Next week will begin the Congress Party’s long walk from Kanyakumari to Kashmir. Veteran leaders of our oldest political party have already taken to advertising this exercise on Twitter with the hashtag: #BharatJodoYatra. With the enthusiasm of schoolboys, elderly politicians who have never contested Lok Sabha elections post little speeches that tell us (surprise, surprise) that what unites India is our diversity. Other tweets reveal that ‘our leader @Rahul Gandhi (is) to sleep in a Container Cabin During #BharatJodoYatra’ without noticing that this makes their leader sound like an entitled prince for whom sleeping in a container is real hardship. Will his lesser fellow travellers also have containers, or will they be really roughing it out by sleeping in the open?
If you have read this column more than once, you must know that I am no fan of the Dynasty but to tell you the truth, these tweets and this ‘yatra’ have made me almost feel sorry for Sonia and family. It is hard to believe that with so many veteran political leaders available as advisors plus Rahul Gandhi’s ‘coterie’ of newbie politicians, something as outdated as a ‘padyatra’ was all that they could conjure up as an idea to help the Congress Party regain relevance. It is odd that they do not realise that in the five or six months that it will take for this journey to be completed, the Lok Sabha election will begin to loom ominously close.
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Instead of wasting time walking around India, it would be wiser for senior Congress leaders to stay in Delhi and concentrate their energies on coming up with real ideas on how they can battle Narendra Modi’s electoral juggernaut next time around. If I am showing unusual concern about the revival of the Congress Party, it is because we badly need an opposition party that offers India a real choice between pluralism and secularism and the religiosity and angry nationalism that the BJP offers.
The ‘padyatra’ is an exercise in futility. I say this from the experience of having walked some distance with Chandrashekhar on his ‘padyatra’ in 1983. By the end of the day the leader was nearly always too tired to meet local people or try and understand their problems. This is bound to happen this time as well and at a time when the Congress Party is at its lowest point. Not for want of walking long distances but for want of real introspection. Only from introspection can come new ideas.
In the past eight years that the Congress Party has sat in opposition and despite having lost two general elections, there have been no more than cosmetic attempts to understand what led to these massive electoral defeats. Eight years should have been a long enough time for the party’s senior leaders to honestly examine the reasons why the people of India no longer show enough interest in their ideas or their leaders to give them their votes.
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Here is a short list of reasons why. The Dynasty’s ‘charisma’ is not strong enough to lure voters because Indian voters no longer vote just because they like some political leader’s face. They vote for leaders they hope will be able to fulfil their aspirations. It is not for nothing that Modi’s election speeches are filled with the numbers of people who have been given toilets, gas connections, drinking water, bank accounts, free insurance, and homes. The reason why he won a second term was because voters were convinced that he had delivered on most of these fronts.
Congress leaders grumble that all he has done is run more efficiently welfare programmes that were devised by the party’s matriarch. This is true but have the party’s veterans sat down ever to work out why the party could not deliver on its own programmes? If welfarism and aggressive nationalism are Modi’s trump cards, then the Congress Party must relearn efficient welfarism and reclaim nationalism.
As the party that used nationalism to win India freedom, it is bizarre that it is the BJP that is now seen as the embodiment of Indian nationalism. It is not just new political ideas that the Congress Party needs but new economic ideas as well. Rahul Gandhi’s economic ideas are as outdated as the ‘padyatra’. He sounds like an old-fashioned Marxist when he abuses ‘Modi’s rich friends.’ Indian businessmen are not criminals but creators of wealth and jobs.
The Congress Party has one card with which Modi can never compete and this is the card of pluralism and real secularism. This is the giant chink in the BJP’s electoral juggernaut and while other ‘secular’ parties have made attempts to take advantage of it, the Congress Party’s attempts have been pathetically feeble. This has enabled Modi to change the subject and use the chink in the Congress Party’s armour to his advantage by banging on about ‘parivarvaad’. When the scions of the Dynasty are seen on this ‘padyatra’, the BJP will most certainly make more noise about hereditary democracy than ever before, and it is more than likely that the man sleeping in that container will be seen as an entitled prince instead of a modern politician.
So, what really will be achieved by sending Congress leaders, old and young, on a long walk for the next five months? The answer is nothing that will bring it any closer to vanquishing the BJP juggernaut.