Has ‘Bharat Jodo’ collapsed before it starts?

Social activists associated with Bharat Jodo say that without resolving the leadership and accessibility crisis, the yatra will not only look half-hearted but will also stop short of attaining its ultimate goal of bringing the Congress to the hearts of the people

Neelu VyasUpdated: Saturday, September 03, 2022, 01:08 PM IST
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Jairam Ramesh and Digvijaya Singh release logo, tagline, and pamphlet of 'Bharat Jodo Yatra'. | ANI

In 1930, India saw Mahatma Gandhi galvanising and awakening the people to a new consciousness by defying the British Salt Law which ultimately sparked the national civil disobedience movement. The Dandi March and Bapu became an iconic unifier. Now, 92 years later a similar padyatra by the name of Bharat Jodo is being planned by the Congress party to reinforce social harmony and strengthen the nation’s Constitutional values. Passing through 10 states and two Union territories, it is being touted as the biggest mass contact programme which could witness the revival of what is now being called the “grand old party”. Can Bharat Jodo be compared to the Dandi March? Well, this could be open for debate as Rahul is not the Mahatma and the eras are not similar, but Congress spin doctors are trying to make this padyatra imposingly impressive. However, after a closer look at the design, approach and the plan, the yatra looks haphazard, unfocused and replete with flaws.

During the Udaipur Chintan Shivir held by the Congress in May, Rahul Gandhi admitted that the party’s connect with the people is broken and needs to be urgently repaired; three months down the line, the Bharat Jodo Yatra is all set to commence from September 7 but it has not even been declared who will be the face of the Yatra. Perhaps because the party itself is not sure whether Rahul will remain consistent for 150 days. There are plausible reasons for this scepticism. The managers of the Bharat Jodo have embarked upon a plan which is cluttered with too many events, leading to the inference that the party doesn’t know how to prioritise. A huge price rise rally at Delhi's Ramlila Maidan on September 4, followed by Bharat Jodo, all this interspersed with Congress president elections followed by Assembly elections in Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat. Where will Rahul Gandhi be, is the vexing question and the answer to this is equally knotty. Will Rahul be committed to the padyatra or will he campaign for Gujarat and Himachal? The padyatra managers have deliberately or conveniently omitted the poll-bound states from the route map and left the party workers on the ground confounded, with no clear answers as to what will be the priority — the padyatra, or Vidhan Sabha elections. The party surely could have gained politically from this padyatra had it been sketched out in poll-bound states as well but why it didn't choose to do so is anybody's guess. Are there elements within trying to sabotage the entire exercise even before the seeds of the big-ticket event are sown. Bharat Jodo Yatris like Pawan Khera and Kanhaiya Kumar will become torch-bearers of the padyatra but as veteran leader Jairam Ramesh says, Bharat Jodo will merely be a listening exercise with no speeches by the yatris, one wonders at the efficacy, objectives and cogency of the padyatra. If the tone and the tenor as is made out to be is non-political and non-partisan, can the Congress really daydream of a political revival on the basis of an intuitive spiritual yatra as it is supposed to be? With no eagerness to win elections through this yatra makes the whole excersise purposeless and illogically nonsensical as Congress will connect with the people but will have no plans under it's belt to expand its electoral footprints in the immediate states going to polls. So Bharat Jodo is all sound and fury with no substance and an oppurtune moment lost. Also, a spectre which always hangs before the padyatra managers is “What if Rahul sneaks out abroad in the middle of the Bharat Jodo Yatra?”

The Congress president’s election coinciding almost with the Bharat Jodo Yatra is another question about the sagacity of the event planners. Even before the much-hyped yatra kicks off from Kanyakumari a discouraging cast-down undercurrent can be felt with uncompromising questions on electoral rolls, lack of transparency, and senior leaders like Shashi Tharoor, Anand Sharma and Manish Tiwari probing the internal political catechism, specially after veteran leader Ghulam Nabi Azaad's exit. Each nomination for the post of the Congress President will need at least 10 proposers, and these proposers will also have to be elected. Senior leaders like Acharya Pramod say that when these delegates have not been elected, how can the Congress president be elected? No political party in India has the gumption to hold organisational elections and the Congress, despite having the high moral ground here, has been unable to capitalise on this rare achievement where it could have easily stolen the march on other political parties. It's a case of unstructured management and planning gone awry.

Accessibility to Rahul Gandhi has always been discussed as an imperfect weak spot. Will the padyatra make Rahul more accessible? Will he mingle with all the 300 Yatris or he will interact with the selected few; how much liberty will he have from the SPG? All these queries remain, with not much clarity. Civil society whose support was elicited agressively is also wary of this aspect and casts doubt over whether at all important issues will be discussed during the public meetings lined up along the yatra route, or if it will just be reduced to a Congress PR event. Social activists associated with Bharat Jodo say that without resolving the leadership and accessibility crisis, the yatra will not only look half-hearted but will also stop short of attaining its ultimate goal of bringing the Congress to the hearts of the people. Civil society members say that they are looking for tangible results from the padyatra in terms of whether the Congress can give an alternative blueprint on policy issues, in the absence of which the journey will bear no political fruit. There's lot of resentment within the party as to why Congress's padyatra has been outsourced to people like Yogendra Yadav, who is an outsider. With Yadav calling the shots, there's immense heartburn within Congressmen.

With just four days left for the padyatra to begin, the demise of Sonia Gandhi’s mother in Italy has again put the spotlight on Rahul Gandhi's Dattatreya gotra and him being a Kashmiri Brahmin. Staunch Hindus within the party say that if a Brahmin has attended the last rites of his grandmother, he cannot take part in an auspicious yatra for the next 13 days. If Rahul pays heed to this aspect religiously, Bharat Jodo will have to be postponed further and if he goes ahead with the padyatra, his Hindu Brahmin credentials will forever be under scrutiny, and will be a stick for his opponents to beat him with when trying to consolidate the Hindu vote bank in future elections.

The writer is a senior television anchor and consulting editor with Satya Hindi

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