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When I was very young, I had an opportunity to meet Sant Vinoba Bhave with my father. My father used to consider him the last among the Gandhians. That evening, sitting on the ground, he asked: Don’t you feel that Bapu’s dream of Ram Rajya is shattering? Bhave replied: “It’s good in a way that Bapu is not among us to see this day. Gore sahebs (white rulers) have left but look at our members of Parliament (MPs) and members of legislative assemblies (MLAs): They have no connection with the people."

I would have forgotten this episode, but for my father who kept repeating it. My heart aches when I look back to that meeting. Since then, the behaviour of our elected representatives has constantly fallen. Many of them claim that elections are won riding on a wave: Working hard for it is futile.

The 2014 and 2019 general elections were won on the “Modi wave". People voted either for or against Prime Minister Narendra Modi. However, Modi understands that political waves have their limitations, and, after a while, they start reversing course. Therefore, to win future elections, it is important that MPs are made accountable to the people. That is the reason why Modi has asked Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MPs to organize a 150-km long foot march in their constituencies, from Gandhi Jayanti (2 October) to Patel Jayanti (31 October).

The saffron party plans to use the march to spread the ideologies of Gandhi. They will also plant trees during the march. However, the political meaning of the march is deep. When MPs meet their voters directly, they learn about their issues. They will also have to assure voters that these issues will be sorted out. In this age of social media explosion, when everything gets recorded even if you don’t want it to be, going back on promises is not an easy task. If the MPs are indeed able to fulfil their promises, the padayatra will prove to be an effective medium for the BJP to strike a bond with voters.

The BJP has 303 members in the Lok Sabha and 78 in the Rajya Sabha. It has deputed Rajya Sabha MPs in constituencies where it does not have a Lok Sabha representative. It means that the BJP representatives will cover 72,150km across 381 Lok Sabha constituencies. Even if the prime minister excuses senior ministers and elderly MPs from the march, padayatras of about 50,000km are certain—and it will play an important role in the forthcoming assembly elections.

Let us return to the source of Bhave’s anguish, which has only become worse. Modi knows that if the MPs walk 150km in their constituencies, it will help infuse a sense of responsibility. However, for that, the MPs will have to think beyond shallow politics. If the event really gets implemented as it is planned, besides the BJP reaping its benefits, the almost-unconscious opposition too will feel the need to wake up. The Opposition seems completely paralyzed after the last general elections. The largest Opposition party is without a leader. Internal conflicts of regional parties have emerged once again and their leaders seem to be suffering from depression.

They have turned their back on their responsibilities. Recently, dozens of children died of encephalitis in Bihar, but the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) leaders remained numb and mute. Having invoked democracy during the elections a little while earlier, they should have helped people in the time of crisis. Some of the candidates fielded by the RJD and its allies are millionaires. They could have easily provided relief material to the children burning with fever. This welfare work could have simply proved to be a boon to the sinking Opposition in the state. The Opposition wants to fulfil its duties only by issuing statements to the media because every political worker, regardless of the party they come from, has developed a habit of finding life in election waves.

A terrible truth of our times is that the workers crowding the lowest ranks of political parties carry the same character and behaviour. This is the reason that we see the son of a leader (in Indore) beating government officials with a cricket bat, a legislator (in Uttarkahand) firing guns with pride, or Opposition party members (in Maharashtra) throwing crabs at a legislator’s house.

The quagmire of party politics is now submerged in its own dirt and mess. Definitely, the time to rein in such brash leaders has arrived. Will it begin with the BJP?

Shashi Shekhar is editor-in-chief, Hindustan.

The views expressed are personal.

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