Tharoor Line | Yatra success and poll win

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi with Bollywood actor Swara Bhasker during the party's 'Bharat Jodo Yatra', in Ujjain district, Thursday, Dec. 1, 2022. Photo: PTI.

The Bharat Jodo Yatra has passed the halfway stage, and all indications so far are that it has been a massive success.

Thousands are thronging to participate every day in this 150-day march led by Rahul Gandhi from Kanyakumari to Kashmir with the clarion call to “unite India.”

Their enthusiasm is proof enough of the interest this Yatra has generated among ordinary people along the route, which has already traversed more than 2000 kilometers through 33 districts spanning across seven states in 88 days as of Friday.

One of the immediate gains from the Yatra has clearly been to destroy the caricatured negative image of Rahul Gandhi that had been built up assiduously by the BJP and its supporters over the last decade.

There were three principal elements of this caricature: First, that he was a dilettante who would not remain focused on anything for long, would start a campaign and then disappear for a holiday abroad; the ruling party’s camp-followers accused him of “shoot and scoot” politics.

Second, it was alleged that he was inaccessible and remote, that he paid no attention to people and their concerns; this was one of the most commonly-voiced complaints of leaders who had left the Congress Party in recent years.

And third, it was claimed that he lacked gravitas and was not a person of substance, in other words a “Pappu”; for evidence, the troll army would produce unflatteringly edited clips of him from speeches and interviews.

As with all caricatures, none of this was in fact an accurate description of the man, but it had led some to dismiss him as a “tarnished brand that cannot be marketed to the Indian public”.

All three claims have been given the lie by the Bharat Jodo Yatra.

Rahul Gandhi’s amazing persistence, not to mention physical stamina, in marching 22 kilometres a day every day with dogged determination, has won him widespread respect.

There is no dilettantism in evidence; he is staying the course.

Far from being inaccessible, he meets a wide variety of people while walking, a cross-section of the public as well as a variety of political leaders and civil society activists, talks to them, holds their hand in many cases and listens to their concerns with sympathy.

And as for issues of substance, not only does he meet with various people – weavers one day, fishermen the next, folk artistes and forest-dwellers -- to understand their issues, but he holds regular press conferences to take questions on these and other matters, something our Prime Minister has notably failed to do even once.

Amid this resounding success, the only remaining concern for the Congress party is electoral.

The Bharat Jodo Yatra marched through Munugode constituency in Telangana, where a by-election was being held, and Rahul Gandhi made a campaign speech for the Congress candidate, Palvai Sravanthi Reddy, but she came third and lost her deposit.

The party’s response was to say that “the Bharat Jodo Yatra has nothing to do with winning elections”. But that raises the legitimate question, isn’t politics about bringing your ideas to power -- and how do you do that without winning elections?

“The yatra was aimed at sending a particular message across to the country. I am not thinking about anything other than completing this yatra and listening to the people of India … That’s all I am doing, nothing else. I am not thinking about Congress, I am not thinking about organisation, I am not thinking about election, I am not thinking about anything, this is in my mind, this is tapasya (penance) to stand up for the idea of India that is being attacked and destroyed,” Rahul Gandhi himself has said.

While the Yatra is walking with everyone, including other parties, non-political individuals and civil society groups, any major activity like the Bharat Jodo Yatra undertaken by a political party undoubtedly has a political message.

And that message is that Congress is the party that can unite India and stop the process of dividing Indians on the basis of religion, caste and language – a process that is being zealously promoted by the Sangh Parivar’s "Hindi, Hindutva, Hindustan” agenda.

The Yatra has also brought the focus onto issues affecting the ordinary Indian, like inflation, unemployment, and the struggle to make ends meet.

The Yatra successfully embodies the Congress’ idea of “Inclusive India”—an India that works for all, irrespective of religion, region, language or caste. But it must translate itself into votes.

During the recent contest for party President, I argued that the Congress must find a way to appeal beyond the 19% of the electorate that voted for the party in both 2014 and 2019 and may be considered our hard-core “true believers”.

We need to bring back those who did not vote for Congress in those two elections and drifted away to the BJP, many of whom did so for reasons other than Hindutva.

The Bharat Jodo Yatra can help achieve that by showcasing what we stand for. But the people of India, despairing of BJP’s overweening dominance and increasingly divisive governance, need us both to perform a successful yatra and to win elections.

That ultimately remains the litmus test we must pass in 2024.

Beyond Rahul
At a press conference this week after the Bharat Jodo Yatra entered Madhya Pradesh, Rahul Gandhi stated: “The BJP has spent crores of rupees to sully my image. And they have created an image of me. People think it is damaging for me but actually, it is beneficial for me. Because the truth is with me. And truth cannot be hidden. The more money they spend to sully my image, the more strength it is giving me.“

The Yatra has indeed undone the BJP’s efforts to tarnish Rahul Gandhi.

As he added: “As far as personal attacks against me are concerned, they happen when an individual takes a political position. If you are fighting against big forces. there will be personal attacks. If you are not fighting against any force and you are just floating around, there will be no personal attacks. So, when I am attacked personally, I know I am moving in the right direction.”

Yet Rahul Gandhi himself disclaims any interest in his image. “I let go of Rahul Gandhi years ago,” he said in the same press conference to a journalist trying to ask him a question.

“Rahul Gandhi is in your mind, not mine. Try and understand, this is our country’s philosophy.”


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