Even though the Bharat Jodo Yatra is aimed at combating the divisive politics of the BJP, besides issues like unemployment, price rise and corruption prevailing in the country, the Congress party, which is spearheading the padayatra, is pinning its hopes on the ambitious march helping build the image of its leader Rahul Gandhi, that has been the target of a sustained social media onslaught by its political rivals.
Partymen are confident that the direct interactions of the Congress leader with a large number of people including farmers, middle class and people from different walks of life as well as Congressmen will help in an image make-over their party leader badly needs.
Direct, truthful conversations
Mr. Gandhi himself addressed the issue during a press conference in Turuvukere in Tumkur on Saturday when he said his communication with the people has been much better without the conventional distance that is maintained by the political class from citizens. “When you are walking on the road, the communication is much better. They speak more clearly and you understand the discussion much better,” he said.
He said thousands of crores of rupees and energy had been spent on the media in an attempt to paint him in an “untruthful and wrong” manner. “That machine is going to continue. That is a well-oiled, financially rich machine. My truth is different. It has always been different. And people who care to look carefully will see what I stand for and what my truth is,” he said.
He also sounded wary of the communication he makes through cameras, which he said can be “distorted” by certain “interests”. Instead, he preferred the direct conversations he was having with the people that are “more truthful”. “These direct conversations cannot be distorted. It is a beautiful experience,” he said.
An ‘intelligent and sincere’ leader
Dr Shushrutha H V, a neurologist from Mysuru, who returned to India after working in the US for 16 years, and is presently a “Bharat Yatri”, said his opinion on Mr. Gandhi, that had been built on the “distorted social media” feed, changed after he met him. During his interactions with the Congress leader on issues relating to healthcare and telemedicine in India, Dr Shushrutha said he found him to be not only “intelligent, but also sincere and honest” in his commitment to social justice, religious equality and preservation of the Constitution.
However, Dr Shushrutha pointed out that Mr. Gandhi was not made of a “traditional politician fabric”. People who are used to seeing netas in a particular avatar and hearing them speak a particular language, will find it difficult to understand Mr. Gandhi because of his sincerity, he felt. “But one interaction with him will change their negative perception about him,” he said.
Dr Shushrutha, however, sought to clarify that he was not a Congressman, but had joined the Bharat Jodo Yatra for as much its appeal against religious divide and economic inequality among other things as for his eagerness to understand the healthcare disparities in rural areas of the country and come up with necessary solutions.
Is goodwill enough?
Independent journalist Preethi Nagaraj, who was among the group of artistes and writers interacting with Mr. Gandhi during a break from the padayatra on its second day in Karnataka, said the Congress leader, because of his privileged background, may be naive or uninformed about certain issues like many others. “But he is a nice human being,” she said.
While the Congress leader, through the padayatra, was managing to consolidate enough goodwill for the party and for himself, Ms. Nagaraj was not sure if Mr. Gandhi had the leadership qualities that the party needs at present and how long the goodwill generated through the Bharat Jodo Yatra can be sustained by the party.
Even though the number of people with whom Mr. Gandhi manages to show his “true picture” during his Kanyakumari to Kashmir march in proportion to the country’s population is anybody’s guess, the Congress is leaving no stone unturned to make viral the images, like the one in which he is seen addressing a gathering in a downpour, tying the shoe lace of his mother Ms. Sonia Gandhi and embracing people, to promote his image as a serious, no-nonsense politician with his heart in the right place.