Will it contain escalating hatred in the polity?

Abdul Bari Masoud analyses the Bharat Jodo Yatra, led by former Congress President and MP Rahul Gandhi, that completed 100 days on December 16 and arrived in Delhi on December 24. He also raises questions on whether the yatra would be able to yield the desired results.

Under the leadership of former Congress President and MP Rahul Gandhi, the Bharat Jodo Yatra (BJY) has electrified Congress workers but it still is a big question whether it will translate into votes.  Apart from that, will it succeed in tiding over the escalating climate of hatred in the country as the yatra’s main aim is to bring the populace back together?

Without a doubt, Rahul Gandhi has succeeded in attracting both his admirers and his critics. His message has been simple and easy: the Congress must stop focusing on winning votes instead highlight the voices that need to be heard.

At Dausa (Rajasthan, on December 16), the eclectic group of travellers (yatris), who have already traversed over 2800 kilometres in 100 days, are ready to march to the next destination despite the continued dense fog and spine-chilling cold of December. This clearly demonstrates the zeal the yatra (foot march) has generated.

Notwithstanding the indifference of the monopolised upper caste-dominated mainstream media, the yatra is creating a stir and drawing large segments of masses, including prominent citizens of all walks of life. The 3,570 km long yatra originated from Kanyakumari on September 7 which has so far travelled nine states and will culminate in Srinagar.

Congress leaders would have been thrilled with the large turnout in Rajasthan as the rank and file of the party did put aside their rivalries to make the yatra a ‘success’.

From the Meena High Court in Dausa, Gandhi, KC Venugopal, Sachin Pilot, a former deputy chief minister of Rajasthan, and other top leaders resumed the morning part of the yatra.

While participating in the yatra, Congress general secretary KC Venugopal told Radiance that the yatra has become a movement, and lakhs of people are participating therein every day which has brought people’s attention to concerns affecting the country’s common man.

“We also stopped the BJP’s attempt to undermine his (Gandhi’s) image,” he added.

The yatra’s one of the main objectives, as stated by Rahul Gandhi, is to stamp out hatred from the society which has been allegedly pumped up by the ruling party and its cohorts.  Divisive politics has become an easy route for attaining power and sideling failures. During the yatra, one can hear the cheerful shout of “Jodo! Jodo! Bharat Jodo!”  “Nafrat Chhodo, Bharat Jodo!”  This slogan is reverberating en route to the yatra.

In his public speeches during the yatra, Rahul Gandhi talks on venom of hatred spreading in the society. He does not mince words in denouncing RSS-BJP for this. He also interacts with common people to know their sufferings as hundreds of villagers line the road. Will it make a positive impact on society? It is a moot question.

This correspondent too interacted with many participants who joined from different parts of the country. They said they were perturbed by the BJP’s reliance on hate politics which will ruin the fabric of the country. One participant Ashok from Himachal Pradesh said it should be a matter of concern for every countryman.

On December 16, the 100th day of the yatra, there were powerful images from Rahul Gandhi’s foot march through Dausa, Rajasthan. He was followed by Pratibha Singh, a Member of Parliament, and Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu and Mukesh Agnihotri, the recently appointed chief minister of Himachal Pradesh who put an end to her dreams. Walking closely behind Sukhu and Singh in the picture, Pilot had a thoughtful expression of a contentious battle for the top position with Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot.

The Rajasthan party unit is witnessing intense power tussles between Gehlot and Pilot. Supporters of Pilot who turned in large numbers were seen raising slogans in favour of their leader during the yatra when it was passing through Dausa town, which is the home turf of Pilot.  When this correspondent confronted many of them, they said they want Pilot to be declared as the next Chief Minister face in the next year’s assembly election. Most of them belong to Pilot’s Gurjar caste.  This also reflects the lack of inner-democracy in the grand old party. This malaise is also dogging the most of the political parties. It has become a bane for healthy democratic polity.

Notwithstanding this groupism, the yatra entered Haryana after spending a fortnight in Rajasthan which traversed nine states including Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, and Madhya Pradesh.

However, controversies also dogged the yatra as the BJP attacked Gandhi for purportedly sporting a Burberry T-shirt worth `41,000 in Tamil Nadu, to which the Congress fired back with a dig at Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ‘10 lakh suit’.

This was only the beginning as the BJP and Congress continued to spar, whether it was over the grand old party tweeting a photo of khaki shorts on fire or the Opposition party criticising a clip of Rahul Gandhi visiting a Christian pastor and his ever-growing grey beard.

