After 135 days on the road, the Rahul Gandhi-led Bharat Jodo Yatra ended in Srinagar, on the Mahatma’s death anniversary, with several Opposition leaders attending the unfurling of the tricolour. That the yatra, or at least its south-to-north version, finished thus, was a befitting end to an arduous journey made by a leader seeking to revive the fortunes of the beleaguered Congress. The yatra’s objective was to emphasise the contrast between the party’s vision for India, built on its slogan of “unity in diversity”, and the Hindutva ideology of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The party’s outreach might not have immediately resuscitated its electoral fortunes — there has been a steady decline in its influence and a flight of many of its leaders to the BJP. But the imagery of the Congress scion interacting with civil society and the citizenry across the country, and just the organisation of the yatra infused energy into the political machine of India’s grand old party. The yatra’s messaging might have been rudimentary and a medley of slogans, but it did clearly articulate some of the party’s distinctive core values to a large extent. This was even more evident in the optics in Srinagar.
Jammu and Kashmir has been India’s most conflict-ridden province and now, inexplicably, remains a Union Territory after having its special status abruptly stripped and being bifurcated into two Union Territories in 2019. In the succeeding years, there has been heightened violence in the Kashmir Valley, the weakening of the mainstream polity (which was bracketed with the separatist current for a period of time), and the imposition of communication lockdowns and measures to control the freedom of the press. After months of turmoil, Kashmir has limped back to economic activity, with the tourism sector picking up well, but the sense of disquiet with the abrupt changes has persisted in the Valley and beyond. Repeated incidents of violence against Kashmiri Pandits have also been indicative of the persisting turmoil. The presence of the Peoples Democratic Party and the National Conference in the flag hoisting ceremony in Srinagar was proof of the extent of the appeal of the yatra for the mainstream parties in the Valley, and in a way marks a genuine attempt at solidarity between the Kashmiri polity and the national opposition. Yet, in terms of the actual steps for the Congress’s revival, there is still many a proverbial mile to go with the party requiring to do the hard yards in building organisational relevance in several parts of the country, especially in North India.
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