On Sunday, Rahul Gandhi's Bharat Jodo Yatra entered Rajasthan. On Monday evening, the Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, and Delhi municipal corporation election exit polls came out. The Congress appeared to be the biggest loser in the Gujarat and Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) elections. In contrast, in Himachal, the competition is neck-and-neck. The final results are still pending, but the fundamental trend is that the Congress party's electoral fortunes have not changed significantly despite the extraordinary Yatra. It raised the question of how effective the Bharat Jodo Yatra will be in electoral politics.
The Congress party has suffered electorally for a number of years; well before Narendra Modi was elected prime minister, the decline of the grand old party began. Rahul Gandhi's effort of Bharat Jodo Yatra is the most crucial step towards its revival.
Both women and men in Congress felt hopeful after the Bharat Jodo Yatra began. In private conversations, numerous Congress members, leaders, and sympathisers have stated that this is the effort that the Congress has lacked for decades. It gave hope, excitement, confidence and strength to those who have remained loyal to the Congress party throughout its decline.
Many opposition political parties praised Rahul Gandhi's efforts. To show solidarity and support for Gandhi, opposition political parties such as the Shiv Sena also participated in the march.
There is a genuine wave of support for the Bharatiya Janata Party and Prime Minister Narendra Modi. It is also true that the Congress party maintained its support throughout the Modi wave. A potent Opposition is crucial for India. For this, the Congress’ survival and resurgence are necessary. In order to send the message that there needs to be strong Opposition and an alternative narrative against the ruling force, many celebrities, activists, thinkers, and other notable individuals joined the Bharat Jodo Yatra.
Throughout the march, Rahul Gandhi has emphasised the ideology of the Congress party in contrast to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh's Hindutva ideology. He has discussed Savarkar and the reasons Congress rejects his philosophy. Whatever the Bharatiya Janata Party's stance and political ideology, it will always be opposed by another ideology — any thriving democracy is by its very nature progressive. Rahul Gandhi undoubtedly made an effort to advance this narrative and assured the populace that the BJP's anti-ideology was still present and would always exist.
But there is a more fundamental query: an electoral victory is the ultimate goal for a political party. Merely constructing an ideological narrative while avoiding contesting important elections is not a good strategy. The juggernaut of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah is beyond an ideological battle. A staunch opponent will also concede that the way the BJP campaigns in every election is admirable. They fight to prevail. The Gujarat campaign saw little to no participation from the Congress party. All Rahul Gandhi did was hold a few rallies. Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and the Aam Aadmi Party ran a significant campaign in Gujarat at the same time and made headlines. The results of the exit polls also suggest that the Congress party's standing in Gujarat has declined. This is regrettable — the grand old party cannot afford to lose elections one after the other in the name of the Bharat Jodo Yatra and the Congress revival.
The Congress party is day-dreaming if they think that by staying out of the state elections they will be able to concentrate solely on Rahul Gandhi's success and the yatra, and that a miracle will happen by 2024. India's citizens do not vote or think in this way. Arvind Kejriwal and the Aam Aadmi Party's entry into Gujarat has made that abundantly clear. People will never lose sight of the value of an Opposition, and since they won't accept a vacuum, they will support whoever will challenge the ruling party at the hustings.
Learning from past mistakes is as important for the Congress party as is trying new things. It utterly failed to control Punjab's leadership crisis a year ago, and as a result lost the Assembly election where the AAP triumphed in a historic victory. Rajasthan is experiencing a similar crisis at the same time that Rahul Gandhi is marching through it. The Congress party's top leadership, led by newly elected president Mallikarjun Kharge, is largely silent and demonstrates no desire to address the crisis. It's critical to realise that this crisis doesn't just exist today; it has existed since the year 2020. However, the Congress party has consistently prioritised photo ops with Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot and senior leader Sachin Pilot — who are otherwise openly fighting each other in the most ridiculous way possible.
Currently Mr Kharge, a non-Gandhi family member, is the President of the Congress party but the real question for the public is whether he controls it. Mr Kharge is not yet seen as the party's face, either during the Gujarat campaign or generally. He is not being portrayed — by himself or by the party — as trying to make a difference.
The Bharat Jodo Yatra was extremely important, which is the obvious response to the question of whether it was important or not. But can the Congress party afford to lose elections, let the state-level crisis worsen, and take no action to address these problems? It is past time that it took a more pragmatic approach to the situation.
At the end of the day, the Congress will have to put in a lot of effort for every election, in addition to building a narrative against the BJP. Because electoral success can give the Congress party and its leadership the real power to battle the BJP; grandiose long-term plans and daydreaming will do nothing but make it look like a force of ideologues with no electoral power. If the Congress wants to look for an established example of such an outcome then they must look at their friend (in Bengal) and rival (in Kerala), the Communist Party of India (Marxist). They have a grand history of metamorphosis.
The author is a doctoral research scholar in media & politics. He tweets @sayantan_gh. Views expressed are personal
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