Rahul leads Bharat Jodo yatra, Cong looks at revival

Besides the Congress’s stated objective to re-establish the party’s connect with the masses, the mega foot march is expected to help the party reaffirm its position as a natural anchor of any anti-BJP grouping ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha elections.  A report by Amit Agnihotri

Rahul Gandhi is leading the Congress’ Bharat Jodo Yatra, which is the biggest public movement launched by the grand old party since Independence and hopes to revive the organization ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha elections.

The Congress yatra started from Kanyakumari in Tamil Nadu on September 7 and is expected to cover around 3500 km across 12 states and 2 UTs over the next 150 days to reach Kashmir.

Though the obvious gains of the yatra are that it will charge up the party workers, re-establish party connect with the masses and help it revive across the country, the mega foot march is also expected to help Rahul reinvent himself.

During the 150-day yatra, Rahul, along with 118 fellow travelers known as Bharat yatris, will be on the road, walking in the morning and evening sessions and interacting with various sections of society, and eating and sleeping during night halts in fabricated containers mounted on trucks.

Around 60 such containers have been readied by the party for use by the Bharat yatris who have deliberately avoided staying in a hotel or resort to project the image of a common man.

The containers will be moved to new locations every night and the place where they will be parked would become the campsite for the travelers. Food would also be prepared locally for them.

In a way, Rahul’s mega nationwide yatra and the plan to spend the 150 days in containers can be compared to a similar initiative undertaken by former Pakistan prime minister Imran Khan.

The former cricketer had launched his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) party in 1996 but it wasn’t until the 2013 general elections that the outfit emerged as a serious player nationally.

In 2014, Khan travelled across Pakistan in containers and mobilized people against the then Nawaz Sharif government as he promised to fight corruption and fix the country’s sagging economy.

The campaign found favour with the people who were looking for a change and Khan assumed the top post in 2018. He lost a vote of no-confidence in Pakistan’s National Assembly in April this year.

Civil society support

The Bharat Jodo yatra has found support from over 200 civil society members who appealed to the people to support the yatra and similar initiatives by any other organisation to defend against the “systematic assault” on the unity and democracy of India.

The objective of the march was to “stir the conscience of the people in times when the constitutional values and democratic norms are being brazenly undermined” and the very idea of India has come under a “systematic assault”, the civil society members said in a statement.

Swaraj India founder Yogendra Yadav, documentary filmmaker Anand Patwardhan, All India Secular Front’s Anil Sadgopal, rights activist Anjali Bharadwaj, theatre maker Anuradha Kapur, eminent journalist Mrinal Pande, former MP Dharamveer Gandhi and former IAS officers Abhijit Sengupta and Sujata Rao were among those who signed the appeal.

“Never before have the values of our republic faced as heinous an assault as they have in the recent past. Never before have hate, division and exclusion been  unleashed on us with such impunity. Never before have an overwhelming majority of the farmers and workers, Dalits and Adivasis, women and religious minorities faced such effective exclusion in the shaping of the nation’s future,” the activists said.

Noting that “this is a moment of reckoning and every one of us needs to say: No, not on my conscience” the statement further said, “at stake is our unique pluralistic social fabric, which is our greatest civilizational inheritance, reflected in our Constitution.”

“Let us all make Bharat Jodo Yatra the decisive step towards renewing our pledge to reclaim an India that is a sovereign, socialist, secular and democratic republic with liberty, equality, justice and fraternity as its guiding lights,” they added.

Earlier, Rahul had interacted with representatives of over 100 civil society groups who sought clarifications from the leader over the intention behind the yatra. Yogendra Yadav even walked along with Rahul and other leaders in Kanyakumari.

Yatra and politics

All the other parties, including the ruling BJP, are closely watching the Congress yatra, which is expected to help the grand old party reaffirm its position as a natural anchor of any anti-BJP grouping ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha elections.

