A rigorous padayatra may not be the best way for the BJP to honour Mahatma Gandhi
There is no denying the prime minister’s fondness for the spirit of innovation. At a recent meeting with members of parliament of the Bharatiya Janata Party, Narendra Modi asked them to undertake padayatras in their respective constituencies to mark the 150th birth anniversary of M.K. Gandhi. Mr Modi is known to set ambitious targets for the nation as well as his colleagues: each BJP MP has been asked to cover 150 kilometres within a specific time period, walking in groups. The prime minister has also made sure that the padayatra, apart from being commemorative of a momentous event, remains a political exercise. In the course of their brisk journey, Mr Modi’s colleagues are expected to reach out to the people and raise their awareness about the welfare schemes undertaken by the Centre. The seamless fusion of public outreach with devotion for India’s tallest icon is quite novel. Such novelty undoubtedly lies at the heart of Mr Modi’s political charisma.
What is ironic is that the distance which the BJP’s parliamentarians have been asked to cover by their leader could well be a symbolic representation of — metaphorically speaking — the miles that separate Mr Modi’s India from the ideals espoused by the Mahatma. The India that Mr Modi leads has, incidentally, elected to its temple of democracy a representative who had publicly declared Gandhi’s assassin to be a patriot. The reason for the vilification of one of the architects of India’s freedom is not obscure. The ideas that Gandhi fought and died for — secularism, accommodation, pluralism, diversity, to name a few — allegedly find themselves on the margins of the majoritarian consciousness that the BJP is keen on instilling among citizens. That great man would have been mortified by some of the transgressions that continue under Mr Modi’s watch. Sustained assaults on minorities and Dalits, the penury of India’s villages and farmers, the exploitation of India’s natural resources — each of these offences takes India away from the polity conceived by the Mahatma. A rigorous padayatra may not be the best way to honour Gandhi. Conforming to Gandhian values, while keeping alive the culture of fearless scrutiny and dissent, would be a better way of remembering that peerless man.