Over 100 days of Bharat Jodo Yatra, Rahul holds a mirror to Congress peers
Rahul Gandhi has taken to the streets through his Bharat Jodo Yatra at a time when parity, or rather proximity, between people and politicians is getting lost and the gap between them is widening like seldom before. Now that he has been out on the roads for no less than 100 days, with his arms thrown wide open to hug whosoever comes his way with a rare warmth, the Congress leader appears to be changing the very mores of public life — and also, the ways of interaction between a leader and the lot that follows or may like to follow him.
Here is what those returning from the Yatra have to say: “Rahul’s Yatra has brought new hope. Thus, hordes of people are joining him every day on his long walks from morning to evening, or at least in between. They have myriad reasons to do so. Often, young adults come to him to talk about the lack of prospects and jobs before them. Economic hardship due to rising prices also brings lots of people to him. Social distress, deepening divide, and latent unease and tensions due to these are other reasons for the crowds that throng his route to swell. But his willingness to listen to the woes of others is more than anything else that draws mobs to him,” said a journalist-turned-lawyer from Delhi who recently joined him on a section of the Madhya Pradesh leg of the Yatra for a few days.
— Sachin Pilot (@SachinPilot) December 16, 2022
He added that he was more interested to know the mind of the people joining the Yatra rather than meeting Rahul. According to the lawyer, most participants looked worried while going home after joining at least a part of the Yatra, as they did not know what they could do to bring about the kind of change Rahul is looking for. Some say the best they can do is to express their feelings on social media platforms. But beyond that, they did not know anything about their possible role in the task initiated by Rahul through his Bharat Jodo Yatra to bring about unity, cohesion, and fraternal bonds among people.
That is where the Congress’s role may well come in, added the lawyer. The keen observer in him found out that a virtual “wall” still looms between a common citizen and second, third, or maybe even lower rungs of Congress leaders. The party badly needs committed and public-spirited workers to change the generally self-serving image of the grand old party, though there may be a few exceptions through its rank of leaders. That is so because Congress has come a long way from its tough times through the freedom struggle as also the first few decades of austere frugality followed by most of its leaders after Independence when people could easily identify with the Congress leadership from top to bottom. Long spells of power, position, and virtually unchallenged status have turned most Congresspersons complacent. By and large, party leaders have come to think that theirs is a party that may have a right to power by sheer default, courtesy others’ deficiencies, lapses, and faults.
A tinge of philosophy
But as power eludes Congress for nearly a decade or so now, the question before the rank and file of the party is — if Rahul can build bridges with commoners by footslogging for months, why can’t his peers do that in the right earnest? Rahul tries to be as much self-effacing as he can. At a Press conference held near Indore in Madhya Pradesh on November 28, he said, “…rise above self and try to understand the core and philosophy of your country.” He was answering a question posed by a journalist about what thoughts he had as a person called Rahul Gandhi after starting from Tamil Nadu and reaching as far as Madhya Pradesh on foot. Rahul started by saying in Hindi, “Bhai Saheb, maine Rahul Gandhi ko bahut saalon pichhey chhod diya hai (Dear brother! I left Rahul Gandhi far behind many years ago).” He added, “Rahul Gandhi may be lurking in your mind, but not in mine.”
The next day’s newspapers said the remark betrayed a tinge of “philosophy.” Yet, it came as a brush-off to self-obsession or an exaggerated sense of self-importance. More so since these are commonly associated with not only Rahul, whom his adversaries never fail to paint as a direct beneficiary of a multi-generational political dynasty, but also most big shots of the day who have little to do with Congress. Hubris has become the hallmark of the political class, and Rahul showed his contempt for it through a journalist’s question, as the context was bigger than a usual tiff or banter between a reporter and a leader.
The warning signs
The reason is that though what once started as a fervent tryst with destiny now seems to be at the cusp of profound changes to the course it has been treading ever since. Rahul has, indeed, sent the warning signs flashing, as most Congressmen see his Yatra as virtually bringing back the old charisma to the current scion of the Nehru-Gandhi family. It’s a pity that Rahul’s party colleagues could never shake off the charge of dynasty that has come to stick to the family. Since it still hangs, Rahul has apparently taken upon himself to disprove or wash it off. Dynasty can only sustain and flourish amid the abject powerlessness of the people it rules over.
Rahul’s Yatra’s point is that it has never been so from the point of view of Indian people under Congress rule, nor would he allow such a charge against him and the Congress to become an excuse to turn India into a virtual oligarchy run and controlled by a select few. The Congress is witnessing broad-basing since a new chief has taken over. It was during the time Rahul meandered through the Indian hinterlands on his Yatra. The new incumbent in the top party job, Mallikarjun Kharge, has risen through Congress ranks from rather abysmally humble moorings. And Rahul is hitting upon his adversaries for calling indigenous people or Adivasis as Vanvasis or forest dwellers.
Challenge to complacency culture
These and many more similar moves being made by Congress since Rahul began plodding through the country on September 7 from Kanyakumari down south bear testimony to the fact that Congress’s top brass has woken up to the challenge that stares the party and the polity hard in the face. Kharge has sounded a virtual ultimatum for Congress general secretaries and state unit observers to visit their assigned workplaces for 10 days a month to get feedback and streamline things up to the district and block levels. In the party’s steering committee meeting held on December 4, Kharge virtually told party office bearers to either shape up or ship out.
Thus, the culture of complacency trapping Congress for long appears to be coming under stiff challenge as Rahul trudges through large parts of the country, drawing huge response. He has so far covered eight states spread over south, west, and central India. The Yatra completes a good 100 days of wayfaring this Friday, or December 16. It will take a few days’ break before New Year Eve and resume early next year, ushering the party into what is virtually going to be the election year before the 2024 general election. So, the party higher-ups are being unambiguously told to pull up socks and get into battle mode.