Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday launched his first major social campaign since assuming office, one for a filth-free India or Swachh Bharat, sweeping up dirt on the road outside Valmiki Sadan, a colony of neglected sanitation workers.
Seeking to set an example by working the broom on Mahatma Gandhi’s 145th birthday, Modi called upon every Indian to realise Gandhi’s dream of clean surroundings and brought a fading Gandhian ideal back into public imagination.
“We all have a solemn duty…which is to clean up the blot of grime on Mother India. Gandhiji gave us freedom, but we are yet to be free from filth and dirt. Don’t look at this just as a government initiative,” Modi said, appealing to citizens to undo India’s reputation of poor public hygiene.
Wielding the broom, Modi launched the Clean India mission, saying it is beyond politics and inspired by patriotism.
Debunking criticism that his government has been taking credit for every achievement, the prime minister acknowledged the efforts of all previous governments to make India clean.
"I am not talking politics...this is beyond politics.This is inspired my patriotism not politcs. We do not have to do with an eye on politics.
I say that with a clean heart... If we paint this again with a brush of politics, we will again do a disservice to Mother India," he said.
"All the governments in this country have made one or the other effort to do this work. Several political, social and cultural organizations have made efforts in this direction. I salute all those, who have worked," Modi said in his address at his next stop Rajpath. At Rajpath, the capital’s grand vista, Modi administered a public oath on cleanliness to schoolchildren, with actor Aamir Khan by his side to endorse the Swachh Bharat campaign.
Modi paid tributes at Rajghat to Gandhi and at Vijay Ghat to Lal Bahadur Shashtri – the former PM was born on Oct 2 – before reaching Valmiki Sadan.
The stop at the swarming housing estate of Valmikis, a Dalit group and erstwhile “untouchables”, was symbolic. By launching his campaign from this neglected landmark, Modi nudged the public for a change in social attitudes.
After a brief prayer inside the Valmiki temple, he spent some time inside a one-room hutment which was once Mahtama Gandhi’s temporary home.
He then interacted with dozens of schoolgirls, who queued up to get their caps autographed by Modi. “He is the first PM to clean roads. Nobody would do this before,” said Geeta Rawat, a student of NP Girls’ School.
The Rs 62,000 crore Swachh Bharat Abhyan, India's biggest cleanliness drive, will cover over 4000 towns in the next five years.
Administering the cleanliness pledge, along with ministers Venkaiah Naidu and Nitin Gadkari and film actor Aamir Khan, he said that this task is not the responsibility only of sanitation workers or the government but of all the 125 crore Indians.
"If we can reach Mars, we can clean India," the PM said.
He also said that the campaign should not be seen as a mere photo opportunity.
The prime minister said that he is aware that the criticism of this programme will begin in just a few days and that he is confident his countrymen would not let him down.
The prime minister countered Congress criticism that his government behaves as if everything happened only after he came to power. "I do not make any claim that the government, which has been elected to power just now, has done everything."
Congress has been attacking Modi accusing him of taking credit of initiatives undertaken by the UPA regimes and trying to give an impression that every good work was done only by him.
Recalling that he had congratulated all governments even from the ramparts of Red Fort, Modi said,"even today from this stage, I greet and salute all the governments--central, state and municipal, social organizations which have worked in this direction, whether they are leaders from Sarvodaya or workers of Seva Dal. I launch this programme with their blessings."
Maintaining that everybody deserved kudos, the prime minister urged everyone not to make political barbs on the issue.
If we can reach Mars, we can clean India: Modi
India's 'toilet guru' works to flush away open defecation
PM Modi's 'Swachh Bharat Challenge'
In his bid to make 'Swachh Bharat'a people's movement, Modi initiated a chain by inviting nine eminent personalities including cricket icon Sachin Tendulkar and several actors to spread awareness on cleanliness.
The PM appeared inspired by the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, which had gone viral in recent months, as he asked the celebrities to nominate nine more people to join the campaign and hoped that the chain would continue.
Among those nominated by the PM are film actors Salman Khan, Priyanka Chopra and Kamal Hassan, industrialist Anil Ambani, Goa Governor Mridula Sinha and Congress leader Shashi Tharoor, yoga guru Ramdev and the team of TV serial "Tarak Mehta Ka Ulta Chashma".
During his Independence Day speech, Modi had called for a cleaner India by October 2, 2019, in time for Gandhi’s 150th birth anniversary.
— Tania Goklany (@TaniaGoklany) October 2, 2014