How Yatra is redefining the image of Rahul Gandhi

Taking a plunge from his polished youth and suave image to the bearded, grizzled look of a battle-hardened veteran, Rahul is out holding hands, hugging, chatting and walking alongside the common men, women and children. He says the yatra has redefined him, writes Aayush Goel

For a politician routinely ridiculed by opposition as a clueless dilettante and a ‘pappu’, Rahul Gandhi has taken a walk towards not just reviving the dying Congress but also redefining the image of Rahul Gandhi. Often written off as India’s first political family’s elite ‘touch me not’ scion, Gandhi has taken to the bumpy, tattered dusty roads of the country. Taking a plunge from his polished youth and suave image to the bearded, grizzled look of a battle hardened veteran, he is out holding hands, hugging, chatting and walking along the common men, women and children.

“This yatra has redefined me. You don’t learn, you don’t feel these things sitting in choppers or cars. The roads, the walk and people have taught me a lot. It has taught me what is true India today, what India aspires to be and what India needs to be”, says Rahul as his Bharat Jodo Yatra completes over 100 days. The 3,500 km walk over 150 days between Kanyakumari and Jammu and Kashmir is aimed at covering 12 states. The outcome of yatra is yet to be analysed but Gandhi during the course has struck many chords. “Main nafrat ke bazaar mein mohabaat ki dukaan kholne aaya hoon” said Rahul in Muslim dominated Mewat in Haryana. In a country where minorities openly voice fear, Rahul by openly confronting ‘nafrat’ has given hope to many in communally charged environs. “Hum tumhe todne nahi denge” (We won’t let you divide) has turned out to be a perfect slogan for forthcoming elections in 2024. Two accompanying slogans underlined by Rahul, “Bring prices down!” and “Provide employment!” is striking the right political chord.

Taking on Brand Modi

Amongst various other objectives, this yatra is the strongest challenge Congress has offered to brand Modi. The yatra aims to shatter the talisman of ‘Modi’ wave which did wonders for BJP in last two general elections and transformed into victory in many states. The BJP’s ‘people’s man’ is being termed as tyrant and dictator by Gandhi who is out urging people to stand against him. “He cannot withstand confrontation. You need to understand his personality. The moment you stand up to him he retreats. Our farmers did exactly the same. They put their foot down saying no to draconian farm laws and won and that’s what you need to do: stand up, look into the eyes and say No!,” says Gandhi. He even takes on alleged choking of political and media voices by BJP saying that is what brought him on roads. “They switch off mikes in Parliament when we speak. There, cameras don’t record us. So I came out to talk to people directly. We have walked miles but even the media doesn’t cover us because of pressure but if Modi ji walks even for 15 steps it’s a 23 hour news coverage. Right to freedom of speech and expression has been taken away and we are fighting to get it back”, says Gandhi. Calling this government a capitalist driven, Gandhi in a rally said, “Just like the media is controlled… pradhan mantri ke peeche bhi lagaam haiSarkar Modi ki nahi hai (Even the Prime Minister is reined in. The government is not Modi’s).Ye Adani aur Ambani ki sarkar hai (This government is of Adani’s Ambani’s)”.

The Congress Jodo Yatra

Though the final outcome of this yatra is yet to be exemplified, Rahul Gandhi so far has achieved one of its mottos. The yatra seems promising in revitalising his tired, demoralised, much-defeated party. In his course so far, he has to a large extent, lifted the morale and spirits of his almost dead-in-the-water party. He seems to be unifying the warring segments of the party. The arch rival leaders of the party are seen walking beside him together. The crowds that have walked with him include a fair number of old workers and loyal voters in the regions he’s been traversing. “One thing is clearly seen in the way that our party has united and the cohesion it has brought in the last over 100 days. The way we have started working on time. There is an Indian Standard Time and there is a Congress Standard Time,” says Congress MP and spokesperson Jairam Ramesh. The impact of the yatra will depend on the party and not Gandhi, he said. The yatra however is even ideologically rejuvenating the party’s state cadres. “This is a door-to-door campaign. This has not happened in many years and this used to be the peculiarity of the Congress, but we forgot this because we were in power for many years. But today there is a new start. Earlier, pamphlets used to get printed and then piled up in Pradesh Congress Committee offices, but now Sewa Dal workers are visiting households, distributing them to children and women,” says Jairam Ramesh. According to Congress, Rahul has since 2004 tried to de-feudalise the party. “Padyatra has been the core of Congress which we forgot over decades. It’s the comeback of the exercise which joins us with people. For the first time people have hit the road in large numbers at district and block levels. This is a big change in the party. It is a yatra of a political party and we are fighting political challenges like economic disparity, polarisation in the society,” adds Jairam Ramesh. Talking of causes like unemployment, inflation, violence against minorities and women, but what it is also doing is creating a snowballing impact on the voter’s perception of Congress.

Nothing but a re-launch of Rahul Gandhi: BJP

Opposition has already written off Rahul Gandhi’s yatra as a destination-less trek. Into its fourth month now, the yatra is yet to have the cascading effect, it says. The Opposition urges people to look beyond cheerleaders and see how it has failed to galvanise the Congress rank and file or revive the dying warring party. The videos of senior Congress leaders allegedly bowing down to Rahul’s laces or he shooing away a party worker trying to click selfie coupled with visuals of luxurious motorised caravan and the homes-on-wheels that accompany him with long army of attendants makes one doubt the attempt to transform from ‘raja beta ‘ to ‘mitti ka sapoot’. The party says that yatra remains an exclusive Congress enterprise and is political at its core, intending to re-launch Rahul Gandhi for the nth time so that he emerges as the foremost challenger to Prime Minister Narendra Modi. “They don’t know why they are walking and cannot even say what they have achieved so far. It’s nothing but a re-launch party of Rahul Gandhi which as usual will be a failure,” said BJP in an official statement. The party has now even dubbed the yatra as ‘Credit lo Yatra’. BJP spokesperson Shehzad Poonawala said, “Jairam Ramesh ji wants credit be it Cheetah or OROP. They should call it ‘Credit Le Lo’ yatra. Congress gets credit for 1) denying OROP 43 yrs, 2) National Water Mission for 50yrs 3) denying Rafales/bullet proof jackets 4) Attacking manobal of Sena using words like Pitai, 5) Scams.”

Yatra has rattled BJP: Congress

The Congress alleges that BJP is so much rattled by the success of the Bharat Jodo Yatra and that it is desperately trying to derail it and defame Rahul Gandhi. From Union health minister’s Covid caution letter to sending Intelligence Bureau sleuths to the yatra camp site to terrorise yatris, Congress claims BJP is doing all in its might to stop the yatra.

“Every BJP ruled state we went to, we faced issues. First they caution us to stop yatra citing Covid which is non-existent for BJP’s ongoing yatras in some states. Our posters are torn, electricity is disconnected on the way, roads being dug up and when nothing works they are out to terrorise people walking with us,” said Party Spokesperson Jairam Ramesh. He alleged that IB sleuths are tracking the social activists, ex-servicemen, and leaders of farmers’ organisations who met Rahul Gandhi during the yatra. Ramesh alleged that the Congress has received notices from the Election Commission and the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights, while the Prime Minister goes to Gujarat and has children campaign for him and his party, but the election Commission never even takes any notice.