The last public appearance of former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee was in December 2006 at Lucknow in connection with the BJP National Executive. The political climate had not been favourable for the BJP for some time. They had not recovered from the drubbing in the 2004 general elections. Their go-to- man, super strategist and future leader Pramod Mahajan, was killed in an extremely unfortunate and poignant circumstances.
The crucial Uttar Pradesh election was due to be held within months. Samajwadi supremo Mulayam Singh Yadav was the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh at that time and Mayawati was all set for a phenomenal comeback. BJP was nowhere in the picture. By that time the legendary poetic oratory skills of Vajpayee had well become a thing of past. But on that chilly Christmas eve, he managed to underline one sentence with absolute clarity — there is only one path which leads to Delhi, it’s through Lucknow. (Dilli ke liye sirf ek hee rasta hei, wo Lucknow se hei). Most of the BJP leaders could not understand the meaning of that sentence for some time.
In a welcome move, after long eight years of indolence, opposition Indian National Congress has decided to launch a national campaign against the BJP rule. The basic idea is excellent, if not novel. It is to cover 12 states and 3,570 km by foot, 150 days from Kanyakumari to Kashmir. Rahul Gandhi is leading the ‘padayatra’ with an important slogan — to ‘Unite India’ or Bharat Jodo — even though he is still reluctant to take over the position of the party chief.
Also read: Bharat Jodo Yatra: Rahul Gandhi begins day 12 by interacting with fisherfolk in Alappuzha
The padayatra, flagged off from Kanyakumari on September 7, is now passing through Kerala. It may be too early to comment, but it seems that the Congress party is committing some mistakes. One-third of this 150-day yatra is covering two states only, Kerala and Karnataka. For these two states, the party has earmarked more than 40 days and 10 other states will get over 100 days, including break days.
As per the original schedule, the yatra was to spend only two days in Uttar Pradesh which was extended for another three days, thanks to sharp critique from various corners. The padayatra won’t be travelling through Gujarat even though this year marks two decades of 2002 Gujarat riots and, moreover, assembly election in the state is due this December. It will skip major areas of BJP-ruled states, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh. It has no intention to enter Chhattisgarh. Congress leaders are giving some puerile explanation like the UP is horizontally located and this yatra is vertically planned. And they are planning a different yatra from Gujarat to Arunachal next year (after Gujarat elections?) if (?) this yatra is successful.
The major issue is not the route, but politics — or rather the lack of it — of the yatra. The yatra is supposed to pass through Indian villages, meet common public and talk to them about their concerns. Students and women are part of it.
Even though the yatra is widely covered — at least in the Malayalam media — each and every story lacks political content, precisely what the yatra too is missing. Similar looking public relation material is being handed out, being printed in newspapers, telecast on TV and circulated on social media — elderly people hugging and kissing Rahul, he holding kids, sitting with common people in local tea stalls; people weeping, sobbing and overwhelmed by the presence of great Indiraji’s grandson. There are videos of young girls made up like Indira Gandhi on the streets to welcome Rahul. The latest is Rahul rowing a boat through Punnamada backwaters of Alappuzha where the famous ‘Nehru Trophy’ boat race takes place.
Missing out on issues
At one point Rahul Gandhi actually said this yatra is to heal the wounds that BJP has inflicted upon our country. But most of the pro-Congress social media accounts and pro-Congress media kept mum about that. Everyone, including the highly circulated Malayala Manorama, which is known for its pro-Congress stance, reported about the waves of delight and exuberance of Congress workers and general public. So far, the Nehruvian ancestral legacy is the only USP of the yatra. We can see a few comments about inflation in Rahul’s social media posts, but not as the primary concern of the yatra. KPCC’s official pages are totally silent on Hindutva, pro-Adani decisions, crony capitalism, religious discrimination, Kashmir, draconian laws, jailed activists, inflation or unemployment. They are just rejoicing the presence of Rahul Gandhi on Kerala streets.
There are at least two major yatras in the recent memory of Indian society. One was Lal Krishna Advani’s bloody and virulent Rath yatra for Ram Janmabhoomi. The yatra led to increasing divisions in the society. The second one was the padayatra of Dr YS Rajasekhara Reddy aka Rajanna. He travelled almost 1,600 kms within 60 days through 11 districts of the erstwhile united Andhra Pradesh and met with huge crowds all over the state. He was not travelling in a straight line, but traversing through the length and breadth of the state. He braved the scorching heat of April and May to talk about drought-related issues and state government’s apathy towards people. These two yatras, which targeted two different categories of people, were a huge success.
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Kerala is being ruled by CPI(M)-led LDF and they have showed their commitment against Hindutva ideology and BJP rule in the past without an iota of doubt. So, the LDF is a natural ally of the Congress against the BJP in any national level scenario. And, in the last national election, the Congress-led UDF won 19 out of 20 seats in Kerala. Even if they manage to repeat the performance in Kerala, that won’t count much in Delhi. Normally people may expect the Congress to talk loudly against the BJP and develop an anti-Hindutva sentiment in Kerala. But Rahul and his team are keeping a diffident silence on this issue and BJP-RSS is ignoring the yatra altogether.
Questions on yatra
Some questions arise here. What is the Congress’s real political motto? What do they want to achieve through this yatra? It seems that the party is still not ready to face real questions and issues. In Jaipur, while addressing a Congress rally against rising inflation, Rahul Gandhi had said that India should bring back real Hindus to the power instead of Hindutvavadis. That kind of immature political understanding is still visible during this yatra, implying that there won’t be any discussion on the Gyanwapi mosque row throughout the journey.
The Goan merger of Congress into the BJP and Captain Amarinder Singh’s inevitable entry into team lotus happened during the yatra. If this political movement refuses to talk about life and death issues, how would the general public take it seriously? Or do they just want to have nice Rahul moments, with soft, non-political stories playing out in the media?
There is no short cut to Delhi. Every party, every movement has to go through Lucknow to reach there. South India, unfortunately, can’t alone hold the fort of democracy. The Congress and Rahul Gandhi should not miss the bus if they are to reach the destination, for which they would need real political will and grit. The family legacy is no longer a USP even inside the party.