The Congress party's Bharat Jodo Yatra, with Rahul Gandhi in the lead, has got off to an enthusiastic start with the core team of padyatris receiving resounding cheers, and flowers as they marched along with music and slogans.

Rahul Gandhi and the key leaders are making sure that the message of the yatra is communicated to the people at every step. From Kanyakumari to Kashmir, the Congress workers and leaders set out on September 7 morning - spending nights in containers mounted on trucks after walking at least 20-25 km a day.

On Thursday morning, Rahul Gandhi and other senior Congress leaders set foot on their 3,570 kilometre yatra from Kanyakumari to Kashmir. The message of the yatra was amplified by the Congress leaders through press interactions, making it clear that the padyatris were on the road to counter hate and to mobilise the people on the real issues of spiralling price rise and growing unemployment.

The yatra was formally launched on September 7 in Kanyakumari, Tamil Nadu, where the national flag was presented to Rahul Gandhi by Chief Minister MK Stalin in the presence of senior Congress leaders like Ashok Gehlot, Bhupesh Bagel and Jairam Ramesh. Before the event, Gandhi also visited the memorial of his father and former Prime Minister of India Rajiv Gandhi at Sriperumbudur. In a tweet soon after the visit, Gandhi said, "I lost my father to the politics of hate and division. I will not lose my beloved country to it too. Love will conquer hate."

Gandhi then proceeded to visit a 101-year-old school where he interacted with the students. He also met with the family of late Anita, an MBBS aspirant who died by suicide in 2017 after failing to clear the NEET exams. Her family has since then been demanding that NEET be abolished. Gandhi also met with several Dalit activists.

Gandhi is now in Kerala. According to Sumanth Raman, a political analyst, it was not a random decision to start the yatra from Kanyakumari, Tamil Nadu and spend considerable time there.. "Kanyakumari is an area that has had a very strong Congress presence. Generally, out of six or seven assembly seats in the region, at least 3 or 4 are represented by Congress candidates. That's probably why they wanted to spend a few days there. They intend to cover the district and consolidate their vote further. Otherwise, they could have gone from Kanyakumari to Kerala in a matter of a few hours," he said.

Speaking about the approach of the yatra, another political observer who wishes to remain anonymous said, "This time, Rahul Gandhi is focussing on issues that matter to the people. It wasn't the case earlier. In 2019, he campaigned all across the country, but it didn't work because he didn't flag the right issues. People in every sector were affected by demonetisation, but all he kept speaking about was Rafale. So, his tactical line is right this time. We have to counter this politics of hate and division and focus on people's issues."

Sumanth further added, "The common issues that the people in Tamil Nadu want the Congress to highlight are the same as anywhere else -- price rise, unemployment, etc. But of course, in addition to that, the Congress has always been seen as a secular party. So that is something the people would like the party to emphasise on."

The people of Tamil Nadu have always had pride in their cultural identity and the recent policies of the BJP government like Hindi imposition have sure angered the people. Sure enough, Rahul Gandhi didn't miss the opportunity to echo the sentiments of the Tamilians. In his address at the rally in Kanyakumari, he spoke of the Congress' efforts to unite everybody.

While getting to the heart of the hinterland and addressing people's issues is certainly the right move for the Congress, the issue in Tamil Nadu is that the Congress has become dependent on the Dravidian parties, most recently the DMK. According to Sumanth, "The Congress was the ruling party in Tamil Nadu till 1967, since then it's steadily been out, not even part of the coalition. Ten years ago, the Congress was the third largest party here, now it is probably 5th. The BJP has gone ahead of the Congress.That has really harmed the party. All along it's been an approach where the Congress high command has told the DMK to give them some Lok Sabha seats in the state in return for their help in the assembly elections even if the party does not revive itself in Tamil Nadu."

However, he added that there is nothing called the end as far as politics goes. "We cannot rule out anyone. Anything can happen in politics. Moreover, the values that the Congress represents will always be relevant. But yes, for 2024, if they have to make an impact, this could be the last attempt."

He went on to add that although Rahul Gandhi was never fond of the DMK, there is a personal rapport between the Congress and the DMK. "Rahul has made peace with the fact that the Congress will be in alliance with the DMK. Now, Stalin and Gandhi share a reasonably good relationship and that's what keeps the alliance intact." Tamil Nadu chief minister M.K.Stalin gave Rahul Gandhi a very warm welcome, with photographs of the two being shared widely.

Stalin tweeted, "Today, my brother Rahul Gandhi has begun a journey to retrieve India's soul, to uphold the lofty ideals of our republic and to unite our country's people with love, There can be no better place than Kumari where the Statue of Equality stands tall, to start Bharat Jodo Yatra."

Sumanth said it was unfortunate that there are more leaders than workers in the Tamil Nadu Congress. "All these leaders only want to get an MP seat or MLA seat for themselves and their families. They don't care about the party. That is where the Congress is stuck. The local leadership is awful. I don't see that changing because of the yatra," he said.

Another political observer added, "If Gandhi is accepted and wants to lead the Congress, he must work with regional parties and forge a federal front. He cannot lead the front, but you cannot have a federal front without the Congress."