Rahul Gandhi re-invents himself through a long march - GulfToday

Rahul Gandhi re-invents himself through a long march

BRP Bhaskar


Indian journalist with over 50 years of newspaper, news agency and television experience.

Indian journalist with over 50 years of newspaper, news agency and television experience.

Rahul Gandhi

Rahul Gandhi

While the Congress was going through the process of electing a new president, Rahul Gandhi was on a march from Kanyakumari at the southern tip of the subcontinent to Srinagar, capital of Jammu and Kashmir, in the north.

Since Mahatma Gandhi, with 78 volunteers, walked 385 kilometres from his ashram in Ahmedabad to Dandi on the coast in 1930 to make salt from sea water, breaking a law promulgated by the colonial regime, march on foot has been a form of political action which appeals to the Indian mind. Lately, however, its appeal has been declining as the activity has acquired a partisan character with leaders staging marches solely to mobilise party workers ahead of elections.

A rath yatra (chariot ride) in a modified motor vehicle undertaken by then Bharatiya Janata Party President Lal Kishen Advani, from west to east, in 1990 precipitated communal polarisation in the Gangetic plain and paved the way for Hindutva’s rise to power.

Rahul Gandhi named his march Bharat Jodo Yatra, meaning a march to unite India, which the Modi regime had divided on sectarian lines through measures such as the new Citizenship Act and the change in Jammu and Kashmir’s status. In a sense Rahul Gandhi’s march, from south to north, was a belated Congress bid to counter the effect of Advani’s yatra.

Many in the Congress and the other parties were sceptical when Gandhi announced he would walk from Kanyakumari to Srinagar, a distance of about 3,700 kilometres over a four-month period. BJP leaders dubbed it a “container yatra” as Rahul Gandhi and fellow- marchers spent the night in containers mounted on accompanying trucks.

Much to the surprise of the sceptics, he attracted crowds even in states where the Congress is no longer a significant force. The success of a march cannot, of course, be judged by the size of the spectators as mere curiosity could bring people out into the streets.

When Rahul Gandhi unfurled the national flag in the heart of Srinagar at the end of the journey, a BJP leader said he was able to do that because of the abolition of Kashmir’s special status by the government. Could Home Minister Amit Shah walk from Jammu to Srinagar, Gandhi asked.

The Congress party’s official assessment is that Rahul Gandhi’s march was a success. A march on foot or a ride in a chariot can make little difference on the ground. The polarisation for which Advani is given credit, was a result of the work done by Hindutva cadres later, including pulling down of Babri Masjid.

Dividing society can be done through violent and destructive activities. Uniting society is a task that can be accomplished only through peaceful, constructive activities. If Rahul Gandhi’s march was motivated by nobler consideration s than doing better in the next election, the Congress must come up with a constructive programme to carry forward the mission of uniting India.

Some Congressmen are claiming a new Rahul has emerged. Partymen as well as others will be watching keenly to see how different the re-invented Rahul is from his former self.

The Congress had invited leaders of more than 2o parties to the Srinagar rally at the end of the march. Only 11 of them turned up. Most of those who stayed away are leaders with prime ministerial ambitions.

When Rahul Gandhi resigned as Congress President in 2019 owning responsibility for the party’s poor performance in that year’s Lok Sabha poll, he was hoping to regain the post when organisational elections were held. But when elections were called, he stayed out of the contest, heeding calls from a section of the party for a president from outside the First Family.

Mallikarjuna Kharge, who was elected President, is close to the Gandhi family. He has to come out of its shadow and act independently.

The party has entered a new phase. It has been able to limit the Gandhi family’s leadership role. But it does not appear to be in a position to do without it.

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