Bharat Jodo Yatra has a historic significance going beyond electoral considerations
Though the Modi govt’s despotic hold on the country’s institutions is still strong, Rahul Gandhi’s refreshing direct approach to the people of India may yield rich dividends in the long run
It was snowing hard in Srinagar, the capital of Jammu and Kashmir, when the concluding ceremony of the Bharat Jodo Yatra took place on the morning of 30 January, 2023. Rahul Gandhi was finally donning a pheran, the traditional Kashmiri coat, as he delivered an emotionally rousing speech, delineating the aim and achievement of the Yatra.
Gandhi said it was a home-coming for him, as he understood the pain of the Kashmiris. Invoking the brutal assassinations of his grandmother and father, Gandhi said he dared himself to confront his fears, and overcome them. He had decided he would walk the final leg of the 4080-km-long Bharat Jodo Yatra in the snow-clad valleys of Kashmir, and despite security apprehensions, walk he did.
Gandhi’s speech at the Sher-e-Kashmir stadium in Srinagar under a fluttering tricolour struck a chord with the ordinary Kashmiris, Muslims and Hindu alike, those with mutilated hopes and dashed dreams. Coming from the depths of compassion and camaraderie, its resonance for the beleaguered peoples of Kashmir couldn’t be denied.
Gandhi had said in his previous interactions in Jammu and Kashmir that the restoration of the region’s statehood and rekindling of the democratic process were top priorities for the Indian National Congress. Gandhi has walked with both the Abdullahs and the Muftis, putting up a united front that was determined to return the democratic and electoral rights of the people of J&K, as well as Ladakh.
Starting from Kanyakumari, India’s southernmost point, on September 7, 2022, and walking all the way to Srinagar, over a five-month period, is a staggering feat for Rahul Gandhi and the Bharat Yatris. Lakhs of people joined Gandhi on the way, from cinema superstars to top politicians to former sportspersons, artists, writers, academics, activists, and even retired army persons, bankers, bureaucrats and former spymasters. To walk with Rahul Gandhi on this historic Yatra has been a statement in itself, an act of resistance at every step, as well as an act of solidarity with the walk’s intentions – to heal a wounded nation, to mend the yawning cracks in its national psyche with the sparkling gold of love, fraternity, compassion and justice.
Over the course of the Yatra, Gandhi conducted several press conferences as well as group and one-on-one interactions, but most of all, he carefully listened to the plaintiff heart of neglected, marginalised Indians – those displaced and uprooted from their lands, the victims of police atrocities, victims of communal pogroms and organised religious violence, the jobless and the homeless, men, women and children from every stratum of society.
The Yatra has been described as a “river” by Gandhi several times, taking along peoples from every corner of the country, a mini-nation on the move.
What political commentators and columnists have dismissed as nebulous and sketchy, has been embraced by the common peoples of India. The message of reminding Indians of the constitutional values of liberty, equality and fraternity rang a bell. Rahul Gandhi walking in a white T-shirt in the biting cold of December and January made headlines and gave rise to idle speculation about his mystery diet, but when Gandhi said that he wanted to feel the suffering of the millions who still don’t have warm clothes for the winter, there was stunned silence on the part of the commentariat.
Gandhi, as well as other Congress leaders, especially Jairam Ramesh and party president Mallikarjun Kharge, have repeatedly said that the Yatra didn’t have electoral objectives, but its aim was to drive home a deeper message of love and camaraderie. That it is a campaign against the incessant violence engineered by the massive machinery of the BJP-RSS in the name of religion, gender, caste, language and other identity markers.
Weathering pouring rain, blazing sun and hailing snow, Bharat Jodo Yatra has traversed the literal length of the country, with Gandhi physically taking the message to all and sundry. While Prime Minister Narendra Modi only hugs world leaders and billionaires, Gandhi has hugged the shirtless child shivering in the cold, crying women venting long-suppressed emotions, poor farmers and workers who spoke the harsh truths to Rahul fearlessly, knowing that they would be heard. It is this intimacy with the people of India that Gandhi has managed to forge in the Yatra, coming a long way from his early days of being a charming but distant political prince.
As explained by both Gandhi as well as Jairam Ramesh, the Yatra’s coordinator-cum-communicator-in-chief, the three political planks on which the Yatra began and sustained itself have been a) economic disparity (both unemployment and wealth gap between the haves and have-nots), b) social polarization (particularly the religious divide, but also linguistic and ethnic tensions boiling over), and c) centralization of power (institutional capture by the Modi government and the BJP-RSS, be it judiciary, the media, law enforcement, academia, among others).
At every point, Gandhi has managed to marry these three overarching issues with the local problems of the state related to land, water, resources, among others.
Gandhi has repeatedly emphasised that his is an ideological project to counter the vicious hate narrative of the RSS-BJP, and its economic, social and governmental manifestations of various shades.
Moreover, he has also said that the non-BJP/RSS secular parties in the opposition are welcome to come aboard the Yatra’s grand project, which is bringing India back from the brink of balkanization along communal lines, and the ongoing attack on federalism by the Modi government.
Given the spate of the international bad press that the Modi government, particularly Modi himself, has recently got, from the damning BBC documentary rekindling the airbrushed memories of the horrific Gujarat riots, or the Hindenburg report on the Modi crony Gautam Adani that has wiped out USD 50 billion of his overleveraged and inflated market value, the first leg of Rahul Gandhi’s ‘unity’ project couldn’t have culminated at a more politically opportune time.
Though the despotic hold of the Modi government on the country’s institutions and electoral math is still strong, Gandhi’s refreshing direct approach to the people of India may yield rich dividends in the long run.
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