Bharat Jodo or Congress Jodo?
Rahul Gandhi, a leader of Congress and the convener of the Bharat Jodo Yatra, is making a great and ambitious effort to unify India by walking 3,500 kilometres across 12 states from Kanyakumari to Kashmir. The padayatra has a long and storied history in the political system of the Indian subcontinent. Collectively walking is a political act, especially when used as a channel for political communication. And the building of relationships and dialogue-based interactions are at its core. It has developed a strong bond with protest language and communication, acting as a catalyst for consciousness-raising and bringing previously invisible groups into the political and intellectual mainstream.
Readers should keep in mind how well Mahatma Gandhi used the padayatra to inspire the general populace throughout the freedom movement. It is still an effective political tactic utilised for mobilisation as well as partisan gains that make use of its imagery.
The 3,570 km long Bharat Jodo Yatra of the Congress party, which spans 12 states and two union territories over 150 days from Kanyakumari to Kashmir, has a stated goal. It aims to bring the nation together in opposition to the crisis of politics becoming entwined with prejudice, intolerance, and conflicts over religion, caste, and community. The Bharat Yatra of former Prime Minister Chandra Shekhar, which involved a 4,260-km trek from Kanyakumari to Rajghat and took place from 6 January 1983 to 25 June 1983, was the only other yatra that was longer overall.
It’s not Rahul Gandhi’s first padayatra. In order to protest the alleged atrocities committed by the Mayawati government, which was in power in Uttar Pradesh at the time, against farmers regarding the purchase of their land, he embarked on a 105-km walk from Bhatta-Parsaul in Greater Noida to Aligarh in 2011. In that neither Chandra Shekhar’s Bharat Yatra nor Gandhi’s yatra sought votes or used political language while on their treks, they are somewhat comparable. Chandra Shekhar, on the other hand, concentrated on listening to those he encountered while on the padayatra. In reality, he had described the padayatra as “educative,” and its stated goal was to familiarise him with the circumstances in rural India. The padayatra mode has an inherent tendency to personalise politics because political leaders use it to try to present an ascetic, charismatic, messianic, or popular image. Gandhi also used the Bharat Jodo Yatra as a means of self-expression. Gandhi may be a new political ascetic in modern democratic politics, but is he on the right track? Does he intend to convey through the yatra the picture of an affable, organic leader who understands the struggles of the people?
Every stage of the Bharat Jodo Yatra serves to further Vivekanand’s message of Universal Brotherhood. At the very beginning of the Yatra, Gandhi declares, “Love will triumph over hate. Hope will triumph over fear. Digvijay Singh, a senior member of the Congress, stated: “Our nationalism flows out of the Constitution and humanity. Their nationalism is founded on injustice and hatred. Gandhi started his yatra by paying respects at the scene of his father, former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s, murder. The politics of nationalism are fundamentally based on love, sacrifice, and service to one’s country.
His message of harmony is as inspiring as it is innocently utopian, especially in the face of polarising sectarian rhetoric that has evolved into the quickest path to political success. He has attempted to develop a new set of rules for political action that are apart from short-term electoral considerations through his speeches and interactions. It represents an effort to strike a balance between radicalism, which seeks to change society via political action, and status quo politics, which merely reflect and reproduce current social conditions. Gandhi has attempted to distinguish the current version of Hindutva from its own original content and meaning, however flimsy that separation may be, by paying homage to A.B. Vajpayee, the first Prime Minister from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). He has undoubtedly become Hindutva’s most ardent opponent over the course of the march, but that may not increase his ability to fight it or position himself as the centre of politics that oppose it.
Therefore, is Rahul Gandhi’s padayatra a publicity stunt, a nautanki, or a sincere effort to bring India together? The final issue is that even if the aim is excellent, arranging the padayatra successfully across India is taking up a significant amount of time at the moment. People and party workers appear to be equally committed to the success of the padayatra. Will it, though, result in votes? At the end of the day, that must be considered. There is an election that needs to be fought and won; it is not an athletic competition or a cross-country race. The country currently needs a strong opposition to the nationalistic politics of the BJP; it needs a leader, not an athlete. So the question of whether Rahul Gandhi is delivering is still open.Although Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Yatra is winning over hearts and is effective overall, Congress still has to establish a local organisation in each state. Rahul Gandhi’s position as a Congress mass leader is strengthened by the Bharat Jodo Yatra. It is too soon to say whether this will result in votes or not, as nobody is sure who is walking behind him at this point. The local leaders are not receiving much attention and appear to be entirely absorbed.
The goal of the yatra, according to a number of spokespersons and Congress leaders, is to draw attention to the nation’s political, social, and economic issues. However, the yatra’s overall tone and focus favour the abstract over the concrete. The Yatra focuses on the abstract concepts of “Idea of India,” “National Unity and Integrity,” and “Sarva Dharma Sambhav” while evoking feelings like hope, fear, love, and resolve. Concrete legislative guidelines, effective administration, the Constitution, and other instruments that give these principles social and political legitimacy uphold them. The Bharat Jodo Yatra must thus draw attention to the situation of the populace and the dire problems that still lie ahead. What social or political organisations or groups does the Bharat Jodo Yatra intend to influence? Is it the underprivileged, farmers, workers, and young people? Or is it the Adivasis, Dalits, Muslims, and other backward groups? What promises does this padayatra make given that it has no explicit electoral goals? Is it devoid of promises in addition to being abstract in content? If the yatra is to be successful and avoid turning into yet another political stunt in the name of combating Hindutva majoritarianism, these issues must be given serious consideration.
For Rahul, social harmony is the means and ends of politics. Though, as his own heroic fight to the BJP and its Hindutva ideology is clearly out, politics cannot escape contestation and struggle. This poses a major challenge to that idea. It is not altogether novel to consider politics as a tool for bringing about social change as opposed to a means of seizing control of the government. There have been many individuals and groups throughout India’s long history who have viewed politics as a moral endeavour, including the Mahatma, Vinoba Bhave, and Jayaprakash Narayan. Rahul is aware of the reality he is facing, and he has only the best of intentions. It is more difficult to understand the nuanced relationship between state authority and social objectives. Rahul Gandhi’s job is to translate moral clarity into viable politics.