Understanding the long march

Bharat Jodo Yatra left in its wake new possibilities, questions and challenges
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi during his 'Bharat Jodo Yatra' amid tight security in Jammu's Samba. [File]
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi during his 'Bharat Jodo Yatra' amid tight security in Jammu's Samba. [File] Mir Imran for Greater Kashmir


Amid snowfall, the Bharat Jodo Yatra led by Congress MP, Rahul Gandhi concluded in Srinagar J&K. After the rally at Sher-i-Kashmir stadium, the yatra ended not with just new hope and possibilities, but also questions and challenges.

After Rahul Gandhi’s “Bharat Jodo Yatra” came to an end, one might legitimately wonder how it has impacted India, and how it may impact Indian politics in the future.

The yatra started from Kanyakumari, at the southern tip of the country, on September 7, 2022, and ended at Lal Chowk, Srinagar, J&K, on 30 January 2023. It covered 3,970 km across 12 states and 2 union territories.

Over the course of this nearly five-month yatra, Rahul Gandhi held over 100 corner meetings and 13 press conferences. With more than 275 planned walking interactions and more than 100 sitting interactions, Congress MP had the chance to not only understand the grassroots level public mind, but also leave an impression over the masses many of whom had different opinion about the scion of Gandhi family.

Bharat Jodo Yatra has been used to pitch the centrality of Congress in 2024, despite the Congress party saying it was not political. In a sense, the Yatra piqued the interest of some among the public by suggesting that a counter-saffron narrative could emerge.

According to Rahul Gandhi, his Bharat Jodo Yatra has succeeded in “changing the narrative” in the country and brought hundreds of thousands of people together to spread a message of love.

According to Rahul Gandhi, the BJP and RSS have created an atmosphere of hatred in the country and can’t stop the truth from being revealed by suppressing or frightening people.

There are signs in Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, and Haryana that people have accepted Rahul Gandhi as he is now portrayed as a strong leader rather than what his image used to be.

Now, even the top functionaries of the BJP are accepting Rahul’s emergence, so may be their Pappu proclamation won’t make much sense in the coming days. With the Yatra, Rahul gained more of an image as a speaker who pitches his Indian vision against those of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and the Bharatiya Janata Party.

Apart from his trademark white T-shirt, which did make the connection and gathered attention in cold-hit northern India, numerous eminent personalities from different walks of life have been involved despite severe criticism from the BJP.

Moreover, the Yatra stated that, with meticulous planning, the Congress party could march through 12 states from Kanyakumari to Jammu and Kashmir.

Regarding the conclusion of the “Yatra” in J&K and its effect on the masses, much needs to be understood. Among those attending the rally at Sher-e-Kashmir Cricket Stadium were Mallikarjun Kharge and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, along with leaders from the DMK, JMM, BSP, NC, PDP, CPI, RSP, VCK, and IUML.

Despite the snowfall, the Congress and its allies did a good job of attracting people, in a sensitive area, without many guards. The arrival of Rahul Gandhi and congress general secretary, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra was met with excitement and anticipation.

After the abrogation of Jammu and Kashmir’s special status in 2019, this has been the region’s first major political event. Thousands of people greeted Gandhi as the march came to an end. There hasn’t been a national party leader walking through Srinagar in half a century.

I can’t recall the last time a national party leader led a public march through the city. As a result, the party gained a much-needed boost after former chief minister Ghulam Nabi Azad quit along with hundreds of Congress workers.

It may be possible to see this yatra as a revival of national mainstream politics in Kashmir via Congress. This is because multiple leaders responded to the Congress on the yatra itself. The next thing to understand is how Rahul Gandhi took pleasure in the snow with his sibling, wearing a Kashmiri Phiran, something that connected him with the masses after his T-shirt trend.

It was his gestures that made him appear comfortable with the locals and acceptable to them. Furthermore, Rahul’s closing speech moved people by empathizing with them through his own personal trauma following the assassination of his grandmother and father.

This allowed him to relate to the anguish of the Kashmiri people and their desire to put an end to hate politics. During the discussion of his family’s history, Rahul mentioned that walking to Kashmir felt like reverse travel.

Despite targeting the BJP, he focused mostly on recognizing the need for new types of politics in the valley. This gave people a chance to see his views on the new era in Indian politics and see what he had been up to. 

Omar Abdullah, the former chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir and a leader of the National Conference, congratulated Rahul and the Congress party on behalf of himself and his father.

In the past, both father and son had joined Rahul on his Yatra at different intervals, at Lakhanpur and Ramban. As he declared the ‘Yatra’ a success, Omar stated that there are people in the country that are fans of the BJP.

However, there are also those who are fans of the brotherhood. Rahul is seen as a ray of hope by PDP president Mehbooba Mufti and former chief minister of J&K. Along with her mother and daughter, Mehbooba Mufti took part in the walk from a village in Awantipora called Chersoo.

Although, she also explained that one of the reasons for the enthusiasm was that Kashmiris had not been allowed to gather publicly for three and a half years.

There’s no denying that Rahul Gandhi’s yatra was well received in J&K. Despite the harsh weather and security constraints, crowds came out. Some came out of hope, and some out of curiosity to see what he had to offer.

With no fear of arrest and charges for unlawful activity. In a way, the Bharat Jodo Yatra may have paved the way for the return of fundamental rights, even if it was just a small step. It is something to be appreciated.

Certainly, the Congress scion pulled off some smart moves. His actions ranged from taking questions only from Kashmiri journalists in the press conference, paying tribute to the Pulwama Brave-hearts, negating Digvijaya Singh on his statement, and seeking support from regional parties, such as NC and PDP to strengthen his own.

Rahul also positioned himself as a Kashmiri who was returning to his roots for Kashmiris starved of identity. Rahul avoided any reference to Article 370 in his press briefing when asked about the party’s stance on Article 370. He said the working committee of Congress had already taken a stand on Article 370.

However, he did not explain his view or that of his party. He certainly created a sense of intrigue that attracted a lot of people. Rahul, however, found it better to focus on other issues, such as restoring statehood and the lack of public representation in Jammu and Kashmir. As a result, Rahul now knows how to lead.

There is no question that the Yatra has generated tremendous interest in the valley, but it would be a mistake to underestimate its impact. There is now a wide open space for the Congress to build upon if it so chooses. Yet the biggest question is whether the Kashmiris who are hopeful about the elections will vote for Rahul Gandhi.

Will Congress be able to turn the apparent popular support of the Yatra into electoral gain? Whether Bharat Jodo Yatra becomes a ‘Sanjeevni’ for the Congress party and serves as a solid foundation against polarization remains to be seen.

In 2023, nine assembly elections will be held before the 2024 general elections, which serve as a semi-final before the finals. It is in the coming polls that the results and the acceptance of the Bharat Joda Yatra will be most evident. This will demonstrate not only the future of the Congress party and Rahul Gandhi but also the future of Indian politics.

The author is an advocate at Principal District and Sessions Court Baramulla and can be reached at: atworkmudasir@gmail.com

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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