When farmers turn up to listen to ‘Indira’s grandson’, ‘Raja ka beta’

The Uttar Pradesh leg of Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Yatra comes to an end in Shamli district

January 06, 2023 12:40 am | Updated 12:40 am IST - Baghpat

 Congress leader Rahul Gandhi with his supporters during the Bharat Jodo Yatra in Shamli on Thursday.

 Congress leader Rahul Gandhi with his supporters during the Bharat Jodo Yatra in Shamli on Thursday.

As the Uttar Pradesh leg of the Congress’s Bharat Jodo Yatra came to an end in Shamli district on Thursday, the ripples of the initiative could be felt in the politically volatile western part of the State.

Smoking a hookah in Sururpur village, Mehak Singh, an aged farmer, said it was after decades that he has seen the Congress presence on the road. “There was a time when farmers identified with the party because its symbol was two oxen and a cow with her calf. But over the years, the party lost touch with us. We could only see them in newspapers and posters. It was good to see Indira’s grandson coming to our village today.”

Ombir, another farmer, said Rahul Gandhi had taken a “long time to hit the road but his straight, simple talk that is making more sense after the glib promises of Narendra Modi.” He questioned the BJP’s propensity to label its critics as anti-nationals. “They didn’t even spare the farmers and are now circulating videos of our sons on the China border to thump their chests.”

Mahavir Yadav, farm labour from Bihar, said in his State, voters never really lost control over their power to change the regime but in Uttar Pradesh it seemed nobody could unseat the BJP. “Sab garib ko khata hai, bas vote se darta hai. [Every political party eats up the poor and fears only the vote]. Now, it seems there is a contender.”

International trap shooter Seema Tomar, who turned up in support, remarked, “Prime Minister Narendra Modi created space in the hearts of people but the local leadership has lost touch with the people. We have the tradition of personally inviting the guests to weddings but the BJP it seems has started relying on WhatsApp.” This is how Congress lost its base in the 1990s. “Now, the party seems to have woken up,” she said.

Lavish preparations

However, those who designed the spectacle, perhaps, forgot that farmers don’t leave their fields in the morning. On Wednesday, from Maviakala to Gauripur in Baghpat, there was hardly any crowd but as the day progressed the curiosity to see “Raja ka beta who refused the throne” mapping the road grew. Those who had participated in the farmers’ agitation were in awe of the plush tents, huge cutouts, and stories of the variety of food on offer. The local media focussed more on the lavish preparations of the yatra and in a roundabout way questioned the funding of the exercise.

The BJP might be trying to label the Uttar Pradesh leg as an attempt of the Congress to garner Muslim votes but Mr. Gandhi is raising a wide range of issues in the midst of people. On Thursday, in Shamli, he conducted a dialogue on social justice where he talked about increasing the OBC quota and the need for a caste census. In another session on education, he discussed the flaws in the new education policy, rampant fee hikes, and privatisation of education.

Sohan Lal Valmiki, a school teacher, said it was time to raise the real issues and get united beyond caste and religious barriers. “The BJP did well but in a democracy, no party should get arrogant that it is invincible.”

Kuldeep Ujjwal, national secretary of the Rashtriya Lok Dal, said the Hindu-Muslim issue was consigned to the dustbin in the sugarcane belt when the RLD wrested the Khatauli seat in Muzaffarnagar in the bypoll.

It was the RLD that managed the numbers after the Congress leadership approached Chaudhary Jayant Singh. Speaking to a cross-section of farmers on the ground, it emerged that the Jats had not forgotten that Chaudhary Charan Singh could become the Prime Minister because of Indira Gandhi’s support and that his son Ajit Singh got the community’s reservation in central government jobs during the second innings of the UPA government.

“We don’t mind an alliance with the Congress for Lok Sabha. It would reduce our leader’s dependence on the Samajwadi Party. Bheed humari hai, seat bhi humari hai (Both the seat and the crowd are ours,” said Vikas Pradhan, an RLD worker.

Change in route

According to RLD sources, the route of the yatra was changed from Bulandshahr to Baghpat after consultation with Mr. Singh. The RLD is in alliance with the Congress in Rajasthan and is hopeful of an arrangement in Haryana as well. Notably, the RLD president celebrated Kisan Diwas in Bharatpur in the company of Congress leader Sachin Pilot.

A senior party leader said when Samajwadi Party president Akhilesh Yadav said the Congress and the BJP were alike, it reeked of immaturity. “How could you shut the doors on somebody who has brought the message of peace? Even Mayawati who often spews venom on the Congress welcomed the yatra.”

Not ready to read too much into Mr. Yadav’s comment made in a press conference, Congress spokesperson Supriya Srinate said she would rather focus on Mr. Yadav’s welcome letter that talked of saving the idea of India. Ms. Srinate said the Congress liked to align with like-minded parties. “We never go into a State to finish our allies. Unlike the BJP, we believe in coexistence.”

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