New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi Thursday symbolically wielded the broom in Dalit colony where Mahatma Gandhi once stayed to launch a unique nationwide campaign which seeks to change Indians' mindset vis-a-vis hygiene and clean up the country in five years.
In a spirited speech near the India Gate monument a short while later, Modi told a huge gathering that Indians had a responsibility to fulfill Gandhi's dream by ridding the country of dirt and filth by 2019, the 150th birth anniversary of Father of the Nation.
He asked Indians to make cleanliness a mass movement, urged youths to be part of the Clean India project and called upon people to use social media to share their role in making Indian cities and towns more liveable.
Modi started the day by visiting Rajghat, the Gandhi memorial, to mark the 145th birth anniversary of the Mahatma, who was a strong advocate of cleanliness.
On his way to Valmiki Colony which Gandhi made his home for 214 days in 1946-47, Modi suddenly halted his car, entered the Mandir Marg police station, saw the state of cleanliness and calmly picked up the broom to sweep away fallen leaves.
Station House Office Satish Malik told IANS that he was standing outside the police station when he saw Modi walk into it through a second gate. "I ran after him," he said, recalling his and his colleague's surprise.
After a pep talk about cleanliness to the policemen, Modi reached the Valmiki Colony, where, after visiting the Valmiki temple, Modi took up a broom and swept a small area with party colleagues and residents to symbolically launch the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan or Clean India campaign.
He used a dust pan to put the small pile of dirt into the bin.
Visitors to India complain about the dirt, the absence of enough dust bins, choked drains, poor state of most public toilets as well as spitting and urinating in the open.
Since becoming prime minister in May, Modi has said that India should become a clean place, like the developed world, by 2019.
In his speech near India Gate where the mission was formally launched, Modi said India could change radically if the citizens imbibed discipline.
"Do citizens have no role in this? We have to change this mindset," Modi said. "India can do it, the people of India can do it."
If Indians can reach Mars, they certainly can clean up the country, he said to applause from more than 5,000 school students besides people from all walks of life.
"It takes time to change established mindset. I know it is a difficult task. But we have five years," he said.
The prime minister named nine people -- including cricketer Sachin Tendulkar, actors Priyanka Chopra and Salman Khan, and industrialist Anil Ambani -- to spread the message of Clean India.
He compared his slogan of "Clean India" to Mahatma Gandhi's war cry of "Quit India" during the Independence movement.
Modi, who returned from the US late Wednesday, said the Clean India drive should not be viewed from a political prism.
"This is not about Modi... This is a people's task."
The prime minister administered a pledge to the gathering to contribute at least two hours a week to keep their surroundings clean.
The pledge read: "It is our duty to serve Mother India by keeping the country neat and clean."
Finally, followed by thousands of mainly young people, many holding cloth banners calling for a "Beautiful India", Modi walked down Rajpath to a road junction nearby.
Thursday's function had government departments, private companies and others unleash cleanliness drives in their own institutions.
Power Minister Piyush Goyal announced construction of one lakh toilets in schools by public sector undertakings in a year.
Rural Development Minister Nitin Gadkari, who was present at the formal launch with Modi, said every village would get Rs.20 lakh a year to target the goal of clean India.