(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.)
Rahul’s walk, Nitish’s Delhi sojourn, Kejriwal’s yatra
Several of India’s key political actors are on the move this week.
The spotlight is on the Bharat Jodo Yatra led by Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, who is walking 3,500 km from Kanniyakumari in Tamil Nadu to Kashmir, a journey that will take over nearly five months. The Congress hopes that this yatra will give a boost to the party. Our editorial on the yatra argues that “Mr. Gandhi will have to discover, inspire, and incentivise the Congress worker through this journey. The notion that NGOs and actors outside the Congress structure will give buoyancy to his politics is wrong and misplaced. Mr. Gandhi will have to convince the general public of his capacity to lead a national change and also motivate the party’s workers who have long been trampled by one group of rootless imposters after another. That is a long, and even lonely, journey.”
Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar who made an overnight change of partner by replacing the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) with the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) in the coalition that he leads spent a few days in Delhi, meeting with several leaders, cultivating an image of him being the potential leader of the anti-BJP front in 2024. For the record though, he ruled himself out as a potential leader of the Opposition front. Mr. Kumar called on AAP leader Arvind Kejriwal, CPI(M) General Secretary Sitaram Yechury, CPI General Secretary D. Raja and Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) leader Om Prakash Chautala. Mr. Chautala has extended an invitation to Opposition parties excluding the Congress and Left, for a grand rally to commemorate his father Devi Lal on September 25 -- instructive of how turf wars impact the formation of a coalition of regional outfits.
Mr. Kejriwal is no mood to play second fiddle to anyone, whatsoever the occasion. He’s campaigning hard in Gujarat to displace the Congress as the main challenger to the BJP. He also launched his own yatra. As our report says, “AAP has maintained a distance from the Opposition bloc both inside and outside Parliament. In the recent Presidential and Vice-Presidential elections, while the party voted with the Opposition parties, it did not send any representative to the various Opposition meetings, making it clear that it does not want to be part of any groups that are coordinated by the Congress. At the same time, AAP has been trying hard to make inroads into the traditional Hindu vote bank of the BJP.”
On August 31, Telangana Chief Minister K. Chandrashekhar Rao travelled to Patna on meet his counterpart Nitish Kumar and Deputy Chief Minister Tejashwi Yadav. He said Bihar and Telangana were connected by the shared faith in two rivers -- the Ganga and Godavari, which is known as the Ganga of the south.
While Mr. Kejriwal and KCR are trying to enter into BJP strongholds of Gujarat and Bihar, respectively, the party’s heavy-lifters, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah have been paying special attention to Kerala, Karnataka and Telangana in recent days. Kerala too would have a “double-engine”-driven development if it supports BJP in the State, Mr. Modi said in the State.
Talking of yatras and yatris, there is a special place for Adi Sankaracharya in the plans of Mr. Modi and Mr. Shah. Mr. Modi paid tribute and offered prayers at the Adi Sankara Janmabhoomi Kshetram, the birthplace of Adi Sankaracharya, at Kalady in Kerala. Born in Kerala, the Sankaracharya travelled through the country and even marked out the contours of the territory that is today’s India by founding four peethams, or seats, to promote the Sanatana Dharma, in Sringeri, Puri, Badrinath and Dwarka -- south, east, north and west. According to Mr. Shah, Sankaracharya fought for Hindu Dharma against conversions and successfully united Hindus. Last year, Mr. Modi unveiled a statue of the sage who had taken samadhi in Kedarnath.
Returning to the tales of our present day yatris, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M.K. Stalin was effusive in his praise for Mr. Gandhi. Mr. Stalin tweeted, “Today, my brother @RahulGandhi has begun a journey to retrieve India’s soul, to uphold the lofty ideals of our republic and to unite our country’s people with love. There can be no better place than Kumari, where the Statue of Equality stands tall, to start #BharatJodoYatra.” But Mr. Stalin is not putting all his eggs in the Congress basket. He also received Mr. Kejriwal as a special guest at the inauguration of an education project. Earlier, Mr. Stalin had visited schools in Delhi that Mr. Kejriwal has been trying to use as a calling card in other parts of the country. Both CMs were full of praise for each other in Chennai.
Meanwhile, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said all regional parties are together in their efforts to confront the BJP. Ms. Banerjee has also accused the Centre of keeping her, and West Bengal, out of the talks with visiting Prime Minister of Bangladesh Sheikh Hasina. West Bengal has been a consideration of India’s Bangladesh policy. What is today Bangladesh and West Bengal were part of the same political entity at one point. The division of Bengal, the division of the country, and then the division of Pakistan which led to the birth of Bangladesh as an independent country are all reminders of the limits and dangers of nationalism.
The Karnataka government has issued a circular to mandatorily use Kannada during functions organised by State and Union governments in the State. The Congress leaders criticised the State BJP government for not placing a board in Kannada during a recent programme which was attended by Home Minister Amit Shah in Bengaluru.