Much has been discussed about the ‘electoral impact’ of the Bharat Jodo Yatra. A nationwide march conducted roughly 18 months before the national elections in 2024 is clearly not intended to be an election campaign. What it was intended for, and what it has achieved, is to strengthen the party and its connection with the people. This has to be taken further. People are hurting.
They are hurting because living conditions are becoming harder, because they are not safe and because they are losing faith in securing their future. The BJP wants to use this hopelessness with an appeal to an imagined past. The Congress is projecting itself as a party that looks to the future. The BJP’s promises are never tangible. It makes rhetorical statements about prosperity and power 20 or 30 years in the future. It is secure in the knowledge that the dramatis personae who make these promises will not be available to be held accountable for their fulfilment. The idea behind the Yatra is to reiterate the ideas that Congress and its leadership stand for. The ideas of equality, whether social, economic or political, are reaffirmed every time the phrase ‘Bharat Jodo’ is uttered, described or even decried. The arduous nature of the march has ensured that the commitment to ‘Bharat Jodo’ cannot be ignored.
Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Yatra, which is in its fifth month now and nearing its culmination at Srinagar, has been an effective counter to the well-funded campaign against him and the Congress. The unprecedented scale of this padayatra has clearly rattled the ruling dispensation. The short-lived stunt of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP MPs wearing masks in the Lok Sabha when the yatra was entering Delhi, which reflected an attempt to attack and even stop the yatra on the ground of public health, was quite telling. The bizarre roadshow of the prime minister to the BJP headquarters in Delhi, dutifully broadcast live on TV channels, was also an obvious attempt to mimic the atmosphere of the yatra.
The political battle lines now seem to be demarcated by the yatra, for parties both for and against it. While the SP and the BSP did not participate in the yatra in UP, they did send letters of support. Parties like the BRS, AAP and AIMIM, which perhaps fear a Congress resurgence more than continued BJP rule, have been more hostile. The Congress is now the focus of conversation in a way that it has not been for a while.
The Bihar Congress has already initiated its own yatra and the Telangana Congress has also announced a yatra in that state, apart from the ‘Haath se Haath Jodo’ march. The momentum that has been created has to be maintained, and the party is keen to do so. A yatra from Gujarat to Assam in 2023 seems to be under consideration. Padayatras give an opportunity to directly connect with the people. In a time when much of the media function as propaganda arms of the government, this direct connect is clearly the way forward. Congress workers are more energised than they have been in the last eight years and there is a clear template to move forward. Even beyond padayatras, the party can initiate mass contact programs. Congress workers going from house to house with a signature campaign against the Centre’s policy of excessive taxing on petrol, approaching software workers about their unfair contract terms, or middle class flat buyers regarding their unending harassment at the hand of builders. The possibilities are endless.
Congress workers can use the current momentum and do millions of micro-yatras, visiting households in their districts/villages, and remain in constant dialogue with them. The party’s offices ought to be seen as the places to go when a citizen suffers at the hands of an unfeeling government. This was what the Congress used to be, and what it needs to become again.
Sarim Naved is a Delhi-based lawyer.