Making an appeal for a non-political movement driven by patriotism, Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched the Swachh Bharat, or Clean India, Mission on the birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi.
The Mission will aim to make India ‘clean’ by October 2, 2019, Mahatma Gandhi’s 150th birth anniversary, Mr. Modi said. This goal will include the elimination of open defecation, which he called a “blot on society”, especially for women and young girls.
Mr. Modi flagged off the mission at Valmiki Basti, a housing society in central Delhi for sanitation workers, in which Mahatma Gandhi once stayed for a short while. The PM swept a small area, paid his respects at a temple, dedicated public toilets to residents and conducted a surprise sanitation inspection on the local police station, news agencies reported – the event was off-limits for private media.
He then arrived at Rajpath, Delhi’s ceremonial central avenue, where school-children, union cabinet ministers, Delhi’s Lieutenant Governor Najeeb Jung, actor Aamir Khan and boxer Vijender Singh were waiting. Mr. Modi presented awards to the winners of the logo and slogan contest for the Mission, whose winning entries were part of all publicity material.
“Bapu gave us the message ‘Quit India. Clean India’, but his ‘Clean India’ dream is still unfulfilled,” Mr. Modi said, speaking in Hindi. Referring to the winning logo, which features Mahatma Gandhi’s round-rimmed spectacles, Mr. Modi said, “When I saw that logo, I felt as if Gandhiji is looking at us through those spectacles to see if we have made India clean yet.” He asked his countrymen to give Gandhi the gift of a clean India for his 150th birth anniversary. ‘I am confident that Clean India will give us as much joy as Quit India,” he said.
Trying to strike a non-political note, Mr. Modi said that patriotism and not politics should inspire the mission. “I am not saying that our newly elected government has done everything for sanitation. I praise all governments before me, union governments and state governments, corporates and voluntary groups,” he said. Cleanliness should not be the job of sanitation workers alone, he said. No non-BJP politicians were spotted at the event, however
Apart from crowd-sourcing the logo and slogan for the Mission, Mr. Modi also asked citizens to take photos of garbage, upload them on social media, upload videos of them cleaning the spot, and finally upload a picture of the clean spot. He also invited nine people – Goa Governor Mridula Sinha, Shashi Tharoor, cricket star Sachin Tendulkar, actors Salman Khan, Priyanka Chopra and Kamal Haasan, industrialist Anil Ambani, yoga practitioner Baba Ramdev, and the crew of the TV serial Tarak Mehta ka Ulta Chashma – to join him in his cleanliness mission, and asked them to further nominate another nine, and so on.
Mr. Khan joined Mr. Modi on stage as the PM administered a pledge to the crowd that they would not litter and keep aside two hours every week to clean their surroundings. The same pledge was administered in government offices across the country. Mr. Modi then led schoolchildren for a kilometre-long walk.
With its emphasis on not littering, the programme, launched with much fanfare, does not go far enough in addressing India's real challenges, sanitation experts worry. The PM's address only briefly mentioned open defecation, and the pledge administered across the country does not talk about toilets or their use either. “Because open defecation kills thousands of babies and stunts the growth of children and of our workforce, we should not let ourselves be distracted from it by litter,” health economist Dean Spears who has shown the link between sanitation and child stunting, told The Hindu.