The one question that everyone seems to be asking as they look at the huge support for Rahul Gandhi and the Bharat Jodo Yatra in Jammu and Kashmir is a perplexed Why? Why have the Kashmiris who never made their dislike for the Congress party so clear over the decades, decided to brave the storm (and I am not just talking about the weather) and come out to enthusiastically welcome the yatris and their leader. And even applauded yesteryears two most discredited politicians who walked with Rahul Gandhi - Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti.

Well clearly there is no respite in sight. Pakistan is in a complete mess internally, and has no economic or political leg to stand on with any level of credibility. The iron hand has pushed the Kashmiri indoors, with the problems of the entire region worsening since statehood was dissolved, and the diluted Article 370 abrogated.

Earlier they could talk, and talk Jammu and Kashmir did on every issue as these are political beings given the struggle of all communities, including the Ladakhis since independence. This right too has been abrogated and the sense of suffocation is visible. And more visible in the crowds that poured out to catch a glimpse of Rahul Gandhi on his yatra of love and justice.

No doubt the Kashmiris will spend the next days in conversation, analysing and dissecting the yatra, and differing on whether it provides ‘hope’ for them, and whether there is any real shift in Congress policy. This was also reflected in the questions asked of Rahul Gandhi at his press conference in Srinagar, as almost all local reporters wanted to know the Congress views on statehood and Article 370; the party’s next steps; the plans, if any, for Kashmir; and whether the Congress leader had any sense of pain about the fact that the promises made by Nehru at the same spot in Lal Chowk 70 years ago, had all been broken.

There was little about the BJP or the present, more about the past when the Congress had a decisive say in Kashmir, and the future that it could determine. Very interesting.

The Bharat Jodo Yatra has ended with a grand finale. There is no doubt about that. It has succeeded in: one, cutting through fear and hate and division with a message of unity and love; two, it has flagged the key issues of price rise, unemployment all linked to basic livelihood; three, it has raised the banner against business monopolies and crony capitalism; four, it has pinpointed the complete capitulation of the media under pressure; and five it has raised foreign policy issues through China and its occupation of Indian territory. All potent.

The BJY has also raised Rahul Gandhi’s image to unforeseen levels. A man of honesty and integrity, warm and accessible, democratic and media friendly, courageous and affectionate. His physical fitness became a topic of conversation, and his intelligent interactions established him as a man of substance. All to the good.

But the reporters are not wrong in asking what now? It is a question that was raised through the yatra. Some plans have unfolded such as a desire for Opposition unity, strengthening the Congress organisation but the response has largely been a ‘wait and see’ from Jairam Ramesh and in Srinagar on the last day, a “we have just finished walking give us a little time" from Rahul Gandhi.

But time is what the Congress does not have. As even though from Rahul Gandhi downwards, all Congress leaders have been insisting BJY has nothing to do with the general elections just over a year away, every person who cheered from the side or managed entry inside the cordon knows that a political event of this magnitude makes history only if it has a larger and more long lasting impact. Such as changing the course of events in a country.

So far the yatra has generated hope, changed Rahul Gandhi’s personal image, and flagged issues of concern for him and hopefully his party. That's good but can only be a beginning. To change the course through the elections. The state elections as in Karnataka this year, and the Parliamentary polls in 2024. For that the Congress needs a lot more, and needs to start working on that ‘more’ even before the yatris reach their homes.

One, the Congress organisation that is in shambles needs to be restructured, unified and revived. A no mean task, and even if the yatra has brought warring factions briefly together in the states, this will not last long.

Politics in India has a way of fragmenting that leaves leaders confounded, and the voters astounded with mega events providing short served glue at best. The plan to rejuvenate the Congress party into a fighting unit has to be thus evolved now, so that it can be implemented to some extent before the polls. No time.

Two, Opposition unity. In Srinagar Rahul Gandhi challenged a reporter questioning him on the Opposition with , ‘what makes you say the Opposition is not united.’ And went on to point out that there was the BJP and RSS on the one side, and the rest of the Opposition on the other.

But is it? Many elections have been lost because of fragile egos and the inability of the Opposition parties to come together. UPA1 was formed because the Left decided to play the role of massaging these egos, and working out seats and other adjustments.

With the decline of the Left the only other party with the reach and ability to bring the Opposition together at a national level is the Congress. But it itself is in the running, and as state elections and general elections in the recent past have demonstrated, it has a bigger ego given its size than the regional parties put together.

So how will the party now overcome this hump? Will it contest maximum seats only in the states where it is in direct conflict with the BJP? Or will it insist on getting a lion's share even in those states where the real Opposition to the BJP comes from the regional party? Will it be able to evolve a common minimum agenda for all regional players to come on board?

And will the boldness shown by Rahul Gandhi as he traversed the country be echoed by the far more conventional party? Will it be able to break the barriers and reach out to all sections of the populace on the ground in real terms, regardless of religion and caste?

It is no secret that the Congress party has moved a considerable distance away from the ideals of the freedom struggle and its political ancestors? Will Rahul Gandhi and his new team be able to inject the old values into the fragmented party today, a natural collagen of sorts that will spread into the cracks and ease out the wrinkles without the short lived Botox effect. After all, the vehicle to carry the message forward has to be sound and stable.

Hence there is no time. And when the flight carrying Rahul Gandhi lands in Delhi, he will have to hit the ground running. Perhaps with just a pause to shave the beard of the tapasvi, and transform into the politician.