Though the Congress has repeatedly said that the yatra is a social project and not for political purposes, it cannot be denied that the party would surely have factored in the political gains behind the massive public contact program.

In fact, the yatra was planned at the Udaipur Chintan Shivir held on May 13-15 where over 400 party leaders brainstormed over the party’s strategy for the 2024 national polls and the various state elections that will take place before that.

Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh will have assembly polls later this year while Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and Telangana would go to polls in 2023. At present the Congress rules only in Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh while it shares power in Jharkhand with JMM and RJD and in Tamil Nadu with DMK.

Interestingly, DMK leader and TN chief minister MK Stalin was present during the launch of the Bharat Jodo yatra at Kanyakumari and handed over the Indian flag to Rahul, signaling the strong alliance between the two parties.

Though the Congress had appealed to other political parties to support the yatra, there has been no public statement from them over the issue.

Opposition unity

Bihar chief minister and JD-U leader Nitish Kumar, who recently parted ways with the BJP and joined hands with the RJD and Congress, had met Rahul a few days before the yatra launch.

During his Delhi visit, Nitish Kumar also met several key opposition leaders including NCP chief Sharad Pawar, CPI-M’s Sitaram Yechury and Delhi chief minister and AAP patron Arvind Kejriwal. “It is time for the Left parties, the Congress and all regional parties to come together to form a united opposition,” Kumar, who also met CPI general secretary D Raja, said.

“Many thanks to Nitish ji for visiting my residence. Discussion was held on many serious issues related to the country like education, health, ‘operation lotus’, open horse-trading of MLAs to topple popularly elected governments, increasing unemployment and unrestrained corruption by BJP dispensations,” Kejriwal tweeted.

Interestingly, Kumar also called on Rashtriya Janata Dal leader Sharad Yadav, who was expelled from the Janata Dal (United) for anti-party activities. In March, Sharad Yadav merged his party Loktantrik Janata Dal (LJD) with RJD, pitching for unity in opposition ranks to take on the BJP.

Kumar also met INLD supremo OP Chautala and SP patriarch Mulayam Singh Yadav and his son and former Uttar Pradesh chief minister Akhilesh Yadav.

Kumar, his deputy Tejashwi Yadav and several opposition leaders will attend the Indian National Lok Dal’s public rally on September 25 in Haryana, party leader Abhay Chautala said. OP Chautala has also invited Sharad Pawar, National Conference president Farooq Abdullah, Shiromani Akali Dal patriarch Parkash Singh Badal, Samajwadi party president Akhilesh Yadav and his father Mulayam Singh Yadav, and Meghalaya Governor Satya Pal Malik for the rally.

In the past, the opposition parties have faced an issue of who would be the face of the anti-BJP grouping in 2024.

Nitish Kumar, who has been projected as that leader of late, clarified that he had no prime ministerial ambitions and that forging opposition unity was far more important than deciding who the opposition face for the top post would be.

“This is wrong. I am not a claimant for the post, nor am I desirous of it,” said Kumar when asked about his prime ministerial aspirations.

“First, the agenda is to unite all parties, not to decide on the PM candidate. When the time comes, we will decide the PM candidate and let you all know,” said Yechury.

During his yatra, Rahul too said that building opposition unity was the responsibility of all the parties while party veteran Jairam Ramesh said that a strong Congress was needed for any opposition unity and claimed that the yatra would provide that strength to the grand old party.

The ruling BJP has attacked the Congress yatra saying it was an attempt to save the party and the Gandhi family. To this Rahul replied that the saffron party had a right to have a view but pointed out that the Bharat Jodo foot march was to reach out to the people and undo some of the damage done by the BJP’s divisive politics.

He alleged the saffron party was dividing people in the name of religion, caste and food while neglecting problems like price rise and unemployment.

Party leaders said he is walking the entire route of the yatra along with 118 Bharat yatris to project the image of a common man and that of being a worker of the Congress.