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Bapu in morning, Sallu in evening
Rajghat trip sets off pats, potshots

Narendra Modi pays homage to Gandhi at Rajghat on Monday morning, hours before the swearing-in.
Pictures by Prem Singh

New Delhi, May 26: Like most things associated with Narendra Modi, his trip to Rajghat today triggered both praise and pot shots. At least in the world of Twitter.

An Indian politician paying homage at Mahatma Gandhi’s tomb on the biggest day of his career should ordinarily be seen as no more than a routine gesture of courtesy.

But Modi, who drove to Rajghat before taking the oath as Prime Minister, has always evoked strong emotions.

Some tweeters dismissed his move as “nautanki” (drama), alluding to Modi’s perceived status as a hardliner in the Sangh parivar, whose ideology is a gulf away from the Mahatma’s.

Nor has Modi been able to wash off the stains of the 2002 Gujarat riots that took place under his watch. One tweet declared the “Mahatma would be squirming in his grave”.

Congress general secretary Shakeel Ahmed’s Twitter post said: “The ideology which killed Mahatma has bowed its head at his Samadhi. If you are on the path of truth, even your critics will bow.”

Gandhi’s assassin, Nathuram Godse, was originally a member of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh but had defected to the Hindu Mahasabha.

The Sangh has always denied any link with Godse and the Mahatma’s assassination, but its critics have steadfastly stressed Godse’s links to the ideological fraternity, whose antipathy towards Gandhi’s politics was well known.

Several Sangh activists were arrested during the trial but were let off for want of evidence.

The Sangh has since abandoned its explicit anti-Gandhi stance and BJP leaders have constantly demonstrated their respect for the Father of the Nation. The party began celebrating the Mahatma’s birthday, and L.K. Advani made it a point to be at Rajghat on October 2.

While linking the present-day BJP leadership to Godse in any way may seem far-fetched to many, others continue to view the party in the light of the Sangh parivar’s rigid ideological positions.

The tweets that followed Modi’s Rajghat visit mirrored this split in opinion. One tweeter posted: “This shows he bows to Mahatma, not Godse.”

Another hoped that “some Gandhi-hating followers of the RSS will get the message”.

Dressed in white, Modi stayed at the memorial for 10 minutes.

The country’s first BJP Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, too had visited Rajghat but after taking the oath of office. Vajpayee was seen as a moderate and his presence at the tomb did not create any controversy.

The Rajghat samadhi committee keeps records of the visits by foreign heads of state but not of those by Indian dignitaries.

Asked if every Prime Minister of India had come to Rajghat, an official said: “Indians coming to Rajghat is not unusual. All the Prime Ministers come here: some after taking the oath, some before. Pranab Mukherjee came before taking the oath as President. We don’t have records to tell who came when.”

Old-timers said that new Prime Ministers tend to visit Rajghat mostly after being sworn in. Modi, though, chose to begin the day by invoking the Mahatma’s memory, perhaps to try and send a message to the country and the global community, particularly those who harbour doubts about his political philosophy.