Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has launched his "Clean India" campaign on the 145th birth anniversary of Gandhi, who led India’s non-violent independent movement and is famously known within India as "Father of the Nation."

An estimated 3 million federal government employees working across the country took a "cleanliness pledge" to devote 100 hours per year to cleanliness.

Modi kick-started his "Clean India" campaign last week by administering an oath of cleanliness at Delhi’s Rajpath, the famous ceremonial boulevard, in the presence of Bollywood actor Aamir Khan.

“Mahatma Gandhi dreamt of an India which was not only free but also clean and developed,” the 64-year-old Modi read from the cleanliness pledge.   

Modi later drove to Valmiki Basti, an area dotted with huts in central Delhi and where Gandhi once lived. There, he initiated the cleanliness campaign by wielding a broom and cleaning a street littered with trash.

“Cleanliness was very close to Mahatma Gandhi’s heart. A clean India is the best tribute we can pay,” Modi said in a press statement.

He said cleaning is not merely the job of sweepers but the duty of every citizen, a message picked up on by many of his ministers, who have been cleaning their own offices for the past couple of weeks.

Modi said the cleanliness campaign is not political but based on a love for the country.

“I know people will criticize me; if my efforts lead to a clean India, then I am prepared to face it,” Modi said.

The campaign, a pet project of Modi, aims to make India clean by 2019, which will coincide with Gandhi's 150th birth anniversary.

“Modi’s cleanliness initiative is commendable. But in this media frenzy we should not forget Gandhi’s more important message of peace and non-violence,” Asif Shaikh, a local Congress party leader in north Maharashtra state, told Anadolu Agency.

“Gandhi is remembered worldwide essentially for his non-violent struggle for India’s freedom movement,” Shaikh said. He added that relying excessively on Gandhi’s name for the cleanliness campaign will dilute his legacy of non-violence.

A senior documentary filmmaker who spoke to AA on the condition of anonymity said that while the cleanliness drive was long overdue, the underlying message of the campaign was an attempt to appropriate Gandhi’s legacy.

“Gandhi is a mascot of non-violence worldwide. Are we making him an icon of cleanliness?” he asked.

“Isn’t it ironic that the legacy of Gandhi is being appropriated by those who once boycotted his movement?” he continued.

Social media was awash with Modi’s cleanliness initiative as the hashtag #CleanmyIndia started trending on Twitter.

Writer and filmmaker Pritish Nandy tweeted, “Even though it may be a symbolic act, as indeed Gandhi’s was, the focus in cleanliness is very apt. Cleanliness is next to Godliness.”

Nandy was quick to add the issue of corruption in Indian politics. “Cities must be cleaned," he said. "Villages must be cleaned. The Ganga must be cleaned. Above all, politics must be cleaned.”

Ankit Lal, an entrepreneur and blogger, raised the irony of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party’s celebration of Gandhi’s birth anniversary.

“Those who boycotted #QuitIndia and Gandhi are celebrating #Gandhijayanti!”

Quit India was a civil disobedience movement spearheaded by Gandhi in 1942 against British rule.

Five months after India’s independence, Gandhi was assassinated in January 1948 by Nathuram Godse, a former member of the right-wing Hindu organization Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh.

This same organization is culturally aligned to the ruling party.

Anadolu Agency