On the 100th day of the Bharat Jodo Yatra on Friday, there were telling visuals from Rahul Gandhi’s foot march in Rajasthan. Walking alongside him were Member of Parliament Pratibha Singh and her two detractors who put paid to her ambitions—newly appointed Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu and his deputy Mukesh Agnihotri. Sachin Pilot, walking right behind Sukhu and Singh in the frame, looked pensive.
What was he brooding over? Let me guess. Has Himachal Pradesh set a new template of decision-making in his party, ignoring the Late Virbhadra Singh’s family in favour of new leadership? Pilot would know that Gehlot is no Pratibha Singh whose loyalty to the Gandhis was suspect and who enjoyed little support from MLAs. But Pilot may like to remember Sonia Gandhi’s words to district Congress presidents several years back. In the Congress, the queue is long but they must know that sooner or later “sabkaa number aataa hai (everybody gets a chance).” Pilot’s patience must be running out. Signs of decisiveness in Himachal Pradesh may give him hope.
Unlike in Goa and Manipur in 2017 when it was caught flat-footed, the party was swift and decisive in the hill state. It’s another thing that Maharashtra Chief Minister Eknath Shinde may also claim some credit for it. Congress high command’s emissaries in Shimla were alerted about some turncoats approaching potential defectors among party MLAs. “Maharashtra model (Shiv Sena rebel leader, Shinde, becoming the CM with the BJP playing second fiddle in the government) was also under discussion. That’s why we decided to seal the deal, instead of returning to Delhi with a one-line resolution (authorising the high command to nominate the CM) as planned,” one of the emissaries told this writer. Be that as it may, the Congress looks like a stable ship in Himachal for now.
Getting top Himachal leaders and other MLAs to join Rahul Gandhi in his yatra was also a not-very-subtle way of showing who runs the party. There was an unstated message. The Congress may have a new president, Mallikarjun Kharge, and Rahul might not have campaigned in the state, but leaders shouldn’t get funny ideas about who should be credited with election victories. And if a section of party leaders saw in Himachal results a stamp of Priyanka Vadra and her team, her absence from the frame last Friday should set the record straight.
Poll strategist Prashant Kishor would often point out that for decades, the Congress didn’t launch a single movement. He advocated JP Nadda model for the Congress. Well, the Gandhis have obviously taken his advice. But PK would probably have many reservations about the Bharat Jodo Yatra’s format.
Also read: Bharat Jodo Yatra isn’t just about Rahul Gandhi. It’s a walking classroom on public policy
Rahul Gandhi-centric Yatra
On the completion of 100 days, Congress’ Member of Parliament KC Venugopal said, “The BJP’s attempt to demolish his (RG’s) image has also been destroyed by us.” In pictures from the yatra, one sees Rahul Gandhi tying his mother’s shoe laces, hugging old women affectionately, fondly holding children in his lap, displaying football skills — essentially, a kind, caring and warm-hearted person. The entire social media team of the Congress went into overdrive to showcase these images. That shows a basic flaw in the Congress’ analysis of Narendra Modi’s popularity. It’s not because he is seen washing his mother’s feet or feeding peacocks. It’s because of the vision he showed to the aspirational India, howsoever faulty it might be for many.
Has the Bharat Jodo Yatra been able to re-invent Rahul Gandhi as a politician in terms of his vision for the country? He has addressed half-a-dozen press conferences, given two-three interviews to YouTubers and interviewed former Reserve Bank of India governor Raghuram Rajan on everything that he sees wrong with the economy. It’s all about carping criticism of the Modi government’s policies, something he has been doing all these years. Essentially, removing Modi is his alternative vision, which people haven’t bought since 2014. A Congress leader told me citing his conversation with Rahul Gandhi that the Congress he has at least 10 years left in him to fight against Modi and he would keep doing that. Well, that’s not the vision that would cheer up Congress workers and leaders.
Need for Congress Jodo Yatra
Uttar Pradesh BJP chief Bhupendra Singh Chaudhary said that Rahul Gandhi should launch a Congress Jodo Yatra.
The Congress leader may want to take it as an advice. Getting Sukhu and Pratibha Singh or Pilot and Ashok Gehlot in a single photo frame is one thing but getting them together outside is another. Rahul Gandhi was in Telangana a few days back. Knives are now out between Telangana Congress chief Revanth Reddy and his detractors. In Kerala, his confidant Venugopal’s group has ensured that Shashi Tharoor’s tour of North Kerala last month made more headlines for internal bickering in the party. In Karnataka, DK Shivkumar and Siddaramaiah did their best to ensure a good turnout during Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Yatra in the state. But the yatra did nothing to bring them together. DK Shivkumar and Siddaramaiah working at cross purposes is the single most impediment to the Congress’ road to power in Karnataka. Even as Rahul Gandhi’s yatra continues in Rajasthan, the war between Gehlot and Sachin casts a big shadow over the Congress’ prospects in next year’s assembly election. There are similar divisions in every state unit.
If Rahul Gandhi can’t keep his own party together, his mission to bring the country together may not sound convincing.
Also read: Finally, this is a Rahul Gandhi that India can relate to
Political yatra turned into tapasya
Rahul Gandhi maintains that the Bharat Jodo Yatra is not for any political or personal interest, but against the politics of hate, fear and violence.
The idea has rallied the Left liberal intelligentsia around him, for sure. From actor Swara Bhaskar to activist Medha Patkar and from lawyer Prashant Bhushan to author Tushar Gandhi—the list is impressive. The only drawback in this list is that it’s drawn from Congress’ extended eco-system. It’s like preaching to the converted. That doesn’t help the Congress expand its support base and breach the BJP’s. When Bharat Jodo Yatra was conceptualised, it was meant to be a mass mobilisation programme to rejuvenate the party. It wasn’t supposed to be Rahul Gandhi’s tapasya or spiritual quest. He has made it truly apolitical so far as the Congress is concerned.
DK Singh is Political Editor, ThePrint. He tweets @dksingh73. Views are personal.
(Edited by Ratan Priya)