Rahul Gandhi launched the “Bharat Jodo Yatra” with a rally in Kanyakumari on Wednesday. The 3,500-km distance between Kanyakumari and Kashmir will be covered on foot by Congress members in 150 days. The Congress hopes that the Yatra will become a mass contact programme, which will energise both its workers and voters. However, there is nothing unique about the exercise. Similar yatras have been conducted by political parties at different points in India’s recent political history. This latest Yatra is nothing but a bid to relaunch Rahul Gandhi—and presumably sister Priyanka as well—as a credible politician for the nth time in almost two decades. Such yatras have an effect on the ground only if a party has a strong message, an abundance of strong leaders with a major hold on their own turf, and an equally strong, if not stronger grassroots presence. It is only then that a party is able to capture the imagination of the people and sweep them off their feet. The Congress does not have any of this. The way the party is splitting, with senior leaders such as Ghulam Nabi Azad who have given their lifeblood to the party, leaving it after being utterly humiliated by the party leadership, there won’t be much left of the Congress in the future. Take the instance of Jammu and Kashmir, which once had a strong Congress base. Now it’s a ghost of a party there with Ghulam Nabi Azad’s exit, as Congress leaders and workers are leaving the party in droves to be with him. Take the example of Uttar Pradesh. Where is the Congress in a politically important state such as UP with 80 Lok Sabha seats—a state that the Bharat Jodo Yatra is barely touching? In UP, even Sonia Gandhi’s own Lok Sabha seat of Rae Bareli is no longer secure. Rahul Gandhi has anyway lost the Amethi seat, considered a family bastion. Congress would have lost count of the number of UP leaders it has lost to the BJP, from Jagadambika Pal, Rita Bahuguna Joshi, Sanjay Singh and Jitin Prasada to R.P.N. Singh. Such is the state of affairs that the skeleton of the party in UP has started crumbling to dust, with Congress having near zero presence on the mind of the electorate. It got just two seats in the 403-seat Assembly this year. All the ripples that Priyanka Vadra Gandhi created about energizing the cadre in UP and winning over voters, stayed confined within a section of the media and did not have any effect on the ground.
If the Congress has some presence in some states, it is primarily because it is piggybacking on other parties to win a few seats, as it has done in Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra and Bihar. On its own, in states where it is in a direct fight with the BJP, it is facing an existential crisis, as in Gujarat.
In spite of this track record, the so-called first family of the Congress continues unquestioned, with zero accountability. Anyone trying to ask questions, or raise the banner of revolt ends up being sidelined by both the Family and the sycophants surrounding them. The Family will just not let go of control. Even if a non-Family person is elected party president, the real control of the party will remain with the Family. The tragedy of India’s “Grand Old Party” is that it was started by stalwarts and has a glorious history, but now has become a mere phantom of what it once was. Unless and until the party high command allows a grassroots leadership to flourish, gives them adequate space to build the organization—without wondering if such people will pose a challenge to Rahul Gandhi—the Congress will continue on its journey downhill.
As for the Yatra itself, considering that it is barely touching or not touching election going states such as Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh, what effect will it have on the ground? How can it be an election winning exercise when it is leaving the majority of the country’s states out of its ambit? Also, what is the message that the Congress is giving, what alternate vision for the country? A litany of complaints against the incumbent government will not have any impact unless an alternate vision is presented. Else voters will take the Congress top leadership to be seeking power for the sake of power, and not for doing something good for the country. Even otherwise, Rahul Gandhi has a major image problem. He is considered as a non serious politician and his occasional bursts of activity have not helped him to get rid of this image.
This being the state of things, Congress’ Bharat Jodo Yatra reeks of tokenism—a sudden burst of activity, some sound fury, signifying nothing.
Most importantly, when the party organisation is in tatters, when loyal workers and leaders are leaving, what sort of a message of unity is the Congress trying to send? Just like charity, unity too begins at home.