The Bharat Jodo Yatra has been wiped off television screens given the kind of media controls that have been established over the years. But there is no denying that this mass contact program traversing the length of India –Kanyakumar to Kashmir—is having a major impact. It is a huge effort, with Rahul Gandhi at the helm keeping the enthusiasm alive as he walks 25 kilometers a day with a core group of Congress workers. Others join as and when they can, with leaders from the states visible after a long time. The march is punctuated by food stops of course, but also interactions with local groups be it activists, or tribals, or women, or professionals, and press conferences and public meetings. The same is recorded professionally by the publicity wing of the Congress and shared immediately on the social media, peppered with songs, full length videos, shorts, reels and a presence that is far more impressive than in the past. It is obvious to those following the BJY with a critical eye, that the Congress organisation is reviving along with the march as state and district leaders are found and galvanised into action. The seniors walk with Rahul Gandhi in their respective states — with former Home Minister Digvijay Singh dancing with gusto as he encourages colleagues to share the beat— with a host of others carrying on regular press conferences in Delhi and other places. Most active is Jairam Ramesh whose handling of the publicity around BJY is earning bouquets all around, with even the journalists prevented strictly from asking the second question admiring his PR skills.

Rahul Gandhi is straightforward about the message, and makes it clear to the journalists that he is not willing to clutter this with other issues. The message is of inclusivity, love and compassion in direct counter to hate, intolerance and divisiveness. He brings in eminent persons who have contacted the yatra and expressed a desire to walk with him; from former Navy chief Admiral Ramados and his wife to Gandhi's grandson Tushar Gandhi; he embraces those who he spots en route — from the old woman who kisses and blesses him to the school children, from the physically challenged to budding athletes, a smile that does not flag and a receptivity that seems to increase with every step. This in fact is interesting as Rahul Gandhi's confidence, his interactions, his responsiveness, his smile is only going bigger even though he has been struggling with a bad and painful knee injury.

The yatra has been kept simple – to fight fear, and to spread love. And hence it has kept itself out of the cesspool of political affiliations; of alignments; of local leaders many of whom have joined Rahul Gandhi as well as in Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra; and as the Congress leader is saying at his press conferences, defied the doomsday forecasts all along. The crowds have only grown with the reception in Madhya Pradesh puncturing the canard that the yatra would fizzle out in the 'hindi belt'. With Kamal Nath firmly by his side, Rahul Gandhi has received a huge reception through MP with Indore perhaps breaking all barriers. The people are crowding around the yatra as it moves briskly through the states generating visible hope of change.

And now finally there is an answer to the question - what after Kashmir? The Congress will be holding its plenary session at Raipur in February. Before this it will be carrying out a mass contact program from January 26 onwards distributing material on the by then concluded BJY — the message of love and harmony. Several decisions are expected from the plenary that will be held under Congress president Kharge. Interestingly, after a long time the Congress has now tapped into his Dalit identity with a poster that addresses Prime Minister Narendra Modi with words to the effect that the tea sold by Kharge had no buyers — a spotlight on social discrimination as against just poverty. There seems to be a churning within, a shift in focus from the benign general to the less neutral specific, and it might no longer be premature to say that a different Congress will emerge from the Raipur plenary.

But then of course there are many on the sidelines who feel these are still early days and the old party does have the ability to drop the axe on its own feet when least expected. That is true of course, but the yatra has completed two thirds and more of the journey, firm on its path, refusing to be sidelined by the trolls hate campaign, ignoring provocation and sticking to its predetermined inclusive agenda… And as pointed out in these columns earlier, exhibiting a certain courage that is not seen enough of these days. With just one and half months to go it can be said perhaps with less doubt and more certainty, that the BJY is emerging as a resounding success and Rahul Gandhi as a leader of substance. Now the Congress organisation has to follow – and there lies the remaining challenge.