Bharat Jodo Yatra: ‘It’s a small step, we must go further’
The moral underpinning of the Bharat Jodo Yatra is crucial, but its political fallout is no less important
I joined the Bharat Jodo Yatra for a bit when it entered Delhi. “Congratulations, Rahulji, for this big step,” I said to him. “It’s a small step; we have to take bigger ones,” he promptly replied.
You can quibble with that statement (the yatra is certainly not “a small step”), but Rahul Gandhi’s response indicates his enthusiasm and commitment. This yatra has already achieved some much-needed goals and scored lots of political points for the Congress. There was a lot of disinformation and speculation about Rahul Gandhi’s probable absence during the break in the Yatra, but contrary to that buzz, he addressed the media (his ninth Yatra-related press meet) during that interval.
The Yatra has succeeded to a large extent in giving Rahul an image makeover: from that of a reluctant, hesitant politician to an involved, assertive one. When it began on 7 September, many were sceptical of its prospects—not about Rahul’s physical stamina but about his political savvy. It was baffling to see some of those self-styled representatives of civil society, people who were/ are (frankly, it’s hard to tell) quite enamoured of Modi, play a role in Rahul’s most ambitious political initiative yet. Even more baffling was Rahul’s defensive posture in tackling the questions of these eminences before the Yatra got underway. By the time of the Delhi interlude, though, both the Yatra and Rahul’s own stride had begun to look far more assured.
Rahul has belaboured the point that the Yatra is not motivated by political considerations but by the desire to “spread love”. Fair enough. Spreading love in these times of hatred and rage—in large parts manufactured by interested political forces, with the active involvement of large sections of mass media—is an extremely important moral task, but does it necessarily exclude politics? Even the politics of power?
Historically speaking, in any society, more so in complex modern societies, spreading love or hatred is about ‘winning friends and influencing people’. For any serious person or organisation, power in its political or any other avatar is not an end in itself but a means to achieve goals. In a democracy, politics is about gaining political power by convincing people and implementing your programme. An aversion to power-politics and its processes might sound self-satisfyingly moral, but on serious reflection, it is practically a denial of one’s moral stance itself. For without power, any political vision, howsoever moral, cannot go very far, and might even remain a pipe dream.
How does one spread love, say, in a situation like Gujarat, where the forces that welcome convicted rapists like heroes win an overwhelming popular mandate? How does one administer an antidote to the poison being spread by mass media without making people conscious of its devastating effects? Rahul himself is the most vocal about the dark role of the media, and rightly so. But then, why elide the political import of the Bharat Jodo Yatra? For sure, this Yatra is not a parochial project, and shouldn’t be seen as one, but then the political is not necessarily parochial.
Some political pundits have dismissed the Yatra as a journey without a manzil. To them, I’d simply say: the ‘manzil’ of this Yatra is to reiterate the idea of an inclusive, pluralist, democratic Indian polity and a compassionate society that cares for its most disadvantaged members. Rahul Gandhi is right in pointing out that any meaningful opposition unity, capable of challenging the BJP, can only be built around an alternative political vision, not the aura of a leader.
Beyond the media-manufactured aura of Prime Minister Modi, the BJP has been successful in projecting itself as a party dedicated to the dream of a proud, assertive India. Modi has been built up as a mascot of this dream project and the Congress presented as indifferent, if not hostile, to this dream. This construct forms the scaffolding of the BJP’s ‘Congress-mukt Bharat’ fantasy.
Unfortunately, over a decade or so, the Congress leadership has internalised its aversion to politics, reposed too much faith in the amorphous idea of ‘good governance’, and has failed to reclaim the space of ‘inclusive nationalism’, which forms the core of its political legacy.
The vision needed to arrest the spread of hatred in our society, and to reverse the process of regression into medievalism and bigotry, can be articulated only in the political framework of an inclusive Indian nationalism that seeks to empower the poor and powerless. The Bharat Jodo Yatra is a much-needed step in this direction; after all, the ‘nation’ is its people, not just hollow rhetoric or outbursts directed against made-up ‘internal enemies’.
The moral underpinning of the Bharat Jodo Yatra is crucial, but its political fallout is no less important. The rattled response of the BJP—not just its troll army but also its leaders— is another measure of the Yatra’s political potential. The light-hearted ease and confidence with which Rahul and his Yatra team have been taking on the BJP and other political adversaries, including some sections of lapdog media, suggests a heartening rejuvenation of the Congress.
The next challenge is to translate this enthusiasm into creating a strong organisational structure and making new political inroads in the elections coming up this year. If those are the ‘bigger steps’ Rahul has in mind, he is headed in the right direction.