Rahul Gandhi’s yatra, Kharge’s presidency and the future of the Congress  

The Congress party has to win key elections if Rahul Gandhi is to keep his political ideology relevant  

Updated - November 17, 2022 01:33 pm IST

Published - November 17, 2022 12:02 pm IST

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi with supporters during the party’s ‘Bharat Jodo Yatra’, in the Hingoli district on Nov. 15, 2022.

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi with supporters during the party’s ‘Bharat Jodo Yatra’, in the Hingoli district on Nov. 15, 2022. | Photo Credit: PTI

Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Yatra is one of the most significant mass contact programs that India has seen in a long time. It is definitely the most important outreach that the Congress party has undertaken since it was comprehensively beaten by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections

Since September 7, the former Congress president has been walking and walking, chatting and smiling, addressing public meetings and engaging with people in a manner that is both rare and endearing for an Indian political leader. 

The Bharat Jodo Yatra, from Kanyakumari to Kashmir, is scheduled to pass through 12 States— spanning nearly 3,500 km in the course of about 150 days. Mr. Gandhi and his yatra are expected to enter Madhya Pradesh on November 20

A video clip of Mr. Gandhi addressing a public meeting in Mysuru during heavy rain went viral, as have many of his interactions with ordinary people, several of them youngsters. Quite like his grandmother Indira Gandhi and great-grandfather Jawaharlal Nehru, Mr. Gandhi has shown that he’s a natural when it comes to interacting with people. 

Unlike many Congress leaders, the Wayanad MP’s attacks are not just aimed at the BJP, but its parent arm, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) too. “It [the yatra] is a political action against the way the BJP and RSS are dividing the country and damaging the country by spreading hatred and violence,” Mr. Gandhi said.

At a time when large sections of the political class in India have bought into the majoritarian Hindutva project of the BJP-RSS, the former Congress president has had no hesitation in calling a spade a spade. 

In fact, many Congress leaders, especially those holding government office, are among those who are soft on the BJP-RSS, having come to believe that they can only be elected if they pander to a majoritarian agenda. 

Uncommon clarity

In that sense, Mr. Gandhi stands apart. He has been hauled to courts of law for his remarks against the RSS, but he has shown no fear or hesitation in attacking the fountainhead of Hindutva ideology. 

During the course of his yatra, Mr. Gandhi has repeatedly explained that the BJP spreads fear in the country and stated that his mass contact programme was aimed at combating this fear, violence and hate.   

His political messaging is sharp and direct, but the Congress party’s dwindling political fortunes would indicate that the number of buyers for the messaging must increase and the party must win key elections if Mr. Gandhi is to keep his political ideology relevant in the country. 

The continuing stream of departures among MLAs across States would suggest that the challenge for the Congress to keep its flock together; it is something that Mr. Gandhi and the new Congress president, Mallikarjun Kharge, will have to contend with on a longer timeline. 

The continuing, unedifying saga of Ashok Gehlot desperate to hang onto power as Chief Minister of Rajasthan (even if this meant foregoing elevation to the post of Congress president), and chief ministerial hopeful Sachin Pilot tugging at the seams sums up the crisis that the party faces. 

In Karnataka, warring Congress leaders (a feature that is evident in all States) D.K. Shivakumar and Siddaramaiah walked with Mr. Gandhi as he continued with his yatrabut whether or not these leaders (and others) can make a distinction between personal and party interest remains unclear. 

The easy departures of senior Congress leaders like Amarinder Singh, Jyotiraditya Scindia, and Himanta Biswa Sarma to the BJP also show that for many ideologies counts for less than power. Mr. Sarma, for instance, has proved to be a key hatchet man for the BJP in the Northeast. 

Being defection-proof 

The challenge for the Gandhis and Mr. Kharge is to ensure that the candidates they select in the days, months, and years ahead are more or less defection-proof. Upstart parties like the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) are already saying that a vote for the Congress is a vote for the BJP because their legislators cross the floor in the blink of an eye. 

At the end of the day, the Bharat Jodo Yatra will possibly earn Mr. Gandhi and his party more goodwill than votes. But if Mr. Gandhi is really keen to cleanse India’s political system of a Hindu majoritarian agenda, he will have to earn both. 

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