seemed the most appro­priate candidate for the combined water resources and Ganga rejuvena- ; tion ministry that Modi decided to I create. The Ganga is close to her heart. It is said that during the Lok Sabha elections, when Modi was wooing Varanasi, he heard several references to Bharti’s efforts at cleaning the holy river. A passion for something might be a good starting point, but Bharti knows it is only the beginning of the effort to ensure a Nirmal Ganga, Aviral Ganga (clean and flowing Ganga). “These endeavours can have starting dates, [but] there can be no finish dates. It will remain an ongoing effort,” she said. She has already given the go-


Grabbing headlines: Uma Bharti cleans up newspapers and playing cards on the Shram Shakti Bhawan premises

ahead for a feasibility study on divert­ing the Bhagirathi to ensure more flow into the Ganga. IIT Kanpur is doingthe study. Another attempt is to study the native flora, document the species that have disappeared and then attempt to reintroduce them around the upper reaches of the river. “Ganga ko hariyali chadar pehnani hai (we have to drape the Ganga in green),” she once said, rather poetically.

Indeed, Bharti has a way with words. Her speech is as aviral as she would like the river to be. While well-versed in English, she has an enviable mastery over Hindi, choos­ing to switch from poetic phrases to extremely Sankritised lines and then to her native Bundelkhandi style with the fickleness of the Ganga. Always primed and prepared for an occasion, the minister shows little tolerance for those who are not on the dot. At the recent Jal Manthan, a huge endeav­our spearheaded by her ministry to interact with states on various aspects of water management, Bharti had the emcee in blushes for her mispro­nunciations, and how. “He is Sanwar Lai, not Sawar,” she said, referring to her minister of state. “It has the same root as saanwaria or beloved and is a cherished name of Lord Krishna,” she explained with authority. “The emcee was reading out the English spelling, so didn’t understand the phonetic nuances,” she said with a straight face. And when the emcee fumbled over the name of B.N. Navalawala, the newly appointed adviser to the ministry, call­ing him Nawlakha, the minister said, “I am actually happy his name is mispro­nounced, perhaps it’s portentous. We have a man worthy of nine gems in our midst today.”

Bharti is spartan in her dressing. Her attire, restricted by the colours of renunciation, ranges from deep yel­low to burnt orange. Her hair is always done in a simple plait, the stark parting adding to the severity of a look that the
tiny stones sparking in her ears soften. The lucky get a darshan of that rare hundred-watt smile, too.

She is as meticulous with her work space, too. She has allotted separate days for deliberations on various aspects of her ministry—Mondays and Thursdays are for the Ganga, Tuesdays for interlinking of rivers and Fridays for water conservation. Wednesdays she reserves for her constituency, Jhansi in Uttar Pradesh.

Bharti says that while Ganga rejuve­nation is a long-term project, providing irrigation to every field is a shorter and rather pressing goal. There are several endeavours towards this goal, such as satellite surveys to map underground water in India and interlinking rivers. The latter she calls a “beautiful idea of the Vajpayee government”. Indeed, even for the search of the mythical Saraswati river, Bharti likes to give a pragmatic reason rather than dwell on the emotional tug. It is, after all, a search for a huge reserve of freshwater that the nation could do with.

She is a taskmaster and, six months into her tenure, has already expressed her disapproval over the slow pace of work in her ministry. At a recent meeting with her senior officers, she told them that schemes should be fin­ished within the time given and that she would now personally oversee the progress. Noting that this is the first government since independence to come to power on the agenda of development, she said it was even more imperative that the schemes be completed as per the aspirations of the people. She said that while some states were cooperating with the Union government, coordina­tion was not as good with some other states and that she would person­ally act as facilitator if required. In focus are states that are linked with the Ganga rejuvenation and river interlinking schemes.The minister blames the flawed policies of previ­ous governments for the pollution of water bodies today. She says the work of her ministry will now be prayaschit (atonement) for all that paap (sin). •