One has to admit that the Congress announcement of the Bharat Jodo Yatra - from Kanyakumari to Kashmir- had elicited little more than a yawn. Oh no, not again, said the veteran journalist having covered so many yatras before — Chandrashekhar's and L.K.Advani's come immediately to mind. The first that did not achieve much except crowds and flower decked roads; and the second that succeeded in sowing seeds of division that the BJP subsequently harvested.

But even so it was a sense of deja vu, been there done that. So it was with half an eye that one observed Rahul Gandhi when he landed at Kanyakumari to start the padyatra. The one eye became two eyes and turned into full attention. Because the people had come out to embrace the initiative, with the crowds swelling as the Congress padyatri's marched, reaching out to 'Indira Gandhi's pota (grandson)' with smiles, and flowers, and kisses en route. The image so assiduously created by the BJP of Rahul Gandhi began to fade as he walked, greeting all with a smile (rather sweet one must say) and showing no signs of irritation, or anger, or arrogance, or for that matter exhaustion.

The padyatris covered 25 kilometres a day, walking in the morning and again in the evening. Over 100 kms have been covered now in a burst of publicity on the social media and local newspapers — in Tamil Nadu and now in Kerala where the padyatris are currently–arranged assiduously by Jairam Ramesh who has proved to be quite a whiz in handling the publicity department of the Congress party. Rahul Gandhi has stopped to address meetings, he has held press conferences, and after the initial criticism that he was walking too fast is now stopping to greet those who have lined the roads to catch a glimpse of him. Local leaders seem to be enthused, the core team of 101 padyatris are visibly excited and happy, and Bharat does not seem to be in a mood to become Congress mukt. At least so far in the south.

The Bharatiya Janata Party and its media has been more interested in where Rahul Gandhi is sleeping, what he is wearing, etc. The embedded media arrived with cameras to photograph the containers where the padyatris are staying, seeing the cramped space as 'luxury'. But this has become an aside in the story that is developing.

The Congress and Rahul Gandhi have succeeded in the first part. In that far from being a damp or for that matter a moderately wet squib, the padyatra has evoked great enthusiasm across the two southern states. The support for the initiative is expected to move into Karnataka, although the walk through in the BJP ruled state will not be free of tension. However, the crowds on the streets, the spontaneity of the welcome has established good will and support for Rahul Gandhi in the two sort of friendly opposition states he has started the journey in. Tamil Nadu's MK Stalin came out in full support, largely because the padyatra remained confined to Kanyakumari. The Left Front has not been so kind in Kerala asking why Rahul Gandhi is spending 19 days in Kerala when he should be devoting that period of time to states like Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh. A question that the Congress has not successfully answered, except made clear that the padyatra is for love and harmony and not confrontation of any kind. So far Rahul Gandhi in his speeches has spoken of the bharat jodo yatra's objective of highlighting love instead of hate, and raising a collective voice against price rise and unemployment.

But all this is semantics. The yatra will be judged after six months on one, the people's response and that, if the start is any indication, is expected to grow.

Two, the revival of the Congress party. That seems to be uncertain still. The workers of course are out in full form but whether the party will be able to emerge from this with a sound organisation across the country remains to be seen. It will require a great deal of work after the event, a thorough cleansing perhaps and delegation of responsibilities to local leaders.The jury is out on this one.

Three, the revival of the Congress as a national force. This will depend just not on the crowds but the narrative, whether it pulls the people out of the realm of curiosity into full support. And linked to this is the acceptability of Rahul Gandhi - will the people of India change their opinion and see in him a leader they can trust and rely on.

So while the answers to these questions will emerge only after the padyatris are home, safe and sound, it is clear that the objective of the party is to achieve all of this and more. The more being a semblance of Opposition unity with Rahul Gandhi taking care not to confront potential allies, and the Congress urging all to join in support and come together. However, the publicity and the effort is geared at establishing Rahul Gandhi's image as a sound leader amongst the masses. And in demolishing the BJP campaign that had him being trolled as 'Pappu'. That the use of this term has declined rapidly is in itself now a case in point.

Asked whether he would be the Congress president, Rahul Gandhi told the reporter that they should wait for the elections to the party post. And that if he stands for it they will get their answer, and if he doesn't he will tell them why. Given his nature and strong inclination to learn from the field, it is clear that the success or otherwise of this padyatra will influence his final decision. In that a yatra that achieves its objectives could well launch Rahul Gandhi as the party president in his own right. But this is all six and more months away.

The Citizen will keep a close watch on the Bharat Jodo Yatra and our reporters will bring the details to you as it moves along. As it has emerged in just a week as a major Opposition initiative, with the spontaneous enthusiasm making new music for the padyatris and the party.