At the overcrowded Sikandra market where the Bharat Jodo Yatra has stopped for lunch, a group of women dressed in bright dupattas argue with a police constable, telling him to let them inside the white tent that he is guarding, where they believe Rahul Gandhi is resting. They have been waiting since morning to catch a glimpse of the Congress leader. After many minutes of haggling, they give up, disappointment writ large on their faces
It is the 102nd day of the Bharat Jodo Yatra, and it is currently traversing through the Dausa district of Rajasthan, the only Congress ruled State on its 3,500 km route.
Curiosity about Mr. Gandhi is a major factor bringing in the crowds. If body count is the only parameter, the yatra is an overwhelming success. Every inch of the ground and every available vantage point is covered with people. Many have been lining up on the road since 5:00 a.m., straining every sinew to spot Mr. Gandhi.
However, the question foremost in the minds of Congress leaders here is whether this curiosity will actually lead to a deeper interest in the party.
Popular pro-poor schemes
The yatra so far has successfully preached to the choir: the Congress supporters and workers streaming back from the yatra confidently list out the several welfare schemes launched by the Ashok Gehlot-led State government. Foremost on their mind is the Chiranjeevi health insurance scheme of the Rajasthan government.
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“The surging crowds at the yatra are a clear sign that the Congress could buck the trend of alternating power between the BJP and Congress. The State government has brought in many pro-poor schemes, and overall, we are happy with the Ashok Gehlot government,” said 32-year-old Vijay Kumar, who runs a mobile shop. He flaunts his photographs from his recent Kashmir trip and is clear about his electoral choices. “In Assembly [polls], it is Congress, but in Lok Sabha [elections], it is BJP all the way,” he said.
Doubtful and disillusioned
Even amidst high spirits, nagging doubts surface. “This is the first time in three and a half years that the Congress worker feels needed. Since the Manesar revolt by [former Deputy Chief Minister] Sachin Pilot, 20 out of the 31 districts in the State haven’t had a district president. Political workers aren’t paid; we survive on the prestige that such party posts give us,” said Anil Bhogia, a Congress leader from Dausa. He hopes that after the yatra wraps up, the party’s organisation will finally shape up in time for the elections which are just 12 months away.
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Away from the dust and noise, the yatra has largely failed to convert the voting masses. The key message of the yatra -- to oppose the politics of hatred and division -- is largely lost on an audience who are far more comfortable assessing governments on the scale of the benefits they have received.
Ramji Lal Chhawadi, a farmer from Reta village, is a self-confessed BJP supporter. In spite of his political affiliation, he stayed up the whole night at the highway, watching the preparations for the yatra. It was a spectacle he wasn’t ready to miss. “Yatra or no yatra, it is time for the Congress to go. Corruption makes everyday life difficult. The Gehlot government has not done anything for landed farmers. Other than ₹6,000 annually that the Modi government gives us, no one really cares for us,” he said. Many others sitting around him nod along.