Spotlight - 7 Milestones Crossed by the Bharat Jodo Yatra
Time will tell
The Bharat Jodo Yatra is rolling through BJP ruled Karnataka currently, generating a huge response. Hundreds and thousands have been joining Rahul Gandhi as he walks the talk, with the Congress publicity department finally having come of age. Videos, reels, photographs, clips of his interactions with the old and the young - from addressing supporters in the rain to tying his mother Sonia Gandhi's shoe laces– are being circulated widely. Even the captive media is finding it difficult to ignore him, and slowly and gradually the impossible is happening — the conversation amongst the chattering classes is turning to Rahul Gandhi and the padyatra.
The message of unity in diversity is being hammered home, without secularism in any way being jeopardised. At least in the semantics. Women and the young remain the flavour of the yatra, with Rahul Gandhi singling them out as he walks, to join him. The jobless and the marginalised remain in focus, as his interactions are with tribals, youth, as he spends time with them en route. He speaks to the media every now and again, addresses crowds of supporters in small and larger rallies, and is hard hitting in his critique of the present leadership and the government.
"He is so brave, his grandmother was assassinated, his father killed, and yet he has taken to the streets with barely any cover," said an artist and a writer preparing to travel to Bellary to join the yatra. She said she was not a fan of the Congress party but Rahul Gandhi had "inspired" her. She could barely stop praising his grit and determination, and others soon joined in, deciding on the spur of the moment to travel with her.
Sonia Gandhi joined the yatra for a brief while, and from the huge smile on her face reveled in the response. She did not want to stop walking but her son insisted she leave, because of her age and health. The photo-ops came without planning — a young girl falling down while running alongside and both Soniaand Rahul Gandhi rushing to pick her up, and comfort her; son Rahul Gandhi squatting on the ground to tie his mother's shoe laces; Sonia Gandhi being ushered by a solicitous son to the car even as she made it clear she would like to stay - the photographers had a field day.
But as always what more has the yatra achieved since it started from Kanyakumari, Tamil Nadu. Post yatra quibbles and consolidation, or perhaps the lack of it, can be written about later but there are seven factors that need to be understood and appreciated by political observers.
One - It has changed the image of Rahul Gandhi from an immature politician to that of a well read, confident, humble, compassionate, courageous and forthright leader. These adjectives are being used deliberately, as this is the image he has been able to create over these past days. His earnestness comes through, he speaks direct, and answers questions from the media honestly and with some depth.
Two- the canards are not sticking. These are rolling off the Bharat Jodo Yatra back with even the trolling now seeming half hearted. For instance the Republic TV anchor instructed to speak into his own mike (that by the way was not amplified for the masses even though the journalist forgot to tell the viewers that) shouting Mr Rahul, Mr Rahul, Mr Rahul — got more brickbats than bouquets on the social media. The almost desperate effort by the tv channel to claim that Rahul Gandhi ran away from questions, was so ridiculous that it barely had any takers. More so as the footage showed the reporter at some distance, shouting aggressively to himself, with the padyatri's walking past at the usual brisk pace.
Three- It is becoming a people's movement with ordinary folk lining the roads to catch a glimpse of Rahul Gandhi. Simply because it has been decades since politicians took the streets in this manner, and for livelihood and communal amity. Cynical journalists speak of Chandrashekhar and others, but it has to be remembered that the environment then was not as hostile and the former Prime Minister had a pretty easy time of it. In fact this comparison in itself is odious but more of it later. In a real sense this is a unique padyatra that many, like this writer, had expected to collapse but instead the opposite is happening. As it has managed to resonate with the common citizen.
Four-it has been able to bring out the contrast between love and hate. The songs, the slogans, the interactions down the line are about harmony, and against violence and discord. This is acting as a balm for the common folk, living in penury, and struggling to make ends meet. The message linking unity to development seems to be making sense to the people, at least in the south so far.
Five-it has brought new life to the Congress party. The solid band of Congress members who are walking through the entire length with Rahul Gandhi – Kanhaiya Kumar included— provide the substance and the josh. Kanhaiya Kumar whose slogans and songs have become almost legendary has found talented rivals in the padyatra, particularly amongst women who are in the forefront. Shades of the old sewa dal, mahila congress and the youth congress are becoming more and more visible as the yatra continues, with new faces and new fervour. A new sense of camaraderie is visible amongst the party, with the seniors joining in as the younger enthusiastic brigade brings up the rear.
Six- It is cutting into the atmosphere of fear. This has been an extremely important development with people being galvanised to join the yatra at least for a few kilometres. The initial scepticism is being replaced by recognition that 'it is gathering steam' and the silent support turning into a vocal 'I joined the yatra' mode.
Seven- Being a mass movement of sorts, the yatra gives credence to Jairam Ramesh's dismissal of the unseemly controversy over the Congress presidential election as a 'side show'. And for those walking with the yatri's it really is a matter of little concern as to who becomes president of the party or not, as they all seem to have chosen their leader already.
As for the rest, only time will tell after the yatra reaches Kashmir, and the yatris return home. But that is still a long way away.