Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, along with 119 others, embarked on the ‘Bharat Jodo Yatra‘ on September 7 from Kanyakumari in Tamil Nadu. The foot march, which kickstarted from the Southern tip of India, is designed to pass through 12 states and culminate in the Northernmost state of Jammu and Kashmir. It will cover a distance of nearly 3,500 Kms over the course of about 150 days. Apart from Congress leaders, more than 200 civil society leaders have endorsed the appeal to support the Yatra. This is so far one of the longest foot marches taken up by any Indian political leader, and if Gandhi succeeds in completing the Yatra as planned, it will be nothing short of an achievement in the history of Padayatras. Before Gandhi, Janata Party President and former PM Chandra Shekhar had undertaken a Padayatra from Kanyakumari to Rajghat in Delhi in 1983 against the then Indira Gandhi-led central government.
Rahul Gandhi and his Congress colleagues began walking from Agasteeswaram in Kanyakumari district on the morning of September 8. Over the 6 days of the Yatra until now, the Gandhi scion has covered almost 100 Kms of distance. The journey by foot has been planned meticulously with people from different walks of life coming to meet Gandhi and discussing different issues on his way. The rest of the part of Yatra is just Rahul Gandhi walking with Congress leaders, smiling and waving at his supporters and common people, who line up on the sidelines of the street to get a glimpse of him. Many people, including children and women, approach Gandhi for a selfie, for which he readily agrees.
The Yatra, which has now entered the Southern state of Kerala, has received a good response so far, with hundreds of supporters walking with Gandhi on daily basis. Meanwhile, Rahul Gandhi has interacted with different sections of citizens over 6 six days, including- members of civil society, students of Jawahar Bal Manch, farmers’ group, members of popular YouTube channel ‘Village Cooking Show’, religious leaders, women MGNREGA workers, disability rights activists, environmentalist, football players, and common people. On the other hand, Rahul Gandhi is also seen stopping at roadside eateries and tea shops to interact with shop owners.
As per the Congress party, the ‘massive’ response to the Yatra has irked the ruling BJP, which has targeted Rahul Gandhi over different issues, including the Burberry T-shirt he wore on one of the days of the Yatra. The move, however, seemed to backfire as hosts of responses on the BJP Facebook page slammed the saffron party. This has, somehow, rejuvenated the spirit of the Congress leaders and workers, who think the Yatra is already making an impact and connecting people with Gandhi and Congress.
Many critics, who are skeptical about the success of this Yatra, have criticised the grand old party for choosing wrong path, allotting excess time to wrong states, and lack of a definite message the party intends to send. However, sympathisers of the Congress feel that this is finally Rahul Gandhi’s ‘coming of age’, a term used several times for the leader in past two decades. Congress sympathisers believe that the Gandhi scion is now mature, well-versed, and ready to take on the role of a national leader.
In the backdrop of the ‘Bharat Jodo Yatra’, we spoke to two the senior journalists, who have been covering and watching Indian Politics closely for years, and asked them about the organisational and electoral impact this Yatra could have for the Congress party.
“Good event to rejuvenate idle cadre”
Senior Journalist Umashankar Singh, with 25 years of experience covering Indian politics, said he covered the Yatra for the first three days in Tamil Nadu. “The response has been good so far…,” Mr Singh said, “in the context of an ‘event’ that has been created for the party workers in form of this Yatra. They (workers) got an opportunity to bring in more people.”
Explaining how this Yatra could impact the areas it will pass through, Mr Singh said: “Imagine there’s one residential colony in Kanyakumari. No one from this colony will go all the way to Delhi to talk about their problems, that too to meet Rahul Gandhi. But if Rahul Gandhi is passing by, the Congress workers could tell these people to come and give an application to Gandhi. So in a way, it is a good event for public contact for the party.”
Responding to the question if the response to the Yatra would remain the same when it moves Northwards, Mr Singh said that there’s no way to predict that, but the party (Congress) will try that the mass movement is visible when it comes to Northern states as well.
When asked if this Yatra could help the Congress party electorally, Mr Singh said: “Even the Congress party doesn’t know about it yet. But the party’s organisation, which was in an idle state so far, is seen moving and participating in this Yatra.”
Speaking of the criticism the Congress is facing over the route of their Yatra, Mr Singh, who has interacted with the GOP leaders lately, said: “They had to choose one route. They said they have chosen the route considering security and geographical aspects.”
“Electorally, we cannot predict if this will help them. But the Congress party, which wasn’t seen on the ground before this, has certainly gained more daily coverage and attention since their leaders are walking 20 Kms a day.”
Mr Singh also highlighted that the Congress party, whether it’s on social media or in press conferences, has been reacting proactively to the ruling BJP’s criticism of the Yatra.
“The BJP must be seeing some potential in this Yatra, that’s why they are attacking it,” Mr Singh concluded.
“There is no 1+1=2 in electoral politics”
Raju Parulekar, senior journalist and political commentator, said the Bharat Jodo Yatra is a good initiative. “To do something is better than doing nothing. I think we all should support the initiative, as “Jodo” means to connect people, and it is not against any individual or party. It is certainly against some powers trying to divide the country,” Mr Parulekar said.
“The real test of the Bharat Joda Yatra will be once it reaches the Vindhya Range. The yatra, currently, is in comfort zone. It will be a test of Congress party when the Yatra moves Northwards, and it will also be a test of powers opposing the GOP in those states. But overall, I am very hopeful about this particular Yatra,” Mr Parulekar added.
Mr Parulekar stressed he is confident that Rahul Gandhi will complete this Yatra, but hesitated to say whether it will have any electoral impact. “There’s no 1+1=2 in electoral politics. You can never gauge direct impact,” he explained.
On comparison between Chandra Shekhar’s 1983 Padayatra and the Congress’ Bharat Jodo, and how the former had failed to make any electoral gains despite undertaking the Yatra, Mr Parulekar said: “To get an electoral outcome of a Padayatra, you need to have an organisation on ground. Chandra Shekhar did not have that kind of organisational support.”
However, Mr Parulekar again stressed that the direct electoral impact of the Yatra can not be gauged, but it is measured how the message of the Yatra gets trickled down to the last person in the society.
“Kanshi Ram used to travel on a bicycle to villages, but it didn’t directly translate into votes. Kanshi Ram continued and gave momentum to the movement. It took time to convert it into votes. On the other hand, no matter how weak, Congress has a national presence and almost 20% votes. They have the strength. So comparatively, it will be easier for them,” Mr Parulekar said.
Responding on the question of whether this Bharat Jodo Yatra could finally be Rahul Gandhi’s ‘coming of age’ moment, Mr Parulekar said: “The Yatra would eventually have an impact, that is certain. Just because it was said about Rahul Gandhi earlier and it did not happen doesn’t mean it will never happen. Abraham Lincoln had lost around 10 different elections before he became President. Things take time to pick up momentum, and defeats are imminent during those trying times. However, people make mistake of writing that leader off, which is not right in politics.”
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