On the day Rahul Gandhi-led Bharat Jodo Yatra entered Delhi, with the actor Kamal Hassan joining the convoy, former Congress President Sonia Gandhi constituted a committee with party chief Mallikarjun Kharge and senior leader Digvijaya Singh as members to examine various frictions within the organisation.
It must be a rare incident when a former president of a political party is assigning the present president a duty. The message couldn’t have been clearer — Rahul is leading the party’s campaign, Sonia is supervising the organisation.
Amid this, the Yatra saw encouraging response from the people as Rahul entered Badarpur in Delhi from Haryana early morning. The Yatra culminated at the Red Fort.
Battery-rickshaw driver Vasudev Sharma woke up at the crack of dawn and hurriedly made his way from his home in Shivpuri to the Badarpur border from where the Yatra entered Delhi at 6.30 am. Trailing far behind the brisk-walking Rahul, who headed the swelling procession of over 50,000 people, Sharma held in his hand a cardboard placard in the shape of a cylinder depicting rise in gas prices under the Narendra Modi-led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government. Unlike other Yatris, Sharma walked bare feet.
“It is not just Rahul Gandhi’s protest. This is my personal protest against the current government,” claimed Sharma as he went around holding the placard up in the faces of Congress workers and leaders, asking them to take note.
All Gandhis come together in Delhi
After its launch in September, the 108th day of the Bharat Jodo Yatra saw all the Gandhis come together for the first time with Sonia and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, Robert Vadra, and her Vadra childeren waving at the cheering crowds — many of whom had travelled several kms across Delhi to get a glimpse of the Gandhis.
Other Congress leaders in the Yatra included Bhupinder Singh Hooda, Kumari Selja, Randeep Surjewala, Shaktisinh Gohil, among others. Actor and politician Kamal Haasan also joined the Yatra near ITO, adding to even more crowds.
Most Yatris wore member tags but the Yatra attracted a lot of locals as well. Nancy, a Class IX student from Samaypur Badli, arrived with her elder sisters. She noted that the march was a good opportunity for young students to observe and interact with politics.
“I am interested in studying political science and mass movements and this march reminds me of the way Congress led marches in the pre-Independence era,” said Nancy.
Having walked 3,000 kms across 46 districts across nine states of Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Haryana, Rahul has grown a flowing beard.
Yatra targets BJP over communal polarisation
“In the past few years, what has the BJP done except talk about communal identities and divisive mandir-masjid policies?” A spirited Congress worker, Atul Tripathi, was seen yelling at a camera crew as the rally crossed Nizamuddin while Gandhi made a quick visit to the Dargah.
Addressing a gathering of Congress workers at Badarpur border, Rahul said, “There is no nafrat in this yatra. If somebody falls, everybody helps them. This is the real Hindustan. Not the BJP’s and RSS’s hatred-filled Hindustan.”
Security was beefed up as the procession headed from Badarpur with Congress workers showering petals on Yatris.
The Yatra concluded at the Red Fort where the message of love and unity was reiterated again by Haasan.
“People ask why I’m here. I’m here as an Indian. My father was a Congressman and I had various ideologies. I started my own political party but when it comes to the country, all political party lines have to blur. I blurred that line and came here,” said Hassan at the podium.
Rahul also accused the BJP of using Hindu-Muslim agenda to deviate public’s attention from real issues.
Naresh Kumar Bhati, Congress’s Hapur SC/ST president, joined the Yatra in Haryana. He told Outlook that the aim of the Yatra is to unite people from all religions and castes and ensure equal distribution of opportunities.
“I think the Yatra can greatly impact cadres and voters. Congress is travelling from state to state, uniting people against BJP,” said Bhati.
Munni Bai from Dadri, who brought a team of 300 women from Dadri to join the Yatra, said that 2024 belongs to Rahul.
Bharat Jodo Yatra: Rahul’s towers over Congress revival
However, most Congress leaders realise that the Yatra may not bring any electoral benefit. Congress leader Dr Anit Singh said that the Yatra is not about political one upmanship or to project any leader.
“Ye Yatra kisi ki garima badhane ke lie nahi hai, is desk hi samasya dikhane ke liye hai,” he tells Outlook. (This Yatra is not meant to promote anyone’s image. It’s to promote the issues of the country)
Contrast the sentiment with the ground reality when one sees the entire focus on one man alone, when the entire party has thrown his weight behind one man, who wants to revive and resurrect his image.
Singh also believes that other political parties have also showed solidarity with the Congress. In Delhi, however, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) stayed away.
“They are our political competitors. But this Yatra represents something beyond petty party politics,” says Singh.
Earlier, Congress leader Jairam Ramesh had said that the Yatra intended to raise three issues: economic disparity, divisive politics and polarisation, and political dictatorship. He had also said that it was not a “Chunav Jeeto” yatra and it’s not a magic wand for solving the party’s electoral problems.
Despite election in two states of Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh, the latter won by the Congress, Rahul remained totally involved with the Yatra, completely avoiding Himachal, and holding just a few rallies in Gujarat.
Meanwhile, Rahul has skipped the Winter Session of Parliament which concluded on Friday. As per PRS Legislative Research data, Rahul’s attendance in the 17th Lok Sabha is 53 per cent, far lower than the average number for MPs at 79.
Bharat Jodo Yatra apolitical?
Crowds at the Bharat Jodo Yatra indicate that the Congress still has the ability to mass mobilise, but one is not clear whether it can be considered a political alternative to the BJP. Contrarily, when one hears repeated statements from several Congress leaders that the Yatra is not about elections, they overlook —perhaps undermine— the fact that the Congress is primarily a political party, which can stay relevant only by winning elections. Clearly, overhauling Congress would require more than just a show of solidarity.
Meanwhile, the future of the Yatra, which has taken a nine-day break from Saturday, also depends on another crucial factor — Covid-19. With a new variant driving another surge in China, masks are back in Delhi.
On Saturday, the BJP and Congress sparred over the Yatra breaking Covid-19 protocols. AAP also hit out at the Centre in a reference to the Yatra and claimed it should issue proper Covid-19 protocols for mass gatherings.
What is it, if not politics?