Prime Minister Narendra Modi is planning a bigger-than-usual Children’s Day on November 14, Jawaharlal Nehru’s birthday, when he is likely to launch yet another cleanliness campaign – one aimed solely at schoolchildren.
The mission, which officials have branded Bal Swachh Abhiyaan, is likely to see Modi make a signature, high-pitched public commemoration of another national icon: the country’s first prime minister and one of the Opposition Congress’s tallest leaders.
Last month, Modi chose the birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi to kick-start Swachh Bharat, a nationwide drive to clean public spaces.
Top officials in Delhi are preparing to replicate the campaign’s successful launch, reaching out to all states to enable millions of children to participate in cleaning up playgrounds, homes, schools and toilets on November 14.
Modi has called for a government plan to build public toilets in every school in a country where more than half of the 1.2-billion population does not have access to toilets. According to a World Bank study, the burden from lack of toilets and hygiene-related diseases cuts 2% of India’s potential GDP.
“Children can play a very important role in achieving Swachh Bharat by 2019,” sanitation secretary Vijaylaxmi Joshi wrote to all chief secretaries, asking them to undertake programmes at all levels, including districts and gram panchayats, or village-level councils, on that day.
“A pledge to be taken on the occasion by all children of the country is being prepared,” the letter from the Centre informing states about the campaign said.
In his Independence Day speech this year, Modi called for a cleaner India by October 2, 2019, in time for Gandhi’s 150th birth anniversary, and sought to set an example by working the broom. The campaign, one melding nationalism with civic pride, is reminiscent of Singapore’s first prime minister Lee Kuan Yew’s drive to modernise the city-state on an ethos of cleanliness.