The week began with two momentous events: the 75th anniversary of the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi by a Hindu fanatic who believed he was too soft on Hindus; and the conclusion, in a snowy Srinagar, of the Bharat Jodo Yatra led by Rahul Gandhi that seeks to unite all Indians, irrespective of religion and region.
Without a doubt, the Yatra has enjoyed extraordinary success, in three principal ways. First and most unarguably, the yatra has thoroughly and comprehensively dismantled the distorted perception of Rahul Gandhi that had been deliberately stitched together over the last decade by the current ruling dispensation and their social media minions.
All the accusations conjured and disseminated by these quarters, that had successfully caricatured Mr Gandhi as a “Pappu”, have been blown to smithereens.
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 campfollowers accused him of “shoot and scoot” politics. Second, it was alleged that he was unapproachable and inaccessible, 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; 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 Rahul Gandhi, but they have all been comprehensively dispelled in the course of the last 135 days.
Today, even the most virulent critics of the party will begrudgingly admit their admiration for the tenacity and determination of a man who has walked the length of the country to shine light on the values of pluralism, inclusivity and equality that are at the heart of the Congress’s ethos.
Over its journey spanning the length of the country, the yatra has revealed the real Rahul Gandhi, a leader of conviction and ideas, who spoke and listened to a wide cross-section of fellow Yatris, and whose message, spread through numerous public gatherings and press conferences, has certainly captured the popular imagination of the nation.
In doing so, the Yatra has also served as a platform to highlight the stark ideological differences between the Indian National Congress and the current ruling dispensation.
This is the second part of the Yatra’s success.
Congress’s core beliefs reflect the values it has embodied since the freedom struggle — in particular inclusive growth, social justice, abolition of poverty and the protection of the marginalised, including minorities, women, Dalits and Adivasis. Rahul Gandhi has been speaking out for these sections of Indian society and with the Yatra he has done so with even more intensity.
By embarking on what is arguably one of the largest mass outreach programmes since our Independence, and by spreading the message of unity, the Congress has reaffirmed that it is the political embodiment of India’s pluralism and a strong, committed voice for the preservation of secularism as its fundamental reflection.
And third, the yatra has also had an electrifying effect across the rank and file of the party. Congress workers, particularly those hailing from parts of the country where the Yatra has traversed, have been energised by the collective sense of purpose that has been channelled by Rahul Gandhi and the Bharat Yatris.
The big question that is now being asked is whether the Yatra will unlock significant electoral benefits for the party. Though Rahul Gandhi himself, and those marching alongside him, have repeatedly emphasized that the Yatra is not an electoral exercise, the question is understandable -- and for a political party, crucial. Only time will tell if voters will be inspired to support Congress again.
But with the Yatra, the Congress has made a crucial step in capturing the political imagination of the country and presenting a compelling alternative to the divisive and bigoted political climate of today.
Backed by organizational reforms within the party and further outreach efforts (as has already been launched through programmes like the “Haath se Haath Jodo Yatra”), the Congress can certainly embark on a movement that underscores one vital truth: India cannot do without Congress.
What it stands for, and the space it occupies, are essential for the nation to survive and thrive.
“This journey has forever etched in my heart, the infinite wisdom and resilience of the people of my beloved India”, Rahul Gandhi tweeted on the 30th.
Those are the very qualities that helped India survive when, also on January 30, in Nehruji’s words, “the light went out of our lives” upon the Mahatma’s assassination. Two dates 75 years apart, but one common message – of inclusion, of love, and of peace. Let us hope India is listening.
Malayali diaspora bond
I spent a couple of days at the end of last week in Vienna, Austria, where I was invited by the prestigious Diplomatic Academy for a conference on “Revitalising the United Nations”, a body whose present seems sadly troubled and whose future, in many eyes, is imperilled.
While there, I was also invited to address a Malayali gathering at an Indian restaurant under the auspices of the World Malayali Federation, whose President, Prince Pallikunnel, claims members in 162 countries.
Despite the last-minute announcement, the restaurant was packed, several non-Malayalis attended and a stimulating interaction followed in Malayalam, English and Hindi.
It was one more reminder of the strength and reach of our diaspora, which is always ready to open their arms in welcome to travelling Indians, and to give us a hearing.
However long ago they may have left, the homeland still has a special place in their hearts, and their concern for India is genuine and heartfelt. As a former NRI myself, I enjoy and value this connection. We must nurture it well, for India’s benefit.