THE YATRA AND BEYOND

Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Yatra is heading towards its finale end month. It has definitely kept the Congress leader in the headlines as he met with the rest of Bharat. It has done wonders for his image, as no one is going to call him a Pappu anymore, and the interactions have also sharpened his speaking skills. His public addresses are more focused than earlier perhaps because now he is speaking from experience and not that of his mentors and advisors. He has enough anecdotes to pepper his conversations and draws on them liberally to buttress a point against the ruling government. True, he is still continuing his rant against the RSS and against two or three industrialists favoured by the Modi government, but he doesn’t just stop there as he did earlier, but moves on to other topics. A third bugbear is his tirade against the media, which is doing him no favours because at the end of the day, he still needs the same media to cover his speeches. So why alienate the reporter on the ground by singling him/her out at his press conferences, when his real grouse is with the owners or the managing editors sitting in Delhi. But, the Congress and its star yatri have a long way to go. One significant test of this is the fact that the rest of the opposition allies are yet to climb on to the yatra’s bandwagon. Very few have replied to Mallikarjun Kharge’s letter (wouldn’t it have made sense to first sound them out before making the invitation public? As a party veteran pointed out, that is what Ahmed Patel would have done). However, so far apart from the Abdullahs, Aditya Thackeray, Supriya Sule and M.K. Stalin, very few opposition leaders have walked with Rahul and doesn’t seem as if many will join him for the grand finale. However, it is a start. The BJP, in the meanwhile, having its leadership issue and media relations all sorted has already begun focusing on the next round of Assembly polls due this year. And if the national executive in the capital was anything to go by then the party has also begun work for the 2024 Lok Sabha polls. This is what Team Rahul (and despite Kharge’s elevation) it is this team that is running the party, needs to do. The party has a strong chance in at least 3 of the 4 big states slated to go to polls this year—Chhattisgarh, Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh. The state of Rajasthan remains elusive, one of the reasons being the Gehlot vs Pilot infighting. It’s not that the BJP doesn’t have its share of infighting, for Vasundhara Raje still harbours ambitions of being the CM face much against the wishes of the Modi-Shah combine, but somehow, the BJP is better at containing media exposure and there are no public spats between Raje and the Central leadership. Even in Madhya Pradesh, the central leadership is said to be keen to remove Shivraj Singh Chouhan and bring him to Delhi to join the cabinet here, but Chouhan is resisting this move. This could be one reason why the much talked about Modi Cabinet reshuffle hasn’t happened yet. But the next round of elections will definitely be judged by the media keeping the yatra in the backdrop, so Congress is hoping to finally get a favourable showing that they can credit their young leader with. 

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