Mahatma Gandhi famously used political tours to connect with the people and turn their minds against the ruling dispensation. His most famous yatra was Dandi March, with a single point agenda of removing salt tax. However, he conducted many other tours for various purposes – for understanding the country better in the 1910s, for removal of untouchability in the 1930s, and for calming communal tensions in the 1940s. Many leaders since the Mahatma have used tours, without any elections in sight, to reap rich dividends during elections. The L. K. Advani led Ram Rath Yatra of the BJP led to creation of a large and permanent votebank and cadre for the party. More recently, in Andhra Pradesh, Jagan Reddy did a padayatra(walkathon) over more than a year, covered more than 3500 KM between 2017-19 and came to power with a huge majority in 2019.
The success of these and other such yatras has undoubtedly influenced the Bharat Jodo Yatra of Congress Party, which started on 7th of September from Kanyakumari. Led by Rahul Gandhi, the de-facto leader of the party, it will culminate in Jammu and Kashmir, covering 12 states in about 150 days. However, it is the ad-hockism of Rahul Gandhi brand of politics that fails to inspire any confidence in his yatras. However, just a few months ago in May, he claimed that India is not even a nation! In a bid to perhaps placate the radical Tamil separatists of DMK, he compared the country to the European Union and falsely claimed that India is not described as a nation in the constitution. From there to now claiming that he wants to “unite the nation”, the political inconsistency of Rahul Gandhi would definitely be troubling the saner heads in the Congress party. The recent resignation letter of Ghulam Nabi Azad reflects the same.
The inconsistency of Rahul Gandhi has confounded the party cadres loyal to the ideology and led to promotion of those personally loyal to him, regardless of merit. This ad-hockism also reflects in his interaction with various religious sects. A video clip of a certain fanatic Christian priest of Tamil Nadu is already doing rounds in which the pastor is seen proclaiming that “Jesus is the only God” and then explicitly denying the divinity of Hindu Gods. Rahul Gandhi does not object to this and has not since condemned that statement. During election seasons, he often does rounds of temples, has been promoted as a “janeudhari Brahmin” and was publicly given deeksha by a controversial Lingayat preacher. The impact of all this is not as intended – that is strengthening his secular credentials, but it does harm the Congress- it strengthens the suspicion of average Hindus regarding his religious affiliation.
All successful political movements have had a core political ideology with a leader with a visible commitment to that ideology. Even Congress used to have it till the times of Indira Gandhi. The BJP has its Hindutva and even the AAP has its claimed USPs, which it never fails to advertise. Congress of today on the other hand stands on shaky legs. The ideology of the rights based welfare state it wanted to build during UPA years has been implemented in a better manner by the BJP. The stain of corruption on the party still upsets the urban middle class so much that they would rather vote for any other party than Congress. In such a situation, rather than building a new platform ideologically consistent with Congress of old and taking help of old Congress hands for the same, Rahul Gandhi has started this yatra. If this yatra helps Rahul Gandhi in understanding the country better, it would still be worthwhile. As of now, it looks that Rahul Gandhi needs to do “Congress Jodo” before setting his hopes too high.
This article first appeared in Times of India Opinion.