Over 1,500 km, five States and 59 days. As the Bharat Jodo Yatra completes two months and is all set to enter Maharashtra on November 7, has Rahul Gandhi been able to change the popular perception regarding his leadership abilities? That’s a question that is increasingly being asked in political circles.
For the record, Mr. Gandhi has repeatedly said that he isn’t leading his party’s long march but is one of the 100-odd Bharat Yatris who will complete the 3,570 km-long Kanniyakumari to Kashmir journey.
But the party’s most ambitious political programme is as much about showcasing Mr. Gandhi as it is about reconnecting with the masses. Over the past two months, hundreds of members of civil society, rights activists representing different causes and interest groups have interacted with the former Congress chief and participated in the long march.
“They [the BJP] have only one agenda - to demolish Rahul Gandhi. I am very happy to say that through this journey, people of India are themselves realising the real face of Shri. Rahul Gandhi,” Congress general secretary K.C. Venugopal told party colleagues at Mallikarjun Kharge’s formal taking-over ceremony as the party president.
“The people of India are now demolishing the ‘lie machine’ of our opponents. That is what we are witnessing through this yatra,” Mr. Venugopal added.
The debate around Mr. Gandhi’s leadership is firmly back with actor-turned-politician, Shatrughan Sinha, who recently moved from Congress to Trinamool Congress, lauding the former Congress chief.
“This is a ‘yatra’ in a true sense as [Rahul] Gandhi is walking unlike ‘Rath yatras’ by BJP leaders. Lakhs of people are coming out in his support. He has proved his leadership qualities. People have accepted him as a leader. And, those who made fun of him as ‘Pappu’ and didn’t take him seriously have been proved wrong,” Mr. Sinha said.
Earlier, in a sign of greater acceptance of Mr. Gandhi among senior Opposition leaders, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief Sharad Pawar had announced that he would join the padayatra once it entered Maharashtra.
But with Mr. Pawar now unwell, other leaders from NCP and Shiv Sena are expected to represent their parties.
“There are two aspects to the yatra. First, we have to see how well it [the yatra] is received in north India. And second, the Congress has to win elections for it to be taken seriously. If they win Karnataka next year, the game is on,” said a senior leader of a regional party who didn’t wish to be named.
Political observers say the yatra is an important step to establish a direct connection with the voters and bypass mainstream media that is often accused of being ‘biased’ against the Congress.
“Mr. Gandhi has done the right thing by launching Bharat Jodo yatra and communicating with the electorate directly. Once he starts winning elections, the leadership debate will be settled for good,” Naresh Dadhich, professor of Political Science and former Vice-Chancellor of Kota Open University, said.