NEW DELHI (AFP) – Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has ordered his bureaucrats to come in to work to clean up their offices – including toilets – on this week’s national holiday to celebrate Mahatma Gandhi’s birthday.
The move is part of a nationwide cleanliness drive to be launched by Modi on the holiday Thursday, with the premier himself expected to take a broom to the capital’s notoriously dirty streets.
The initiative has sparked grumblings by officials from India’s infamously slow and vast bureaucracy who say the request to work, although theoretically voluntary, cannot be ignored.
Modi has cracked down on officials since storming to power in May elections, demanding they turn up to work at 9am and paying unannounced visits to government offices.
“We have already been turning up on time and working till late (since Modi took office). Now we have been asked to wield the broom and we might as well do so,” one reluctant official told AFP in New Delhi on Tuesday.
“My children are upset that I will have to go to the office even on a national holiday,” he said, requesting anonymity.
But another official was decidedly upbeat, saying it was an important step in ridding India of its entrenched class system in which only those from low castes cleaned up waste.
“It is an unprecedented sanitation movement,” the officer in the power ministry told AFP.
“Wielding the broom is a powerful symbol. It shows that no work is mean and that each one of us should be responsible for cleaning up our waste.”
The drive is partly aimed at sprucing up government offices which are often littered with rubbish, stink of urine and have walls dirtied with dried spit.
Advertisements in all major dailies on Tuesday urged residents of Delhi to “come forward in large numbers” for the programme’s launch.
Sanitation was very close to the heart of independence hero Gandhi who used to clean latrines himself at a time when there were no flush toilets in the country.
Modi has stressed the importance of sanitation in almost all his public speeches since his May victory, vowing to make India clean by 2019, to coincide with the 150th birth anniversary of Gandhi.
Roughly half of India’s population do not have toilets in their homes and must defecate in the open, a health and safety problem that Modi has also vowed to fix.