'Tiger zinda hai': As Bharat Jodo Nyay Yatra kicks off, Ramesh says 2024 far from 'done deal'
Ramesh said the yatra from Manipur is a continuation of the Bharat Jodo Yatra and is derived from the first line of the Preamble to India's Constitution
Senior Congress leader Jairam Ramesh has rejected the BJP's claims that the 2024 poll results are a foregone conclusion, saying "tiger zinda hai (the tiger is alive)", and that the Opposition INDIA bloc will repeat the history of 2004, when the saffron party was unseated from power despite its 'India Shining' campaign.
In an interview with PTI, Ramesh asserted that only a strong Congress can ensure a strong opposition, and the Bharat Jodo Nyay Yatra is an effort to strengthen the grand old party.
On how poll preparations will be handled by the party while also managing its east to west yatra, Ramesh said a party organisation is in place and Rahul Gandhi would be part of the campaign despite his preoccupation with the yatra.
"The yatra will end by the time polls start. I expect the elections to start somewhere in the first week of April, by which time the yatra would have been over. Meetings can always be held on Zoom. I don't see it as a problem," he said, dismissing concerns that poll preparations may be hampered due to Gandhi's more than 6,700 km Manipur to Mumbai yatra.
Asked about the BJP's narrative that 2024 poll results were a foregone conclusion and what he would tell them, Ramesh borrowed from a popular Hindi film title to quip, "Tiger zinda hai, that is my constant refrain." Several BJP leaders have asserted that a third term for Prime Minister Narendra Modi is certain in 2024, and the party has set a target of over 400 plus Lok Sabha seats.
On whether he believes the Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance (INDIA) can spring a surprise in the 2024 Lok Sabha elections, Ramesh said, "All I can say is that in 2003, we lost Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, people wrote the Congress off, but in 2004, the Congress formed the government. India was shining at that time. History will repeat itself."
People will be moved more by the anyay kaal (period of injustice) of the last 10 years than the dream of amrit kaal, Ramesh said. "Amrit kaal is a dream, anyay kaal is a nightmare," he added.
In 2004, the Congress came back to power leading the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government, while the Atal Bihari Vajpayee-led NDA government lost the polls despite its high-decibel 'India Shining' campaign.
On whether the yatra will strengthen opposition unity with the Congress party also inviting all INDIA bloc leaders to join in, Ramesh said, "A weak Congress cannot ensure a strong opposition. Only a strong Congress can ensure a strong opposition. This Bharat Jodo Nyay Yatra is to strengthen the Congress."
Talking about the need for a follow-up yatra after the Kanyakumari to Kashmir Bharat Jodo Yatra which was also led by Gandhi, Ramesh said the yatra from Manipur is a continuation of the Bharat Jodo Yatra and is derived from the first line of the Constitution, which assures justice to all the people of India.
"There are four pillars to the Preamble: justice, liberty, equality and fraternity. Much of the yatra had to do with liberty, equality and fraternity, but now, we are focusing on the first pillar which is mentioned in the first line of the Preamble — justice, economic, social and political," the Congress general secretary said.
"So the main focus of this yatra is to take the Bharat Jodo Yatra forward with a focus on highlighting the last ten years which were not amrit kaal but anyay kaal, and the Congress' vision of ensuring political justice, economic justice and social justice," he said.
The yatra is also a way of connecting the leadership with inner party organisation. "We saw the results of the Bharat Jodo Yatra and I am not judging the results by what happened in Karnataka or Telangana. As I explained once, what it did was to bring about better connectivity for Rahul Gandhi and better collectivity for the organisation," he said.
"Whether this (yatra) is going to have an electoral impact or not is not my primary concern. It is a yatra by a political party. But it is an ideological yatra and not an electoral yatra," he asserted.
Ramesh also said he will not judge the yatra by how many seats the Congress is going to win in 2024. "What Rahul Gandhi is attempting to do in this yatra is basically reinforce the ideological message of the Congress, to highlight various injustices that have been inflicted on people and articulate over the next 66 days what the Congress and what he sees is the specific agenda for ensuring economic, social and political justice," he said.
He said the yatra is also about strengthening democratic institutions, freeing the country from one-man rule and highlighting in what way injustices have been done to women, farmers and youth. "Yes, the Congress party is ideologically committed, but it needs reinforcement from time to time, it needs communication from time to time, and that is what he (Gandhi) is attempting to do," Ramesh said.
"Of course, 2024 is an intermediate milestone that we have to pass. Ultimately we have to fight polls, we are not an NGO. But I'm not going to use that as a yardstick for determining what we are going to do as part of the yatra," he added.
The yatra will traverse 6,713 km, mostly in buses. It will cover 100 Lok Sabha constituencies over 110 districts in 67 days before culminating in Mumbai on 20 or 21 March.