By Kalyani Shankar
How does one assess the impact of Congress leader Rahul Gandhi’s just completed Bharat Jodo yatra? Has he achieved his goal vis-a-vis himself, his party and the Opposition? The answer is yes; he has partially succeeded in his image makeover. But about the Party and the Opposition, it is too soon to see any results.
Undoubtedly, Rahul came up with the good old Padayatra from Kanyakumari to Kashmir to connect with the public, get to know the issues first-hand, and achieve an image makeover. Many leaders had undertaken such marches earlier for political purposes, like Chandrashekhar and L.K. Advani, and some of them won political dividends.
Congress insiders claim that Rahul Gandhi dismissed the initial suggestion of his strategists to go on a bus tour and instead chose a more arduous walking tour, like walking thousands of kilometers with blisters on his feet and knee pain, sleeping in a caravan, and roughing it out.
Has the Yatra benefitted Rahul? He claims it was fulfilling.
“I’ve learnt a lot, met lakhs of people, spoken to them. I don’t have words to describe it. The goal of the Yatra was to unite India. It was against hate and violence. This has been the deepest and most beautiful experience of my life”. He further claimed that the Yatra had opened “shops of love in a market of hate” (nafrat ke bazaar main mohabbat ki dukaan).”
Expressing optimism, Rahul said that India now has two paths or ways of living to choose from. One is out to suppress the voices and spread hatred and violence; the other is to join the hearts. “I believe this Yatra is a first step that will impact the country’s politics, he said.”
Rahul attracted huge crowds, particularly in the South. His interaction with the public and press conferences en route helped present an alternative political option for those against BJP. Congressmen hope people will see him as a serious politician, not” pappu” anymore.
Rahul raised issues like love and hatred, inequality, unemployment, rising prices, security on the border and inflation. He did all that the clever politicians do, like carrying children in his arms at times and interacting with youth, women, and seniors as he walked holding their hands.
Now that the Yatra is completed, Rahul should use this experience for his future. But the task ahead is not easy, as more than five months is needed for a complete makeover. Rahul has to keep up the hard work until the 2004 polls for a meaningful result. Also, the most challenging thing is to convert the crowds who came to see him into votes. For this, he needs organization.
As for his second goal of lifting the party’s morale, affected by the continuing electoral slide since 2014, the organization needs to be rejuvenated to face the 2004 Lok Sabha polls in the coming months. Assembly polls are scheduled in nine states this year. Jammu and Kashmir might also go to polls. If Congress can increase the number of winning states to its kitty, credit would go to Rahul.
The third goal was to emerge as the Opposition leader, uniting all non-BJP parties. Here, he had a problem. Many opposition leaders were not willing to accept Rahul’s leadership. Rival candidates like Telangana chief minister Chandra Shekhar Rao mobilized a vast crowd to relaunch his idea of a Third Front last month. Though Rahul had invited Opposition leaders to join in the conclusion of the Yatra in Kashmir, this week, only leaders from 11 parties attended it. Even during the Yatra, influential leaders like Akhilesh Yadav and Uddhav Thackeray skipped it.
Rahul has not given up hope .”Sure, there are differences in the Opposition, but they talk to each other. The Opposition will stand together and fight together. This is an ideological fight. On one side, there’s the RSS-BJP, and, on the other, it’s the forces opposed to them”, Gandhi said.
Overall, the Yatra has given new hope to Congress and the Gandhi family. As Rahul said, the Yatra was the beginning, and now it is for the party to take the momentum forward for electoral gains. Congress must build solid state-level leaders, second-rung leadership, and meaningful coalitions.
The following 14 months are crucial to this goal of remaining relevant in politics for the Congress and the Opposition. The adage ” United you win and divided you fall” says everything.
The question of who will become prime minister comes later. It is common knowledge that the divided Opposition is Modi’s secret to returning for the third term. The regional leaders should put aside their egos and prejudices and unite if they want results. It would be an ‘advantage Modi ‘ if he could keep it that way. (IPA Service)