Distant goal: On Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Nyay Yatra

Rahul Gandhi needs to do more than project himself as Prime Minsiter Modi’s challenger 

January 20, 2024 12:10 am | Updated 01:15 pm IST

The theme of the second edition of Congress leader Rahul Gandhi’s cross-country journey is on justice, while it retains the call for harmony of the first. Labelled the Bharat Jodo Nyay Yatra, it began in strife-torn Manipur and will conclude in Mumbai on March 20 after covering 6,713 km across 15 States. Mr. Gandhi hopes to walk a few kilometres every day to interact with people, with the rest of the distance being covered in a bus. The yatra takes 11 days in the northeast region, once a stronghold of the Congress but now dominated by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its allies. It will cover nearly 900 km in Assam — a State that the Congress lost to the BJP in 2016 after an uninterrupted 15-year rule — before entering Bengal. In Uttar Pradesh, Mr. Gandhi will drum up support for his social justice plank by reaching out to Other Backward Classes (OBC) around the demand to conduct a caste census. At a time when the BJP’s campaign hinges on the opening of the Ram Mandir in Ayodhya, the Congress is trying to wield its newfound plank of caste justice as a counter. There is no better place than Uttar Pradesh to test the potency of social justice as a currency for political mobilisation, and Mr. Gandhi will also be confronted with the question of contesting from the Amethi Lok Sabha constituency that he lost in 2019, or any other in the State.

Mr. Gandhi’s hope is that public attention will focus on inflation, lack of jobs and the alleged marginalisation of social groups such as Dalits, Adivasis, OBCs and minorities. He and the party want to dissociate the yatra from any immediate electoral calculations for the impending Lok Sabha election, and to imagine it as part of an ideological challenge to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh-BJP combine. While it is true that politics tailored solely to win elections can be costly for society in multiple ways, the other extreme of disregarding electoral contests is counterproductive. After all, elections are also a test of ideologies. The first leg of the yatra that traversed the country vertically, from the south to the north earned Mr. Gandhi goodwill and possibly helped the Congress win Telangana in a surprise turnaround of its fortunes. But the party lost to the BJP in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, where the ideological battle is sharp. Through this yatra Mr. Gandhi will have to reinforce his position as the most credible challenger to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, but that is not sufficient to forge a viable electoral strategy for the Opposition. The question is whether Mr. Gandhi can cover that distance.

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