Rahul Gandhi…as soon as this name is stated, the reaction is always on the two extremes, and usually more on the negative. The man with two heavy electoral defeats, and several more if we include states, embarked on a foot march (yatra) from the southernmost tip of the country (Kanyakumari) till the crown of the country (Kashmir). This over 4000 km yatra which took over five months, was an effort as well as a statement of revival. Now, whether this is really the resurgence of Rahul Gandhi, and the revival of Congress, we will try to find out in the Blog.

The ‘Enigma’ that is Rahul Gandhi

This line, as remarked by a polar journalist in his book, pretty much sums up the state of affairs for this politician. Once it was asked from former PM Rajiv Gandhi, whether his children would join politics. To this, he replied that “Maybe Priyanka will show some interest”. Rahul….the son of Rajiv Gandhi, grandson of Indira Gandhi and the taker of the “Nehruvian” legacy. Without any surprises, born and brought up with baggage of privileges as well as expectations. He was very well ‘poised’ to be the next grand successor of the Nehru-Gandhi legacy, but the UPA tenures sailing through serious “corruption” allegations and BJP undergoing a mega resurgence under the ‘Modi Wave’ came as a roadblock in the way.

Rahul’s troubles were further intensified by his ‘reluctance’ of holding responsibilities. He refused to take any ministry despite his party being in power for 10 long years. His reasoning (as he says) is that he didn’t want to interfere in the Manmohan Singh government. But the logic is not satisfactory enough. If he would have been a minister, he would have at least had something to showcase as his ‘resume’ which is completely BLANK as of today. Then, it would not have been that easy for BJP to portray him as “PAPPU”.

Bharat Jodo Yatra:क्या राहुल करेंगे पश्चिम से पूर्वोत्तर तक की एक और यात्रा? क्यों हो रही है इस पर चर्चा - Bharat Jodo Yatra: Will Rahul Gandhi Make Another Yatra From West

Rahul Gandhi in a still from the Bharat Jodo Yatra (Photo: AmarUjala)

Then come to the 2014 elections. The ‘Modi Wave’ is at its full peak and the popularity of Congress is at one its lowest. As it became clear that Manmohan Singh won’t contest again, Rahul’s surfacing as the leader of the Congress was inevitable. But, here came to fore another of Rahul’s weaknesses, not being an effective speaker and crowd catcher. What added to his troubles was his challenger Narendra Modi’s exemplary oratory skills and crowd-engaging abilities. As the two leaders started coming in front of the media, the difference between them started becoming apparent in front of the public, and the cliff remained to be filled only by Rahul.

Eventually, BJP came to power in 2014 by registering a historic win. Now, another opportunity missed or reluctance of taking responsibility, one can rather say, Rahul Gandhi, didn’t turn up as the Leader of the Opposition. If he had to win against BJP, he needed to change the perception made against him, and there was no better way than Parliament to criticise the government and present how you can do better. In addition, since 2014 the skewness of the media towards the BJP only increased which further helped in developing the “PAPPU” image of Rahul Gandhi. Eventually, in 2019, not just the Congress party loses again, almost as bad if not worse, but even Rahul loses the ‘ancestral’ and prestigious Congress seat of ‘Amethi’. Being an MP from Wayanad, he again didn’t become the LoP, and also resigns as the party president, saying he wants a “New and Non-Gandhi” leadership for the party.

Congress Presidential Elections

Amid this yatra, Congress finally held the elections for the post of party president. Now, the party at least tried to showcase that the elections were completely fair. But, it’s Congress you know, here even a biscuit is not served without the approval of the grand old family. So, that was it, 80-year-old and Rajya Sabha LoP Mallikarjun Kharge was the choice of the Gandhi family, and the only leader who could gather the courage to contest against the family’s choice was former UN member Shashi Tharoor. The elections were anyways a formality, and Kharge won by a whopping margin. But, still Tharoor had achieved the limelight and status he wanted.

In my opinion, Shashi Tharoor would definitely have been the ideal choice. Not just he could have brought the much-lacking energy and freshness to the organisation, but also his being the party’s chief would have helped Congress gain the confidence of ‘neutral’ voters. Instead, they have an 80-year-old chief who doesn’t seem to be the best man to energise the cadre. But, a big factor that goes in his favour is the fact that he is a seasoned politician from Karnataka, which happens to be the big state going into polls in the first half of 2023. So, if Congress can win that election (which the scenario so far is indicating) then it can certainly gain electoral momentum for the next set of Assembly polls and then for the grand 2024 Lok Sabha polls.

Rahul Gandhi during his speech in heavy rain in Bharat Jodo Yatra (Photo: Himal Samachar)

The Idea and Ideology of the Yatra

Well…what exactly was the ‘idea’ behind the yatra, is something that we have to take from Congress’ statements. As per Congress, the yatra was carried out to ‘unify’ the people against the “hatred” spread in the last few years under the current regime. But, going purely on ideological terms, there is not even an iota of doubt that Rahul Gandhi is the ONLY politician currently who is fighting the BJP on the IDEOLOGICAL front. Almost every other alternative party tries to remain silent on polarising and sensitive issues so that their ‘Hindu vote bank’ isn’t affected. But strangely, and rather courageously, Rahul Gandhi has continuously attacked the BJP-RSS ideology.

