Bharat Jodo Yatra takeaways: Rahul Gandhi, rebranded, and the silver lining for Congress | The Financial Express

Bharat Jodo Yatra takeaways: Rahul Gandhi, rebranded, and the silver lining for Congress

Rahul Gandhi may have finally shed his image of a reluctant politician. But where does that leave Congress as elections approach?

bharat jodo yatra, rahul gandhi
The Congress has played it safe by reiterating time and again that the Yatra was never meant for political gains. (File photo: IE)

The culmination of the Bharat Jodo Yatra on January 30 in Srinagar after crossing through 12 states and two union territories over 150 days marks a significant milestone for Rahul Gandhi’s political career. For it is not just his achievement of walking the length of the country. Rahul has perhaps managed his first-ever effective image makeover since he entered active politics.

Largely painted as a reluctant part-time politician who refuses to step out of his comfort zone, Rahul attempted to shatter that image as he took to the streets with a resolve to unite India, and succeeded, to a large extent.

Also Read: Bharat Jodo Yatra went from south to north but had countrywide effect, gave alternative vision to country: Rahul Gandhi

High on optics, low on impact?

But optics mean little in politics unless they translate into impact. And this, perhaps, will be the biggest question troubling Congress — what next after Bharat Jodo Yatra? On its part, the Yatra has checked all boxes in terms of what Rahul stepped out to achieve — a resolve to unite India against the politics of hate and prejudice while flagging concerns such as livelihood questions, unemployment problems, and growing inequality.

Yet, any tangible evidence of what the Yatra has managed to achieve is immeasurable if not for electoral impact in the high-stakes polls in Karnataka, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan. One may argue that Rahul never set out to make a political dent in the first place, that he is thinking of reinvigorating the idea of Congress in the people’s imagination, and that he is certainly not thinking of electoral outcomes — at least not till 2024.

Where is the alternative?

But the party is in its worst shape ever. It has lost power, and several leaders, in one state after the other since the Narendra Modi government came to power. Its internal power struggles — from Rajasthan to Chhattisgarh — are aplenty. And while the Yatra may have succeeded at breathing new life into the Congress cadre, one has failed to find the alternative politics that Rahul has claimed the BJY aims to instill.

Rahul continued to blame BJP-RSS, Adani-Ambani for the nation’s societal and economic woes through the Yatra, but failed to articulate his own vision that would resonate with the masses. He has so far not provided any revolutionary idea to extract the nation from the deep economic mess that he has claimed India has plunged into. All that one has heard from him so far are promises of farm loan waivers, free electricity and so on.

Promised land

There was also hope that the Yatra would galvanize support for the Congress from like-minded Opposition parties and strengthen their unity in the Lok Sabha elections in 2024. While some parties did walk hand-in-hand with Rahul, unanimity on a leader who could take on the BJP from within the Opposition remains as much a burning question after the Yatra as it was before.

If it was any indication, only eight of the over 20 parties that the Congress had invited to be part of the closing of Rahul Gandhi’s Yatra managed to turn up. Though the inclement weather also played its part here, there were several rejections that Rahul faced along the way too.

Also read: Bharat Jodo Yatra ends: Curtains down for the Congress’ 4000 km yatra, Rahul Gandhi speaks of love over hate

What next for Congress?

Rahul admitted by the end of the Yatra that his journey was aimed at reinventing India and not at the resurgence of Congress, to protest the politics of “fear, bigotry and prejudice”, and the growing economic inequality. Yatras by political leaders in the past have led to immense gains for their parties. LK Advani’s Rath Yatra and YSR’s marches are legendary in terms of the impact they had.

Perhaps, the only silver lining for the Congress is that it has handsomely positioned itself as the sole national challenger to the BJP that has a pan-India presence. If it was meant to be a show of strength and organisational ability, Congress has definitely scored some points there. But the jury is still out on whether the importance of the politics of love and brotherhood that Rahul aims to have successfully propagated through the Yatra the idea of brotherhood has had any tangible impact.

The Congress has played it safe by reiterating time and again that the Yatra was never meant for political gains. Yet, any small victory that Congress sees in the near future will be credited to the Bharat Jodo Yatra. Whether the same holds true for the opposite scenario is anybody’s guess.

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First published on: 31-01-2023 at 21:24 IST