Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo padayatra is unlikely to achieve its primary objective of melting hearts and reducing polarisation.
But it is being attacked by Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for the wrong reasons, just as it is being supported by the opposition on the basis of dubious logic.
For starters, let us grant the Gandhi scion good intentions, even if cynics may say that it is being done to rescue his political persona from its Pappu imagery.
Every politician, whether successful or not, has the right to seek rejuvenation. So, attacking him for wearing a T-shirt while visiting the Vajpayee samadhi, or praising him for braving the Delhi cold in nothing more than the same T-shirt, is not relevant.
Every politician who is willing to spend so much time and energy for his political future deserves some credit.
The real thing to criticise is not Rahul Gandhi’s intentions in undertaking this yatra, but his failure to recognise the huge void at the heart of it. The yatra will achieve nothing in terms of eventual goodwill or even a mild depolarisation of politics.
If getting assorted actors, the odd economist, or priests from major religions to walk with him is going to achieve peace and amity, nobody can object.
But has this not been our utter failing as a people? We tend to use grand symbolic gestures as a substitute for substantive progress in building bridges between communities.
Consider all that we did in the past to build bridges and where those initiatives ended up. We lit candles on the Wagah border and wrote Aman ki Aasha articles in the media, but Pakistan remains an implacable foe.
We did 'Hindi-Chini Bhai-Bhai' sloganeering, but China is even more of a foe today than it was when we first raised those slogans in the 1950s and 1960s.
At home, Mahatma Gandhi spent a lifetime building Hindu-Muslim unity and goodwill, even taking up unreasonable causes like the Khilafat Movement to get Muslims to accept his leadership, but he could not prevent a partitioning of the country amidst bitter acrimony and violence.
He spent days fasting to stop communal rioting, but after the immediate cessation of hostilities, discontent and hatred simmered.
In today’s context, Rahul’s Bharat Jodo is happening in the context of the Maharashtra-Karnataka dispute over Belagavi, where his own party in the two states is in conflict. Why isn’t the Bharat Jodo idea working here?
The underlying point is simple: goodwill and amity cannot be built on good intentions alone.
It is the result of a willingness on the part of both (or multiple) parties to negotiate a fair agreement through give and take, and also on the realisation that neither side has much to gain from a continuing conflict.
As long as one side thinks it can gain something for nothing, there can be no peace.
The contradiction in Rahul Gandhi’s posture on China, where he thinks we must be prepared for a robust military response, and his approach to internal communal amity, where he thinks it can all be achieved through good intentions and a padayatra, are stark.
Hindu-Muslim or Hindu-Christian relationships are not frayed because one side lacks goodwill for the other.
At the core is a power asymmetry, where two predatory religions are seeking to grow at the cost of Hinduism, and the state, instead of recognising this asymmetry, is making things worse by not giving Hindus even the right to run their own religious and other institutions without state interference.
Peace cannot result from asking one side to fight with both legs and hands tied.
Predator and prey cannot walk together in a padayatra unless two conditions are met: one, the predator gives up his predatory behaviour, and two, the prey learns how to defend itself.
The key to Bharat Jodo lies in recognising this truth of power asymmetry, and remedying it.
This is the deep void at the heart of the Bharat Jodo campaign. It may help Rahul Gandhi refurbish his image, but it won’t join any hearts together.
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