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Herald View: Not just another 'Yatra'
The Bharat Jodo Yatra will hopefully remind people of our shared past, of the great odds this country has overcome and of the challenges that lie ahead
The Bharat Jodo Yatra, which got underway on September 7 at Kanyakumari, the southern tip of the Indian landmass, and which will pass through 12 states before it concludes in Kashmir, the embattled northern frontier, is an odyssey like no other attempted in the history of independent India. What makes it different is not just the physical challenge of a 3,570 km journey on foot over 150 days but the grand ambition to re-unite a polarised country and the shared sense of desperation in ‘civil’ society to stop India’s descent into hell. The Yatra is also a litmus test at many levels. Not just for the Congress, as many would have you think, but also for the Opposition trying to defeat the same common adversary.
It is also a test for civil society that does care but is usually too caught up in its own daily grind. It is a test for all thinking Indians who signed up, so to speak, for a certain idea of India, an idea that was first of all about embracing diversity, about inclusion, about a ‘Union’ of states, about a federal spirit, and giving the many Indias subsumed in this Union the space to determine their future direction. It is an idea that is eroding like a scary landslide—and the overlapping generations of Indians who do not carry memories of Gandhi’s ‘Do or Die’ call to action during the Bharat Chhodo (Quit India) agitation of 1942 may not readily see its likeness with Bharat Jodo.
It might falter if entitled, self-seeking politicians, wherever they might be in the Opposition lines, hold back because they don’t see personal gain. But that myopia will cost them all—because it is also a sink-or-swim-together moment in Indian politics.
You’ve heard, of course, not just from people in sold-out media or lazy commentators but others too that the Yatra is a last-ditch attempt by the Congress to find a toehold in the national imagination. If you were to judge simply on the basis of seats in the Lok Sabha or states where the party is still in power, that line of reasoning may seem plausible. But its critics often forget that the Congress does still have a wide berth in the public imagination. Which is also why the BJP fantasises about a Congress-mukt Bharat. Its critics forget that despite the venality that crept into its ranks because the party had been in power for many decades, the Congress, at its core, held fast to the binding commitments of our Constitution.
It is still associated in the public imagination with those ideas and those commitments. Petty ambition won’t go away, self-seeking politicians won’t go away—and the Congress has its fair share of those—but the Bharat Jodo Yatra, in its ambition and design, is bigger than them. If not for ideological convergence, and even if there are disagreements over details, civil society possibly acknowledges that the Yatra is not party-political in the way its detractors paint it.
The fissures in our society have certainly grown in recent times but they existed even when the Constitution was drafted and even during the Bharat Chhodo agitation of 1942. When Congress leaders were dumped in prisons en masse, people took charge of the movement and made it clear to their then colonial masters that they had had enough. India stands at a similar crossroads today, and it’s time to serve our current rulers stern notice.
The Bharat Jodo Yatra will hopefully remind people of our shared past, of the great odds this country has overcome and of the challenges that lie ahead. Indians from all walks of life need to rise and speak in one voice against the divisive policies and politics that have engulfed us. The Bharat Jodo Yatra needs to make people aware of their rights and remind politicians of their duty to ensure those rights. If the Yatra manages to reignite people’s hope in a better future, if it manages to remind us all that we must invest in our democracy if we care for it and for the liberties it affords, if it’s able to effectively communicate that democracy is not simply the exercise of a right to vote, it will have been worth it.
Published: 09 Sep 2022, 1:30 PM