Let’s clean up India, say Bolly stars

Indian celebrities are backing Prime Minister Narenda Modi's Swachh Bharat campaign, and Aamir Khan says he would like to be the initiative's ambassador.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi flags off a walkathon as he launches the Swachh Bharat campaign. Vipin Kumar / Hindustan Times via Getty Images
Powered by automated translation

It’s being called India’s version of the ice-bucket challenge and Bollywood stars are pitching in enthusiastically, not to raise money for Lou Gehrig’s disease – as was the case when people were pouring cold water over their heads – but to clean up the country.

On October 2 – a public holiday marking the birth of Mahatma Gandhi – the prime minister Narendra Modi launched the nationwide Swachh Bharat, or Clean India, campaign.

He called on every Indian to dedicate 100 hours each year to cleaning up their local areas with the aim that by 2019, the 150th anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi’s birth, India will finally be clean.

Modi himself picked up a broom and swept away the litter in a police station compound and a slum. He also issued a challenge to famous people in all walks of Indian life, including Bollywood stars, to join the campaign so that their fame might motivate others to become involved. Among the celebrities he chose to invite were the actors Salman Khan and Priyanka Chopra, both of whom responded on Twitter.

“Me & my Foundation accept the invite from our honourable prime minister for Swachh Bharat and will give our 100% for #MyCleanIndia,” Khan tweeted.

“I humbly accept respected Prime Minster Narendra Modiji’s challenge. This is an idea that is long overdue,” Chopra wrote.

The actor and producer Aamir Khan went even further at the launch of the campaign in New Delhi, offering to become its ­ambassador.

"I will be happy if they offer me this responsibility," said Khan, who was named one of Time magazine's 100 Most Influential ­People last year.

He highlighted many social problems in his acclaimed television series Satyamev Jayate (Truth Alone Prevails) two years ago. One episode was devoted to cleanliness and ­sanitation.

“I clean up at home and our office is waste-free,” Khan said after taking an oath, alongside cabinet ministers, to clean up India. “We should all support the prime minister in this step.”

He said he admired the prime minister’s campaign and urged all Indians to get involved.

“If they made Khan the campaign ambassador, he would galvanise young people into making a difference,” said the political analyst Satish Jacob. “He is a bit like Modi in that he has made an impact and can get through to people.” The response to Modi’s challenge has been enthusiastic. The cricketer Sachin Tendulkar, the politician and author Shashi Tharoor, the actors Hritik Roshan and Kamal Haasan and many other celebrities have agreed to join the campaign, which is expected to cost 620 billion rupees (Dh37bn) over the next five years.

Cynics might suggest that some Bollywood stars are notoriously fickle when it comes to social causes – enthusiastically backing them one day, forgetting them the next.

But when issues are addressed properly, as Aamir Khan did with his TV series, the impact can be ­stunning.

For example, an episode of Truth Alone Prevails dealing with child sexual abuse did more than any other effort by any organisation to draw attention to the crime and force Indians to acknowledge that it exists.

In his clean-up campaign, Modi plans to keep up the pressure on people and motivate them through social media, his ­­ MyGov.in website and a new website dedicated to the initiative. “The campaign should be not seen merely as a photo opportunity,” he said.

It has already had one unexpected benefit – a sales boom for broom makers. One large manufacturer in Jaipur, Chandra Prakash, said he was struggling to keep up with ­demand.

“I can’t cope,” he said. “Our normal weekly order is about 15 tonnes. Now it is 50 tonnes and I don’t have enough workers.”

How long this demand – and enthusiasm for the clean-up – will last is uncertain.

If any evidence was needed that it will not be easy to change bad habits, empty water bottles were later seen strewn over the lawns at the spot where the campaign was launched.