Nevertheless, independent political observers feel that along with rejuvenating the party at all levels, the yatra is thought to have given Rahul Gandhi and other Congress leaders a better understanding of the grassroots reality. Moreover, they claim that “the Modi government is alarmed by the popularity and support the yatra is garnering”.

The letter sent by the Union Health Minister to Rahul Gandhi and Rajasthan CM is termed as BJP’s nervousness. Rattled by the Bharat Jodo Yatra becoming a people’s movement, the Modi government is trying to stop it by using a fake Covid alarm, Congress alleged.

‘Understand the chronology’, Jairam Ramesh, Congress national secretary in-charge of communications, posted on Twitter, said, noting that just days before the Bharat Jodo Yatra arrived in Delhi, the Prime Minister Narendra Modi was assessing the virus-related issue and the Health Minister had written to Rahul Gandhi about worries over Covid.

“Is Covid applicable to only Bharat Jodo Yatra, Rahul Gandhi and Ashok Gehlot? We didn’t understand that. Not even a single international flight has been cancelled. People are coming from China, everyday; people are going to China every day, there is no problem, but they want to stop Bharat Jodo Yatra?” Congress asked.

A cross-section of society has participated in it, including stars from the cinema and television industries like Pooja Bhatt, Riya Sen, Sushant Singh, Swara Bhasker, Rashami Desai, Akanksha Puri, and Amol Palekar.

Along with participation from well-known figures from the entertainment industry, writers, veterans of the military, such as former Navy Chief Admiral L. Ramdas, opposition leaders like Aaditya Thackeray of the Shiv Sena and Supriya Sule of the NCP, as well as former RBI Governor Raghuram Rajan, Prof Yogendra Yadav, Advocate Prashant Bhushan have all taken part in the march at various points.

On the completion of 100 days of ‘Bharat Jodo Yatra’, Rahul Gandhi also addressed the media in Jaipur. He said it is imperative that we seek to unify India and that we reject the BJP and RSS’s kind of divisive, violent, and fear-based politics. The country has received this message quite warmly. This message has received an overwhelmingly positive response. These people want to hear that there is an alternative political strategy, such as Gandhiji’s or the Congress’s.

Moreover, the yatra focused on ever-increasing unemployment, inflation, and economic inequalities while a selected few individuals (without naming Gujarati industrialists Adani and Ambani) are benefiting greatly, he underlined.

In response to a question that can define what Rahul Gandhi believes is the success of yatra, Gandhi quipped, “Look! There is a particular vision of this country that the RSS and the BJP propose. There is a particular path that they believe this country should take. It is a violent path. It is a hate-filled path. It is a path that is designed to create two Indias. One is, India, where there are 5 or 6, 10 billionaires and the other India, where everybody else will live in poverty, in desperation, that’s their vision and you cannot drive a car with mirror vision”.

On another question, after the completion of 100 days of yatra, is the Congress Party also planning to move from west to east in the country? Gandhi said: Let us see! But, you know, before I came to this press conference, I was having lunch with my friend here and I said to him that I bet you that the press will not ask the question on China.

Now the yatra is on its last leg. Congress appears to have discovered some of the answers the party was seeking, but analysts are still unsure of whether it will continue to produce electoral benefits.

Amid doubts over whether the yatra translated into any electoral dividend, the two recently held assembly elections turned out to be a mixed bag for the Congress as it was defeated in Gujarat to its lowest-ever tally while winning in Himachal.

A political expert and professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University, Sanjay Pandey said the yatra has given the party a “glimmer of hope” and invigorated ordinary party workers, but only time would tell if that will result in electoral wins.

In the next year’s assembly elections, particularly in the well-covered states of Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan by the yatra, a fuller picture of the effect on the party’s political prospects will become apparent.

However, it is a fact that elections are not always won by legitimate and fair means in the socioeconomic setting of India. A political party’s or a candidate’s electoral success was also influenced by resources such as cash, muscle power, abuse of administrative tools, and the latest entrant EVMs.  The polity failed to develop a sense of attachment in the poorer sections of the society who easily fall prey to cash or kind allurement during the elections. 

Former Congress spokesperson Sanjay Jha is of the view that the Bharat Jodo Yatra may ultimately “alter the game” for the party.

“One benefit is that it has resurrected Rahul Gandhi’s political image. The BJP can’t make fun of him any longer with their “malicious fake news campaign”. Second, thanks to this widespread movement, the Congress has now made direct contact with the populace,” added he.

On December 24, the yatra arrived in the national capital Delhi. Following an eight-day rest, it will continue on to Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Punjab, and then Jammu and Kashmir.

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