So, finally, Rahul Gandhi has completed his Bharat Jodo Yatra on 30 January. I know it will be naive on my part to compare his audacious journey from Kanyakumari to Kashmir with Mao’s Long March and Mahatma Gandhi’s Dandi Yatra, which catapulted both into the league of world leaders. We can judge these two leaders in hindsight today but for Rahul Gandhi the future is yet to unfold. Nonetheless, I have no hesitation in saying that he is no longer the same person we used to know before he embarked on the yatra. A grey beard and T-shirt have become his new identity. He has metamorphosed into a new man. He himself said that he had left the old Rahul behind — the one that the journalists were still searching for. Whether this new Rahul will shape a new destiny for the Congress is to be seen, but certainly he has broken many myths and given a new hope to all those who were feeling traumatised due to the Hindutva onslaught and were cursing Rahul and the Congress out of desperation. Now for all of them a new dawn can be envisaged in the not-too-distant future.
Four definite conclusions can be drawn about the yatra.
One, ever since Narendra Modi became the Prime Minister, Rahul Gandhi was viciously targeted by the regime and at the behest of the Government, mainstream TV channels unleashed their might to prove Mr Gandhi a non-serious politician who was good for nothing; an immature dynast who was no match for Mr Modi. Mr Gandhi is right when he blames the media and says that millions were spent to discredit his image and defame him. I say with authority that this was a well calculated campaign by the BJP Government in which mainstream TV channels were willing accomplices who never spared any chance to tarnish his image. As somebody who has spent more than two decades in TV journalism, I can say that it was not an independent editorial call and it was dictated from the top.
Since Mr Modi has turned the Indian election system into a presidential one, it was a clever strategy to constantly put his immediate rival in a bad light and prove him to be a “Pappu”. Unhesitatingly, it can be said that this was a lie perpetrated with a design and the yatra has called it out in no uncertain terms. All through the yatra, Mr Gandhi came across as a serious politician who knew what he was talking about. The BJP initially targeted him but soon realised that attacking him might boomerang. Therefore, it became circumspect, and criticism of the yatra and of Mr Gandhi was reduced to a minimum. TV channels were also very careful. But they ensured almost nil coverage of the yatra. Mostly negative stories were carried. Now, it can be said that Mr Gandhi has regained the mojo of the Nehru Gandhi family and with his credibility restored, he can be a serious challenger to Mr Modi.
Second, before the yatra, the Congress was in a shambles. Its cadre was demoralised. Senior to middle rank leaders were desperate to leave the party. They had no hope from the leadership. There was confusion at the top. Rahul had resigned from the post of the party president; Sonia was too ill to run the party and Priyanka Gandhi had no mandate to take decisions. Within the party, Rahul Gandhi was not taken seriously. He did not mince his words when, in his resignation letter after the 2019 election, he wrote that he was fighting all alone. That was an indication that senior leaders were not comfortable with him and had no faith in his leadership. The yatra has written a new chapter for the Congress. Now, no one can question Mr Gandhi’s leadership. He is the leader. The kind of response he and the yatra have received proves that the organisation is alive, and a lot of new people are willing to join the party; a large section of people, despite Hindutva and Mr Modi, still have faith in the Congress. Now it is up to the party to build the castle based on goodwill.
Three, since 2014 onwards Mr Modi and the BJP have had a free run. There was only one narrative. Hindutva was the underlined theme and Mr Modi was the saviour; the Congress and Opposition were branded thoughtless and blamed for having ruined the country since independence; and that Mr Modi had resurrected the old glory of the nation and transformed it into a ‘New India’. In reality it was the opposite. The country was suffering from bi-polarity, minorities were pushed to the margin, hatred was the dominant theme, which was and still is used as a weapon to silence the opponents. No healthy debate was allowed, and it still isn’t. the voice of dissent was crushed ruthlessly. The yatra has rekindled the old spirit of the nation. Mr Gandhi has woven a counter narrative, attacked the RSS and its ideology unsparingly, portrayed them and the Modi regime as dangerous for the country. He determinedly called RSS ‘Kauravs’ and projected the Congress as ‘Pandavs’ fighting for the restoration of the Dharma as the Pandavas did in the Mahabharata. He has brought clarity before the nation that the present fight is an ideological fight; it is a fight between the two sets of ideas of India where secular India is threatened by the communal agenda of the RSS.
It is to be noted that Mr Gandhi has targeted the RSS more than he has Mr Modi. He is convinced that Mr Modi is only implementing the RSS agenda. In a way he is saying that if someone else had been the Prime Minister instead of Mr Modi, the situation would not have been different. In his opinion the problem is not with Mr Modi, in fact the real issue is the RSS. So, to dismantle the edifice of hate and ‘otherness’ the RSS has to be defeated. In a way, Mr Gandhi is trying to correct the cardinal mistake that the Congress made since the demise of Jawaharlal Nehru. Pandit Nehru knew that the forces which killed Gandhiji were dangerous for secular India, for the diversity of the country. No wonder during the first Parliamentary election in 1951-52, Nehru vehemently attacked communal politics of the Hindu Mahasabha and Jan Sangh, the earlier version of the BJP. He virtually made the first general election a referendum on the politics of Hindutva.
Fourth, Rahul Gandhi’s yatra has been successful in winning over a large section of those who did not want to vote for the politics of religion but were disillusioned with the politics of the listless Congress. One of the leading political scientists and activists, Yogendra Yadav, had written in 2019 in his column that the Congress should die as it was incapable of fighting communal politics. He believed the Congress, after losing power in 2014 to the BJP, had lost will to fight for a secular India. He walked all along with Rahul Gandhi and in an interview with me for Satya Hindi he praised him for clarity of mind and ideological conviction. Civil society movements and organisations have mostly been anti-Congress but the decision of more than 200 such organisations to support the yatra is no mean achievement; they actively participated to make it success.
The moot question remains unanswered. The Congress is not an NGO, it is not a charity organisation; it is a political party and to defeat the RSS, as Mr Gandhi has proclaimed, it has to win elections. Can the Bharat Jodo Yatra help the Congress electorally in the coming assembly elections and later in the general elections in 2024, is not clear. The Congress still has miles to go. New energy has been infused in the party; it has created tremendous goodwill for leadership but in my opinion, the Congress has to take many more steps; it has to rigorously work hard for years to earn its old glory. The RSS is no longer the organisation that it was in the 1950s and 1960s. It has turned into a leviathan with unlimited resources supported by mega corporate houses. It will take a lot more effort than one can visualise now. The yatra is only a beginning. The battle has just begun.
The writer is Editor, SatyaHindi.com, and author of Hindu Rashtra. He tweets at @ashutosh83B
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