Bharat Jodo Yatra aims to cleanse politics and empower people to question

Time will tell how successful Bharat Jodo Yatra will be to heal the nation. But this is the best bet to keep hope alive

Bharat Jodo Yatra aims to cleanse politics and empower people to question

Zafar Agha

Kuldip Nayar was born in Sialkot in the year 1923. A veteran journalist, author of Between the Lines and a former High Commissioner of India to United Kingdom, he was 91 years old in 2014.

He had seen the Partition and the riots that followed. He had covered the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi, witnessed the Emergency and seen all the prime ministers from Jawaharlal Nehru to Narendra Modi. It seemed like a good idea to speak to him about India and Independence before the first Independence Day address by Narendra Modi as Prime Minister.

Kuldip Nayar passed away in 2018 at the age of 95. But till the very end, his memory was sharp and his mind remained alert to what was happening around him. Once the video interview with him at his residence got over, I commented that he seemed rather pessimistic about the future of the country. Pensive, he looked at nothing in particular and after a long pause said slowly, “Those who do not have first-hand knowledge of the carnage that followed the Partition cannot comprehend how difficult it is to counter the politics of hate”.

But India did overcome the Partition trauma, I reminded him, and hopefully added that the hate of ‘Hindutva’ would also peter out with time. India will weather the storm, you will see, I told him, in part to reassure myself. Kuldip Nayar looked sadly at me and replied, “But there is no Gandhi or Nehru around today to lead us out of this madness.”

He was prescient. Few of us had imagined the kind of hatred that would sweep through society in just about eight years. People from the minority community and saner people who object to vandalism, violence and bigotry have been lynched or manhandled. So-called saints have openly called for genocide. People have been booked for sedition over Facebook posts. Police have detained student leaders in their hostels for fear that they would demonstrate against the government. Rapists have been feted and garlanded by ministers. The life-sentence of people convicted for gangrape and murder has been remitted. Who could have imagined the scale of this madness?

Before 2014, people blamed the government for everything. Corruption, price-rise, the value of the rupee, the poor economy, unemployment – the litany was long. But barely eight years later, when the economy is infinitely worse, when prices are a lot higher, when the rich have become richer and the poor far poorer and when unemployment is at a 45-year high, there is little sign of dissatisfaction.

Even those who suffered from the government’s mishandling of the pandemic seem resigned to their fate. They would rather blame their stars but not the government. What can the Prime Minister do, he is trying his best, is all that they say. Is this madness or caused by fear bordering on terror?

Bureaucrats, judges, police officers dare not speak even in family gatherings about policies or criticise the government. They would not like to run into trouble after retirement, they explain. The government is vindictive and why risk anything, they ask.

It is in the middle of such gloom that the Bharat Jodo Yatra was flagged off this week at Kanyakumari. In view of the toxicity that one sees in politics today, with everything geared to win elections and build a cult around politicians, the message of the Yatra has been kept simple. People must come together to fight hate and stand up for the country. If they are suffering and their voices are not being heard, the Yatra aims to listen to them and share their concerns and pain.

Whether the gesture is too little and has come too late will no doubt be discussed extensively. But like him or not, Rahul Gandhi is the only politician around who seems to be thinking beyond elections and power-grabs.

The heart-warming response the Yatra has received in the first few days holds out hope for the future; that Indians can freely voice their concerns and their opinion is reassuring. Public figures and political figures interacting with the common man, people of all ages answering their questions is in such contrast to the one-sided monologue we have got used to.

It is equally heart-warming to see women, children, youth, the poor and the powerful, the handicapped and the entitled interact during the Yatra. The movement back to the roots is a much-needed antidote to the brand of politics powered by Electoral Bonds. Politics is meant for people and it is the people who need to be empowered.

Only time will tell how successful the Yatra is going to be. But if the Yatra succeeds in inspiring people to question those in authority and shames the media into speaking truth to power, this country of ours will be a better place to live in.

One of the participants summed up the motivation. India won freedom because of the sacrifice made by millions of Indians and leaders who spent the better part of their lives behind bars, said one adding, ‘can’t we devote a few days, weeks or months for the country?’

On that note, let us hope Indians find a new confidence and hope, a fresh purpose to rebuild a bruised and divided nation.

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