Setting the minds thinking

It is too early to predict the electoral dividends of such an exercise
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi waves to the supporters during party's Bharat Jodo Yatra, in Wayanad. Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel and others also seen.
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi waves to the supporters during party's Bharat Jodo Yatra, in Wayanad. Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel and others also seen. File: ANI

On December 16, 2022, former Congress president, Mr Rahul Gandhi spearheaded Bharat Jodo Yatra completed 100 days. Subsequently, it entered Delhi, the heart of India, having already traversed over 2500 kilometers and on course to the walkathon’s last leg to finally reach Kashmir.

The most glaring dimension of the ‘Yatra’ was a letter written by Union Health Minister to Mr Gandhi, as he completed Rajasthan leg of his march, suggesting either follow the Corona guidelines (the government has yet to issue guidelines), or suspend the event. Interestingly, the Minister’s warning to him was based on a letter written by three MPs from the state who claimed the padyatra has resulted in outbreak of the virus cases, and not on any finding of either the Centre or the state government.           

To walk for 100 days covering such a long distance is easier said than done. Mr Gandhi must be lauded for having completed the distance without any fatigue or physical pressure along with a team of fellow walkers. On physical and moral front, he is an absolute victor having brought many facets of his life before the public gaze in the midst, hitherto unknown. On this count he scores over decade long concerted attempts to tarnish his image and portray him as some kind of a timid nincompoop.

Mr Gandhi and his strategists behind conceiving the ‘Bharat Jodo Yatra’ make us believe that it was a “mission unity” in the face of fissiparous agenda unfolded by the BJP-led ruling dispensation, and there is nothing more to. No political or electoral agenda, nor an attempt to refurbish his image.

There is no doubt uniting India, as the title of the event suggests, is central to it. But there certainly is more to it than what the organisers have perceived and might be lesser than what Mr Gandhi’s detractors felt that it was squarely to relaunch him on the political firmament of the country.           

Full marks to Mr Gandhi for his exemplary physical fitness, which must inspire younger generations to ameliorate him on this count, and cool and candidness exhibited in his interactions with people of all hues mostly those felt untouched either by the governance system or the political class. His temperament is a big take-away of this marathon walk and unstinted public interactions. It has singlehandedly annulled the BJP’s propaganda OF Mr Gandhi being some kind of a spoilt brat with no grey matter. Holding dialogue with ease with common people, and men and women of eminence on economy and other specialized subjects with effortless ease must have made his detractors restive.

Certainly, must have sprung a surprise on vast expanse of public who had been convinced by the BJP propaganda about his incompetence.

Mr Gandhi has during 100-days of his walking through the cities and villages of country in nearly a dozen states proved his mettle as a person with concerns and ideas on key issues. And his willingness to go an extra mile in reaching out to the people to register their grievances. Clearly, he has removed the first hurdle, which to a great extent was self-inflicted and partly thrust by the BJP’s targeted campaign, in the way of establishing a direct connect with the public.

Mr Modi had achieved this through his communication skills and oratory whereas Mr Gandhi has achieved this through a mass-contact programme. The difference in the two models is that of hearing and listening. While Mr Modi has a strong penchant to be heard using varied modes of communication without listening to the counter point, Mr Gandhi has been vying, through his yatra, to cultivate the image of a patient listener, and debate and interact.

No one would believe that the ‘Bharat Yodo Yatra’, the first of its kind in the recent times, the nearest was ‘Bharat Yatra’ from Kerala to New Delhi under taken by the then Janata Party leader Mr Chandrashekhar who later briefly became Prime Minister, has been planned and undertaken without any political goal. Yes, uniting the nation under the given circumstances is a priority and well taken up by the Congress and Mr Gandhi, but the ultimate vehicle to achieve desired results will be electoral politics.

It can at best be described as a matter of priority - unity of the nation or electoral politics. Mr Gandhi and his strategists, ostensibly, chose the unity factor as a mechanism ultimately leading to revival of his and Congress’s political fortunes. It certainly was a better gamut and strategy rather than straightway talking politics which in any case would not have paid dividends. To some extent he has been able to achieve the goal even before completing the entire 3500 plus kilometers of the trek.

Mr Gandhi’s conduct and candour during the 100 days with having covered 70 per cent of the total distance, and the aplomb with which he strongly took up the issues facing the nation and people in different states, has certainly given him a head-start on course to refurbishing his image. His silence during the past over a decade and penchant to play truant, has been rightly taken over by his zest to listen, debate and express his views on diverse subjects. And be ready for action.

The sceptics in the beginning had serious doubts about his all-round abilities, as discussed above, turned hopeful and gained in confidence about his abilities. Or else how could one explain the stupendous response that the ‘yatra’ got not only from people, but more importantly from men and women of eminence hailing from different spheres of life. As was revealed that Mr Gandhi had personally written to such personalities to join him in his march. But most of them accepted his invitation and came on ground only after observing him closely on various parameters.

People enthusiastically thronging the route of his ‘yatra’ was the real clincher. But this clincher, perhaps, led to another achievement that many prominent people came forward to walk alongside him. The list of these prominent people transcended beyond Congress including some detractors of the party and the Gandhi family.

Former Reserve Bank of India Governor and eminent economist, Mr Raghuram Rajan, former Finance Secretary, Mr Arvind Mayram accompanied by his noted author wife Mrs Shail Mayaram, activists and known Gandhi family detractor, Advocate Prashant Bhushan, and Medha Patkar, actors Mr Kamla Hassan, Mr Amol Palekar, Ms Pooja Bhat, Ms Riya Sen and Mr Sushan Sen, standup comic Mr Kunal Kamra, were among many prominent persons who walked and interacted with Mr Gandhi.

The padyatra at the completion of 100 days has at least restored  confidence and belief of the Congress’s rank and file. The sole reason was that over the decades they had been ignored, left untouched by the top leadership and felt despondent and disillusioned. Even the senior leaders including members of the now defunct rebel Group 23 leaders felt the need to join the mainstream.

Another take-away of the ‘yatra’ is reinforcement of the Congress’s ideological foundations. The party seemed to be rediscovering its ideological mooring and showing readiness, thanks to Mr Gandhi, to connect with not only its ideals but also the core support base.

It is too early to say if at the end of the ‘Bharat Jodo Yatra’ the masses which welcomed Mr Gandhi enroute would be willing to vote for the Congress. It will require sustained planning and effort at the organizational levels and a strong follow-up to maintain the tempo of his huge effort before expecting electoral dividends.

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.

The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK

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