(The Political Line newsletter is India’s political landscape explained every week by Varghese K. George, senior editor at The Hindu . You can subscribe here to get the newsletter in your inbox every Friday.)
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Yatra is traversing through the Hindi heartland now, and I joined it for one morning recently, near Indore in Madhya Pradesh. Mr. Gandhi has said that the yatra is a tapasya -- the backbreaking pace of the walk through tough terrain, usually covering 30 km a day, bears witness to that. What does he intend to achieve from this, politically? I am not sure yet but have some tentative thoughts.
I have come to believe that the yatra is not at all about repackaging himself politically or reviving the Congress. I guess Mr. Gandhi has concluded that power politics is not his cup of tea. He has in the past expressed disapproval of the pursuit of power. “Power is poison,” he said once -- a thought that does not fit well for a career in politics. But he remained active in electoral politics and became the president of the party after that statement. The 2019 election defeat left him with a feeling that his party colleagues were not supportive enough. He is seeing the party continue to slide while caught up in the endless rivalries of its leaders. Managing them and exercising authority over them is no easy task. Continuing setbacks, betrayal by friends, and non-cooperation and defiance by seniors, appear to have persuaded Mr. Gandhi to take a hard look at himself. When he says that the yatra is penance, he is echoing M K Gandhi’s reasoning for fasting. Mr. Gandhi seems to have given up on the party, and the party may have given up on Mr. Gandhi. So, my speculation is that Mr. Gandhi is marking a transformation through this yatra, from being a career politician to a civil society activist. Watch this space.
Meanwhile, you might read my impressions on the yatra itself here.
Vanvasi or Adivasi
India’s tribes people are called ‘Adivasi’ and ‘Vanvasi’ but the two words carry significantly different political meanings. The row over this nomenclature surfaced this week again, after Mr. Gandhi accused the RSS of undermining the identity of tribes people by calling them vanvasi, or jungle dwellers. Adivasi means the original inhabitant. RSS believes vanvasi is a value neutral descriptive term, and it is being criticised for questioning the aboriginal status of the tribes people.
Untouchability still lurks in TN
Dravidian politicians often make claims of moral superiority, but caste-based discrimination and violence are prevalent in Tamil Nadu. A recent report of a hairdresser practising untouchability, brings this point to the fore yet again. The Papanadu police have arrested Veeramuthu, a hairdresser from Nambivayal hamlet at Orathanadu taluk, for practising ‘untouchability’.