The Congress began its Kanyakumari to Kashmir ‘Bharat Jodo Yatra’ on 7 September with over 100 yatris, including former party president Rahul Gandhi, setting off on the ostensible long nationwide march.
The yatra — the largest mass outreach programme of its kind by the Congress in recent times — comes at a time when the party faces a slew of questions that need urgent, difficult answers. Answers that may decide its future over the next few years, especially in the 2024 Lok Sabha election.
And that is why, Bharat Jodo Yatra is ThePrint’s Newsmaker of the Week.
What are these critical questions that the Congress needs to answer? Let’s take a look.
The Rahul Gandhi conundrum
Taking questions from the press on Friday, Rahul Gandhi made it “very clear” that he was “not leading” the padyatra. He also refused to answer whether he will be a candidate in the Congress’ presidential election, nominations for which start later this month.
“You like to focus on me and that’s a different issue. I’m not leading this padyatra. I’m participating in this padyatra,” Gandhi told reporters.
To another question, he said: “Whether I become president or don’t become president, this will become very clear when the presidential election takes place in the Congress party.”
He, however, said that he has “very clearly decided” what he is going to do.
This begs several questions.
First, if Rahul Gandhi is participating in the yatra simply as a party MP, why has the party’s communication team inundated the phones of journalists with pictures of only him since the yatra began? Where are the Congress’ other parliamentarians?
Second, if Gandhi isn’t putting himself up as a choice for the post of party president, shouldn’t the Congress spend its resources on establishing the new leader? Otherwise, as a G-23 leader remarked privately, it’ll be a “branding exercise” for a “bombed brand”.
Third, if this is indeed Rahul’s “re-launch”, then the Congress should spell it out, considering many critics, including the party’s dissident G-23 group, have pointed out the need for a strong and visible leadership.
Gandhi, however, said that for him, this will be as much a “personal journey” as a political one.
“I agreed to join this yatra partially because I believe in the ideals of the Congress party and I think that it’s important that those ideals are spread in the country. And partially because I thought this would be a very good experience for me personally. I think it’s a powerful thing to do, not just from the political standpoint but from a personal standpoint. And I thought it would be worthwhile to do that from a personal journey perspective…Hopefully I will get some understanding about myself and some understanding about this beautiful country from this yatra. And I think two-three-four months later, I will be a little wiser,” Gandhi said.
Also read: ‘India is inclusive, not a singular idea’ — Rahul attacks BJP at launch of Bharat Jodo Yatra
Who is the yatra for?
Even before the yatra commenced, there were many rumblings in the party about “civil society members” participating in it, including activists such as Yogendra Yadav.
Many Congress workers are disgruntled with Yadav, once an aggressive critic of the party, and were against allowing him to play such a prominent role in the yatra.
As per sources, it is Yadav and others who are acting as the intermediaries between the Congress yatra participants and the civil society in the places that the yatra is passing through.
The Congress will have to bear in mind two things in such a scenario. First, that the people it reaches out to may not all be Congress voters or turn into one after this outreach. Second, the party workers must not feel alienated by Rahul and his ‘coterie’, which, for the purposes of the Yatra, includes Yadav and co.
The yatra and 2024
The most asked question — in both party circles and outside — is whether the yatra will cause incremental gains for the Congress in the 2024 Lok Sabha election. Will this long march cause a dent in Narendra Modi and the BJP’s armour?
The yatra looks to cover 60 Lok Sabha constituencies. While the response to the yatra is expected to be great in the southern states of Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Kerala (24 of its 53 MPs in Lok Sabha presently are from these three states), the party’s real test will start as it moves northwards.
It is in the North Indian states that the party needs to win back its electorate. While the yatra will spend a considerable number of days in Madhya Pradesh, Punjab (where it is the principal opposition), and Rajasthan (where it is in power), it will spend very little time in states like Uttar Pradesh where it is a marginal force. It is also be giving states like Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh — where elections are slated for later this year — a miss.
While critics say this is a bad strategy, the strategists within the Congress say that they’re trying to consolidate their existing voter base.
How will that play out?
Well, as Gandhi says, we’ll all be a little wiser after 150 days.
Views are personal.