Bharat Jodo Nyay Yatra to refocus spotlight on 'bread-and-butter issues'
The Congress has said it is taking out the yatra as the government did not give it a chance to raise people's issues in Parliament
Congress MP Rahul Gandhi embarks on his Bharat Jodo Nyay Yatra from violence-hit Manipur today with the party looking to set the narrative in the run-up to the Lok Sabha polls by placing the spotlight on issues such as unemployment (particularly among the youth), price rise, and social justice.
A day before the yatra, the Congress asserted that the yatra is an ideological yatra and not an electoral one, and was being taken out against the 'anyay kaal (era of injustice)' of 10 years of the Narendra Modi government.
The yatra will be flagged off from a private ground in Thoubal district, instead of Imphal, the party's initial choice. The district administration has also imposed some restrictions, such as the duration of the launch should not exceed an hour, and the number of participants should not cross 3,000.
The yatra will pass through more than 100 Lok Sabha constituencies in 15 states from east to west India, and the party believes it will prove to be as "transformative" as Rahul Gandhi's earlier cross-country march, the Bharat Jodo Yatra of 2022-23.
One of the primary aims of the yatra is to draw attention to rising unemployment, which according to the September 2023 State of Working India report by Azim Premji University "remains above 15% for graduates, and more worryingly, it touches a huge 42% for graduates under 25 years”.
The Congress has said it is taking out the yatra as the government did not give it a chance to raise people's issues in Parliament and the initiative is aimed at re-establishing the principles of justice, liberty, equality and fraternity enshrined in the Constitution.
The yatra will traverse 6,713 km, mostly in buses but also on foot. It will cover 110 districts in 67 days, before culminating in Mumbai on March 20 or 21.
Though the Congress has repeatedly stressed that this is not an electoral yatra, it comes at a crucial juncture as the party seeks to revive its fortunes after its modest showing in the last round of assembly elections in November 2023.
With the BJP focusing on the 22 January Ram temple consecration ceremony, the Congress wants to put the spotlight on bread-and-butter issues through the yatra, which it has described as an extension of the Bharat Jodo Yatra.
Congress general secretary Jairam Ramesh said the biggest challenge before the country is that it is facing an ideology which believes in polarisation, economic inequalities, and political authoritarianism. "The prime minister shows golden dreams of amrit kaal but what is the reality of the last 10 years — anyay kaal. No mention of anyay kaal is made while big boasts of amrit kaal are projected," Ramesh said.
He was addressing a press conference in Imphal along with former Manipur chief minister Okram Ibobi Singh, state party chief Keisham Meghachandra Singh, former Arunachal Pradesh CM Nabam Tuki, and Congress Working Committee member Gaikhangam.
Ahead of the yatra, Gandhi shared a video montage of women from Manipur sharing their wishes for the march. "This message of love from the women of Manipur is the blessing we need before we begin our battle for justice tomorrow," he said on his WhatsApp channel.
Gandhi had on Friday said emotive issues are being politically "misused" and attention is being diverted from real issues, in a "betrayal" of the people of the country. In a post on X, he said, "The youth will have to think about what will be the identity of the India of our dreams? Quality of life or just emotions? Youth raising provocative slogans or the employed youth? Love or hate?".
The yatra will be in Manipur for a day and cover a little over 100 km. The state has been rocked by ethnic violence since May last year, which has claimed nearly 200 lives and rendered thousands of people homeless.
At the press conference, Ramesh lashed out at the BJP-led Central and state governments for the situation in Manipur. "What can be a bigger anyay (injustice) than the prime minister not visiting the state even once?" he asked, and censured PM Modi for maintaining "silence" on the violence in the northeastern state.
During a virtual meeting of the opposition INDIA bloc on Saturday, Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge invited all leaders of the bloc to join the yatra anywhere along its route, Ramesh added.
Besides Manipur, the yatra will cover four northeastern states — Nagaland (257 km in two days), Arunachal Pradesh (55 km in one day), Meghalaya (five km in one day) and Assam (833 km in eight days). It will then move on to West Bengal, Bihar, Jharkhand, Odisha, Chhattisgarh, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Gujarat and Maharashtra.
According to the route released by the party, the yatra will stay the longest in Uttar Pradesh, covering 1,074 km in 11 days and passing through politically vital areas, including Amethi, the Gandhi family bastion of Rae Bareli, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi's constituency of Varanasi.
Gandhi will address public gatherings and interact with civil society members and organisations twice a day during the yatra. Before starting the yatra, he will pay homage to martyrs at the Khongjom War Memorial in Thoubal, built in memory of those killed in the last Anglo-Manipur War of 1891.