On December 24, when the Bharat Jodo Yatra entered Delhi, Rahul Gandhi was wearing a T-shirt despite the freezing cold, and waved enthusiastically to the crowd that had gathered in their thousands to give him a rousing reception. With his popularity at an all-time high, there seems to be still some confusion in Rahul Gandhi’s mind as to whether he should remain an idealist in politics or go all guns blazing to become a mass leader who can emerge as a strong and reliable alternative to Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Perhaps it is time to choose the latter.
In 2013, when Rahul in a sanctimonious and self-righteous tone said that power for him is as good as poison, he gave the impression that politics is the last refuge of the amoral and those nurturing the ambition of becoming politicians lack vision and honesty. Rahul put down a marker by implying that he is impervious to the very idea of joining politics as it would not help him to keep his moral compass well-calibrated. Then, by that logic, what should we make of Rahul’s Bharat Jodo Yatra that has managed to capture the imagination of the country? By Rahul’s own admission, the yatra, in scope and vision, is apolitical as it is acting as a glue to hold together a country teetering precariously on the edge of social fragmentation, majoritarianism and polarisation. People from all sections of society are joining the yatra with great enthusiasm, whichever state it passes through. The yatra has also built up a head of steam for its avowed intent to fight against the politics of bigotry, fear and prejudice being spread by the Bharatiya Janata Party, besides growing unemployment and inequalities.
To be fair to Rahul, he has come out of his ivory tower and is seeing what the world is really like. People in a democracy need to interact and mingle with politicians, and Rahul has done just that by letting youngsters, film actors, the middle-aged and senior citizens be part of the yatra. He has also made it clear that the Yatra is not for the weak-kneed or the faint-hearted. After all, travelling long distances on foot is daunting and can test the patience of the most physically and mentally strong. Renowned film actor Kamal Haasan joined Rahul in his Yatra in Delhi. During the course of his Yatra, the bright-eyed and bushy-tailed Rahul can be seen engaging in animated conversation with people who fall into step with him, as his body language exudes positivity and friendliness. The whole atmosphere becomes charged with the spirit of joie de vivre. The psychological barrier between a politician and the masses has dissolved in one fell swoop and this is the yatra’s pièce de résistance.
The Bharat Jodo Yatra can be described as a political masterstroke despite the fact that the Congress party is still not ready to equate it with any long-term electoral prospects. Senior party leaders are referring to Rahul in Homeric terms, as they see in him a contrarian, praising his stamina and the adamantine will to feel the real India on foot. The yatra has garnered impressive response in every state it has been through and this is something the BJP can’t brush under the carpet. Rahul also addressed a press conference upon completing a hundred days of the yatra where he took potshots at the godi media and the Centre for its lack of clarity on the China border issue.
Rahul comes across as a fairly intelligent and articulate politician these days. He has outgrown his fossilised mindset and found his Damascene moment in the Bharat Jodo Yatra. He weighs his words carefully, and looks extremely convincing and composed when it comes to taking on the Narendra Modi Government on a slew of issues. In 2016, he had not pulled his punches on demonetisation and GST, despite being made the butt of ridicule on social media. He had also repeatedly warned the Centre against the Covid outbreak in 2020. Rahul has seized the nettle and is going full steam ahead with the yatra. He has tapped into public anger over many important issues and which he fears may reach a tipping point. As Mahatma Gandhi once said, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” After all, in a democracy the masses always love a leader who is decisive and dynamic and knows his own mind. It is time the people of India listen to Rahul’s mann ki baat and weigh their options in the 2024 general elections.
Having shown considerable determination and promise in reaching out to the masses through his yatra, Rahul now has his work cut out. He should now make the most of the goodwill he has generated through the yatra. All he needs to display is oodles of chutzpah and gumption to steer his party to a position from where they can emerge as a strong contender to the BJP in 2024. Rahul needs to jettison the corrosive idea that power is poison, if he really wants to be seen as a leader of consequence in coming days. By 2024, the BJP will have been in power for ten years and since the yatra has given the Congress considerable political traction, it won’t be that difficult for Rahul to throw down the gauntlet to the BJP in 2024. Can Mr Modi again cut the ground out from under the Congress?
The writer is a senior journalist based in Delhi
(To receive our E-paper on WhatsApp daily, please click here. To receive it on Telegram, please click here. We permit sharing of the paper's PDF on WhatsApp and other social media platforms.)