No BJY 2.0 yet, but mission same for Rahul’s impromptu trips: Public outreach

His disqualification as MP has had a liberating experience on Rahul Gandhi, and he is now even more determined to spend as much time he can with ordinary people, said a leader close to him

Rahul Gandhi, truck drivers, mann ki baat, BJY2,
Rahul Gandhi’s Murthal-to-Ambala truck ride and interaction with truck drivers at a dhaba on the Delhi-Chandigarh highway was part of a “series of impromptu, unscripted and personal conversations” with people from different walks of life, said a source close to him | Pic: Twitter/K C Venugopal

There may yet be no word on when, if at all, Rahul Gandhi will embark on the second leg of his Bharat Jodo Yatra. But the former Congress president seems determined to continue his “quest for listening to the mann ki baat” of common citizens, a pitch that was at the core of his 4,000-km cross-country walkathon.

Sources close to the disqualified Lok Sabha MP told The Federal that Gandhi’s truck ride from Murthal to Ambala in Haryana on Monday (May 22) night has to be seen as a “continuation of the same mission of understanding the problems of the common man that was at the heart of the Bharat Jodo Yatra”.

On Tuesday (May 23), the Congress’ Instagram Page also put out a post titled ‘The Historic Bharat Jodo Yatra Continues’ with images from Gandhi’s truck ride and similar unannounced outings he had over the past two months.

Ever since the Bharat Jodo Yatra, which had commenced from Kanyakumari on September 7 last year, concluded in Kashmir’s Srinagar on January 30, the Congress has kept up the suspense on whether a similar mass outreach programme would be led by Gandhi in the run up to the 2024 Lok Sabha elections.

The party, at its 85th plenary session in Raipur in February this year, had resolved to undertake “mass-contact programmes to follow up to the Bharat Jodo Yatra”. Later, the Congress’ communications chief Jairam Ramesh had indicated that an “east-to-west multi-modal hybrid yatra” could be launched later this year, tentatively commencing from Pasighat in Arunachal Pradesh and concluding at Porbandar in Gujarat.

No BJY 2.0 yet

However, Congress sources told The Federal that “no concrete discussions” have taken place since then to draw up plans for BJY 2.0 ostensibly because the party first got caught up with planning agitations over Gandhi’s conviction in the ‘Modi surname’ defamation case, which subsequently led to his disqualification from the Lok Sabha, and then with the Karnataka assembly poll campaign.

Watch: Rahul Gandhi goes to coffee shop, takes a bus | Karnataka election

Gandhi, on his part though, has been consistently reaching out to various sections of society. His Murthal-to-Ambala truck ride and interaction with truck drivers at a dhaba on the Delhi-Chandigarh highway, while he was on his way from Delhi to Shimla to spend some time at sister Priyanka Gandhi Vadra’s house, was part of this “series of impromptu, unscripted and personal conversations” with people from different walks of life, a source close to the former Wayanad MP said.

Over the past few months, particularly since his disqualification from parliament, the 52-yearold Nehru-Gandhi scion has made several such outings. These were either linked to the Karnataka elections or were projected by the mainstream media as part of a PR drive to boost Gandhi’s image following his conviction by the Surat CJM court.

More interactions

For instance, in April, days before he vacated his 12, Tughlaq Lane residence in Lutyen’s Delhi — the house had been allocated to him by the government ever since he was first elected to the Lok Sabha 19 years ago — Rahul made headlines for his street food trail to Delhi’s Bengali Market and the Jama Masjid area of Shahjahanabad (Old Delhi).

As this outing was broadcast on actor and food writer Kunal Vijaykar’s (he accompanied Gandhi) YouTube Channel ‘Khane Mei Kya Hai’, many believed it was part of the Congress’s communication strategy to highlight the “personal and not just political side” of Gandhi — a strategy that the party had also employed throughout the BJY when the former party chief gave a series of interviews only to non-mainstream journalists and bloggers who operate almost exclusively on YouTube or other social media platforms.

Also read: Karnataka polls: Rahul Gandhi takes Bengaluru bus ride to hear what women want

However, the food walk with Vijaykar wasn’t an isolated event. Around the same time, Gandhi also visited northwest Delhi’s Mukherjee Nagar, a locality frequented by students of all ages and disciplines, where he interacted with a group of youths preparing for the civil services examinations. A few days later, Gandhi was visited a Delhi University hostel to interact with students over lunch — a meeting that eventually irked the varsity’s management that now has among its ranks several members directly or indirectly affiliated with the BJP.

Gandhi’s interactions at Mukherjee Nagar and the Delhi University hostel, like another rendezvous he had earlier this month with residents of Delhi’s Shakur Basti locality — the conversations here revolved around problems arising out of rising prices and the threat of demolition of houses that plagues the locals — were shared on Gandhi’s personal social media pages on YouTube, Telegram and Facebook.

Also read: Karnataka polls: Rahul rides pillion on delivery person’s scooter in Bengaluru

Karnataka exposure

The Karnataka campaign also saw Gandhi taking time out of the campaign for such “spontaneous interactions”, most of which were not part of the plan that the state Congress unit had prepared for his election campaign, an Indian Youth Congress leader said.

Sources said that though Gandhi’s stops at the Nandini Milk booths were discussed with the party’s election strategists as the Amul versus Nandini controversy had evolved into a political issue in the then poll-bound state, his subsequent interactions with gig workers and Bengaluru Metropolitan Transport Corporation (BMTC) bus commuters, particularly women, and his 2-km scooter ride with a Blinkit Delivery Partner were “not pre-planned events like the ones Narendra Modi is famous for”.

A party leader close to Gandhi told The Federal that “the haste with which the government got him (Gandhi) disqualified from Lok Sabha and took away his house has had a liberating experience on Rahul… with his government accommodation and his Lok Sabha membership gone, he is now even more determined to spend as much time he can, within the limitations of his security protocols and despite other political commitments, with ordinary people… he keeps saying that a barrier has been broken and he wants to utilise this opportunity to understand people’s issues and also what they think of him as a politician or what they expect from the Congress party”.

Later this month, Gandhi, who has now applied for an ordinary passport after surrendering the diplomatic passport that he had held until now in the capacity of an MP, is scheduled to visit the US where he will meet with the Indian diaspora and interact with students at Stanford University.

More visits?

There is, however, no clarity yet on whether, upon his return to India, Gandhi will also venture beyond Delhi specifically to meet people from different strata of society or if, like the bus ride on the Chandigarh highway, his interactions would be woven into his itinerary for personal or political tours.

A senior Congress MLA from Chhattisgarh told The Federal that “Rahul Gandhi must make such spontaneous plans to also reach out to tribals, Dalits, and religious minorities, as well as farmers and workers employed in different informal sectors, in poll-bound states like Chhattisgarh, MP, Rajasthan, and Telangana… This will send a very positive message to the people and it will also keep our own party leaders on their toes because you never know what feedback people will give him about the Congress, especially in states like Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan where we are in power”.