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Modi intensifies push against open defecation

High stakes gamble to change behavior

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Temporary toilets on the banks of the Ganges river   © Reuters

NEW DELHI -- Of all Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's campaigns, none, perhaps, is more consequential than the renewed push for his Swachh Bharat -- or Clean India -- Mission launched in October 2014.

At first glance SBM was a mere rehash of a campaign to build toilets across rural India that was launched several decades ago and has been run by successive governments, but it goes a step further by combining social engineering and developmental economics. In Modi's view, it has the potential to upend stereotypes of poverty, malnutrition and inequality that plague India's image. Studies show that high infant mortality, poor maternal health and stunted growth all take a wider economic toll.

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