Bharat Jodo Yatra: A long-march for Self Rejuvenation

By KS Tomar


Prime Minister Narendra Modi works with the motto of “Na Khauga, Na Khane Dunga ” on his zero corruption in governance approach. He works tirelessly round the clock and his non-stop whirlwind tours around the globe with a tight schedule are talk of the town in the diplomatic circles in New Delhi.

The motto of PM Modi has also affected the working of top BJP leaders in his ministry and the party organization. And the tongue-in-cheek reaction of BJP leaders “Na Sounga, Na Sone Dunga” – “Neither I will sleep nor let you sleep, also reverberated in power corridors as many of the ministers remained sleep deprived.

The changed work ethics of Lutyens Delhi has also forced the main opposition party Congress and its leaders – mainly Rahul Gandhi, to think about an image makeover and what better than taking a cue out of the opponents book – a Yatra.

A Trump Card for Rahul Gandhi 

Rahul Gandhi as “Pappu” – a forever student of Indian politics, needed to shed the negative image primarily created by Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The casual approach towards national issues, frequent sabbatical from the grueling churning of Indian politics against an opponent like PM Modi were the main issues which Congress party troubleshooters aimed to counter with a mass connect program named, “Bharat Jodo Yatra”.

The yatra focused on changing the image of Rahul Gandhi, the politician as its sole target. Rahul Gandhi did not take any active interest in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh assembly elections, took a New Year break, and concentrated on mass connect programs.

BJP constantly tracked Rahul Gandhi’s yatra and feedback of its political impact in each state was carefully studied before it was dumped as inconsequential for them. No big name from BJP felt a trace of threat from Rahul Gandhi’s yatra while he self-indulged himself in all kinds of antics of his well managed sojourn.

Why Rahul Gandhi wore a T-shirt while everyone around him went cold like stone in ‘Delhi ki Sardi’ was just an IT cell rhetoric, dozen-a-dime entertainment froth churned by them regularly.

Revival of Self   

“The person you are seeing is not the same person,” said Rahul Gandhi. He was hinting at his realization of the futility of his idealistic copy-book approach to Indian politics. He tried to touch common men’s issues, farmers’ issues, unemployment, and also talked about the spiritual side of his personality. But his ‘pappu’ image weighed heavy on him despite an honest looking effort to metamorphose into a mature politician.

 Rahul Gandhi repeatedly said, “it is an attempt to know the people of India from close quarters which cannot be done while sitting in air-conditioned rooms in Delhi. It is a learning exercise of pain and struggle of poor people after walking for 20-25 kms per day to personally meet them especially when they thronging to share their agony and torture. RSS and BJP spend hundreds of crores to denigrate my image in the perception of people hence I am meeting them while walking in cold, heat and rain to expose these forces and people have given me overwhelming response in the entire country.”

Route to the Roots 

The analysts do admit that Rahul’s 150 days long 3,570 km yatra can be billed as congress party’s biggest mass contact program since Indira Gandhi rode an elephant in 1977 to reach Belchi village in Bihar where Dalits were murdered by the musclemen or Sonia Gandhi’s visit to Sacha Khera village in Jind district of Haryana to meet rape victims.

This was also probably the first mass contact program undertaken by the grand old party after the advent of social media, round the clock barking of hostile TV news channels and an age of constant twitter updates.

His yatra crossed 12 states and two union territories including Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Delhi, Punjab, Himachal Pradesh. The final leg of the yatra is poised to culminate at Srinagar in Jammu and Kashmir on January 30, Indira Gandhi’s death anniversary celebrated as Martyr’s day.

“I have come back to my roots,” Rahul Gandhi said as he entered Jammu and Kashmir.

Turning the Political Fortune Wheel 

The Bharat Jodo Yatra was poised to deliver rich political dividends to Rahul Gandhi but the drama that unfolded in Rajasthan punctured it prematurely. The most trusted Gandhi family lieutenant, Ashok Gehlot in Rajasthan had sounded the bugle of rebellions, as party observers including Mallikarujun Kharge – who later became Congress President, landed in Jaipur for a tete-a-tete with MLAs. The aim of the visit was to pass a resolution for the leadership change in the state, and handing over the baton to Sachin Pilot.

In Karnataka, factions of DK Shivakumar and former Chief Minister Siddaramaiah tried to walk along Rahul Gandhi in an uneasy truce. In Madhya Pradesh, former Chief Minister Kamalnath was not very comfortable with long hours of walking while Digvijaya Singh tried to accomplish a good political hunting in his former bastion.

Only highlight of Rahul Gandhi’s yatra was his attire in Punjab where he looked very much like a ‘sikh’ in a red turban and a long flowing beard. In Himachal Pradesh, Congress looked lackluster without the presence of Virbhadra Singh, despite a fresh assembly election win.

Yatras have been successful in the past in Indian politics. Y S Rajasekhar Reddy had undertaken a 1,400-km padayatra in April 2003 and later led the Congress to a resounding victory a year later thereby defeating the incumbent Chandrababu Naidu-led Telugu Desam Party (TDP). His son Jagan Mohan Reddy undertook 3000 km statewide Praja Sankalpa Yatra in 2017 and convinced the people that he is highlighting their problems hence they reposed faith in his leadership as YSR Congress Party won 144 seats out of 175 during 2019 assembly elections despite having a clean sweep in Lok Sabha elections thereby negating Modi wave.

Digivijay Singh’s 3000 km Narmada Parikrama is also credited with improved performance of Congress in 2019 assembly elections.

Political Impact 

Rahul Gandhi’s sojourn across the country on foot is unlikely to result in any political gain for the grand old party. But it can definitely change the approach of the congress towards issues as the decision maker himself has a first hand knowledge of the ground situation.

Rahul Gandhi may have definitely won a few fans with the yatra but the test lies in winning parliamentary seats against PM Modi in 2024 general elections. Importantly, 2023 will see assembly elections in nine states after Rahul Gandhi concludes his yatra on Jan 30, and the results of these semi finals would definitely hint at what lies ahead for Rahul Gandhi, and the Congress party as whole.

(KS Tomar is political analyst and national columnist based in Shimla, India. He is currently enjoying some vindaloo with traditional cashew extract in Goa while pondering over further of Indian politics.)

KS Tomar is a senior political analyst based in Shimla, India.

Disclaimer: The views expressed are not necessarily those of The South Asian Times  

Images courtesy of (Image: Hindustan), (Image: Indian Express) and Provided

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