New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday said that India’s rural areas and villages had declared themselves open defecation-free now, adding that the country's stature is on the rise in the world.
The announcement came at an event held to commemorate the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi.
"Today, rural India and its villages have declared themselves 'open defecation-free',” Modi said at a 'Swachh Bharat Diwas' programme in Ahmedabad in the evening. He made the declaration by pressing the button of a remote, unveiling the map of India as open defection-free.
"Today the whole world is appreciating and awarding us (for) providing toilets to over 60 crore people in 60 months by building over 11 crore toilets. The world is amazed by this," Modi said.
"However, this achievement is just a milestone and we should not stop here. The movement has to continue," he added.
Modi said that sanitation and the conservation of environment and animals were dear to Mahatma Gandhi. "Plastic is a major threat to all of them, so we have to achieve the goal to eradicate 'single-use plastic' from the country by 2022," he said.
"Today, rural India has declared itself open defection-free. This is a great achievement of the Swachh Bharat movement, which has the people's participation," Modi said, addressing village heads of 20,000 villages in the country.
"On the call of Mahatma Gandhi during the freedom movement, people of the country mobilised for 'satyagrah' and they did the same now for ‘swachhagrah’,” he said.
Tourism Minister Prahlad Patel on Wednesday announced that single-use plastic will not be allowed on the premises of historical monuments and within 100m of them.
Union Home Minister Amit Shah also gave a clarion call to shun single-use plastic while urging citizens to take an initiative to make this a mass movement.
After flagging off the party's 'Sankalp Yatra' to mark Mahatma Gandhi’s 150th birth anniversary, Shah and Delhi BJP leaders undertook a 'padyatra' for 500 metres amid tight security in Delhi.
Earlier in the day, Modi paid tributes to Mahatma Gandhi at the Sabarmati Ashram. He also penned his thoughts in the visitors' book.
"I'm satisfied that on the occasion of #GandhiAt150, we're witnessing the fulfillment of his dream of 'Swachh Bharat'. I feel lucky that on this occasion when India has successfully stopped open defecation, I'm here at the ashram," Modi wrote.
Gandhi established the Ashram in 1917 after his return from South Africa and stayed there till 1930. Modi also released commemorative Rs 150 coins on the occasion of Gandhi's 150th birth anniversary.
"Sabarmati Ashram is a pilgrimage to make your pledge come true. Respected Bapu (Gandhi) had made a pledge that he will not return to Sabarmati Ashram till India achieved independence. This Ashram was witness to that pledge coming true," Modi wrote in Gujarati in the visitor's book.
"Today I am satisfied that one of the pledges of Mahatma Gandhi of Swachh Bharat is coming true. I am fortunate to be present when India is being declared Open Defecation-Free," Modi wrote.
"We might not have got the opportunity to walk behind Bapu in the freedom movement, but to walk on his path is our duty. We should take steps to walk on the path suggested by Bapu and make small pledges to achieve great success for the nation," he added.
During his 20-minute visit, Modi paid floral tributes, visited a museum on the premises, interacted with students and also visited Gandhi's house, 'Hriday Kunj', inside the Ashram.
Modi also released a book, "Maru Jivan aj Moro Sandesh", on the Mahatma's life. He was presented a postcard written by a school student to Gandhi.
Modi was accompanied by Gujarat Governor Acharya Devrat and Chief Minister Vijay Rupani.
'India’s stature on the rise'
Speaking at an event organised by the BJP's state unit to felicitate him for his speech at the United Nations General Assembly in New York, Modi said the world can see that India is at the forefront of several positive changes taking place globally.
"Respect for India is increasing all over. One can experience the change," he said. “The strength and the value of Indian passport has increased. The world sees those holding Indian passport with respect."
Modi also said that a glimpse of the respect India has accrued globally was seen at the recent 'Howdy, Modi!' event in Houston, which he said has become a talking point among world leaders.
"The fact that US President Donald Trump came to the Indian event and stayed there for such a long time was great. After speeches, when I requested him, he came for a round of stadium without considering security protocol. I thank him and all those who organised the event," Modi said.
"In a way, the world is looking at India with great eagerness. The world was curious about India, a huge country with a vibrant democracy and it is hopeful that India's participation will be most significant whenever there are opportunities to bring about global changes," he said.
Tributes to Bapu
Modi as well as President Ram Nath Kovind and Vice President Venkaiah Naidu paid tributes to Mahatma Gandhi at Rajghat on Wednesday morning. Congress president Sonia Gandhi, former prime minister Manmohan Singh, BJP veteran LK Advani, Union ministers Piyush Goyal and Hardeep Singh Puri, and BJP working president JP Nadda were among those who paid floral tributes to the father of the nation.
In a column for ‘The New York Times’, Modi proposed the ‘Einstein Challenge’ to ensure that Bapu’s ideals of Bapu are remembered by future generations.
“As a tribute to Gandhi, I propose what I call the Einstein Challenge. We know Albert Einstein’s famous words on Gandhi: ‘Generations to come will scarce believe that such a one as this ever in flesh and blood walked upon this earth’… I invite thinkers, entrepreneurs and tech leaders to be at the forefront of spreading Gandhi’s ideas through innovation,” Modi wrote.