Whether it is raising support for Bilkis Bano, attacking Ambani-Adani (crony capitalism) or even attacking Savarkar over his “maafinaama”. Now, in the current political and public landscape, the stand Rahul Gandhi is taking has few takers (at least not enough to make you win). Also, attacking even the NSA Ajit Doval is most likely to backfire. While neither supporting Bilkis Bano nor attacking crony capitalism is wrong ‘morally’, so Rahul may be ‘morally right’ but that’s not enough to fetch him votes, at least in the current landscape. Well…despite you agree with Rahul’s ideology or not, one has to accept that taking the stand he has taken needs some serious courage.

Rahul Gandhi walking in T-Shirt during Cold Wave in Delhi (Photo: India Today)

Electoral Focus of the Yatra

If we go by what Congress says, then the yatra had “no political motive”, which is as hard to digest as the claim that the ‘Gandhi family didn’t have a preference for party president’. If we look at the states, the yatra was focused on, we see a strange pattern. The yatra started from Tamil Nadu (Kanyakumari) and spent a huge enough time in the southern states of Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Karnataka, the last of which I said is the best option for Congress to register a huge win. The yatra then progressed and spent some time in Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and then again decent time in Punjab and Haryana, before entering Himachal Pradesh and finally in Kashmir. It hardly touched the then poll-bound states of Gujarat and Himachal and didn’t even spend a week in Uttar Pradesh, where Congress is perhaps at its weakest.

The pattern that was quite obvious was that Congress is focussing on its ‘strength’. The south is the region, where Congress remains at its strongest, even more than BJP. Southern states have always been the most loyal vote base for the grand old party. Even, when Congress suffered a heavy defeat after Indira Gandhi’s terrible ‘Emergency’ tenure, it was the Southern states where Congress did garner the seats (whatever it got). Not just that, if we remember, Rahul Gandhi is an MP from Wayanad (Kerala) and even when Indira Gandhi had sought the Southern route for staging a comeback. So, it becomes clear that Congress is again aiming to consolidate its Southern vote base before aiming to dent at vote banks outside its strongholds.

Public Response to the Yatra

As I already said above, Rahul Gandhi’s image has always been projected on the two extremes by both BJP and Congress. I accept that he is not a very charismatic and intellectual leader, but at the same time, he is definitely not the “PAPPU” BJP and its IT cell has portrayed him as. I also pointed out how Rahul’s reluctance to take big responsibility didn’t help him either in countering the perception. Now, there is not the slightest doubt that our GODI MEDIA has played a huge role in moulding this image of Rahul Gandhi into the eyes of the public. But, again Rahul has only two options, either keep complaining for life or do something to counter the image. Maybe, he found this yatra as the most effective way to shed off his ‘Shehzada’ image and go amongst the public.

Now, whether the yatra has completely changed Rahul’s perception in the public’s minds is a thing only time will tell. But, what has definitely happened, is that at least Rahul Gandhi is no longer that “reluctant” “Shehzada” that he was and considered. As far as public support and response are concerned, it was decent (at least presented by Congress). Several personalities like former RBI governor Raghuram Rajan, former RAW chief AS Dulat, actor Kamal Haasan, Radhika Vemula (mother of Rohit Vemula) and MEdha Patkar (the name behind Narmada Bachao Andolan) also became part of the yatra.

Rahul Gandhi during Bharat Jodo Yatra at the Red Fort (Photo: Hindustan Times)

Rahul Gandhi…after the Yatra

As I said, you might not be liking Rahul Gandhi, but what one needs to acknowledge is the fact that coming into politics when your father and grandmother were ‘politically assassinated’, needs some genuine courage. Talking about the Yatra, walking 25 km daily through scorching heat and chilling winter is not a cakewalk, so this can’t be denied that Rahul TRIED. Interestingly, if our supreme leader would have done anything even mildly similar to this (wearing a T-shirt in winter or giving a speech in rain), you all know what kind of prime-time shows would have run on TV for at least a month. There is no denying that polarisation and hate have risen in the country in recent years, but is Rahul Gandhi the “messiah” to fight it…Not at all. But, yes the ideology that he has ‘showcased’ throughout has been of liberal, democratic and harmonious values, which in my opinion, is very important for the country.

But, has the yatra done enough, to change the political landscape of the country and pose an actual challenge to the ‘Hindutva’ force? The key to this answer lies in the hands of none other than Rahul Gandhi himself. The enthusiasm shown by the Congress cadre during the yatra, will that remain intact? How seriousness and effort will be shown for the upcoming elections? Will Congress be smart and tactical in choosing the poll ‘issues’? The future of the party will be decided not by the yatra, but by what Rahul, Gandhi family and Congress do after the yatra. As per the ongoing rumours, another yatra may be carried out from Parshuram Kund (Arunachal Pradesh) to Porbandar (Gujarat). So, the ball is in Congress’s court, a party that has nothing to lose (almost at the brink of extinction), can it force a ‘historic’ comeback? As I said, the answer lies with Rahul Gandhi himself.

“नफ़रत के बाज़ार में मोहब्बत की दुकान खोल रहा हूं…!!!!!” – Rahul Gandhi

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