Sunil Gatade | After the Yatra: Will it lead to Rahul’s transformation?
The more a leader goes to the people, the more he connects better, and understands better
As the longest padayatra in modern India concluded earlier this week, the resounding note is that the outreach from Kanyakumari to Kashmir has succeeded beyond all expectations and Rahul Gandhi has been able to transform himself as a tough leader ahead of the Lok Sabha polls in 2024.
Only time will tell how much the Congress leader has succeeded politically, but the fact remains that the yatra has been able to strike a chord in the hearts of all those who strive for “Bharat Jodo”. No longer anyone can take the Congress leader lightly.
The timing of the yatra was superb as nine Assembly polls are lined up this year and the parliamentary elections are just 14 months away.
The Bharat Jodo Yatra was undoubtedly the “mother” of all yatras, at least in recent decades, given the message of love and brotherhood that it sought to spread. It was a political yatra but it was also much more than that as it sought to usher in a narrative of peace and harmony amid much turbulence.
Almost the near silence of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who never leaves any opportunity to take a dig at his detractors, over the yatra speaks volumes of the churn that Rahul gandhi’s exercise has caused in the ruling party. In cricketing parlance, the young Congress leader has, at last, found his line and length on the unpredictable pitch.
But the fact is that yatras have always worked wonders in India whatever might be the aim and objective.
“Aadmi gar chalta rahe, mil jaye har khajana”, a poet had once said, implying that a man who sets out on a journey unlocks the world's wonders. That might have been the trigger behind politicians of all hues embarking on innumerable yatras to reach out to the people.
The latest who joined the yatra mode is N. Lokesh, son of TDP supremo N. Chandrababu Naidu. Lokesh is leading a “Yuva Galam” (Youth Voice) padayatra, travelling 4,000 km over 400 days from January 27, calling it the “game-changer” that would dislodge the Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy government in Andhra Pradesh. The politics of undivided Andhra Pradesh has several times altered to the tune of the yatras by its leaders. Jagan Mohan Reddy had embarked on a similar exercise five years back.
Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar has already set out on the “Samadhan Yatra”. Mr Kumar, a foe turned friend turned foe of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has vowed to bring the Opposition together to take on an aggressive BJP ahead of the 2024 general election.
Mr Nitish Kumar is no stranger to yatras, having taken out several such ventures before. The latest yatra would be his 14th since July 2005, when he had embarked on his “Nyay Yatra” to seek justice from people ahead of the November 2005 Assembly polls. Nitish Kumar came to power in November 2005. He had taken out his last “Samaj Sudhar Abhiyan Yatra” in December 2021.
Narendra Modi too knows much about yatras. He was the convenor of the Kanyakumari to Kashmir Ekta Yatra undertaken by then BJP president Murli Manohar Joshi in the early 1990s. As Gujarat CM, he had taken out the first Gujarat “Gaurav Yatra” after the communal riots of 2002 and before the state Assembly elections held soon afterwards.
The second “Gaurav Yatra” was organised in 2017 ahead of that year’s state Assembly polls. It has paid rich dividends to the BJP, which boasts of Gujarat as its “Hindutva laboratory” for the past nearly three decades. Some months back, ahead of the the Assembly polls, a Gaurav Yatra was taken out on five different routes by senior central and state leaders of the party.
Some two decades back, Congress leaders from Karnataka and Kerala as also some other states have jointly done bus journeys or taken out yatras ahead of the polls to project a united face of the party. Tragedy struck the Congress Parivartan Yatra a decade ago in Chhattisgarh, when Maoists had attacked the yatra in the Jhiram valley killing 28 people and injuring 36, including former Union minister Vidya Charan Shukla.
As an Opposition leader, Sharad Pawar embarked on a “Shetkari Dindi” (farmers’ march) way back in 1980. The “dindi” was from Jalgaon to Nagpur, covering many districts of North Maharashtra and Vidarbha. Mr Pawar had walked for around 440 km.
There have been some parallels between the Bharat Jodo Yatra and the Bharat Yatra in 1983 undertaken by Chandra Shekhar, who was once the prominent Young Turk in the Congress during the Indira Gandhi days. Chandra Shekhar later became her bitter critic and was president of the Janata Party, which defeated the Congress in the Lok Sabha polls in 1977 held after the Emergency. Incidentally, Chandra Shekhar briefly became the Prime Minister with the support of the Congress led by the late Rajiv Gandhi. He became PM after the fall of the V.P. Singh government in 1990 as the ruling Janata Dal split.
Lal Krishna Advani’s Somnath to Ayodhya Rath Yatra in 1990 changed the course of politics in the country. This yatra not only changed the course of the BJP but it catalysed a chain of events that resulted in the demolition of the Babri Masjid two years later. Mr Advani took out some other yatras as well, but the one from Somnath to Ayodhya turned out to be historic.
Credit should go to Mahatma Gandhi for using the instrument of the yatra to take on the British colonial masters a century ago. The Father of the Nation showed the strength and the effectiveness of the yatra as he took on the mighty British Empire through the legendary Dandi March. It was an act of non-violent civil disobedience in colonial India that popularised the concept of “satyagraha” both within and outside the country.
Coming to the present, the Bharat Jodo Yatra has been one of the more interesting developments of 2022-2023. As a political commentator put it aptly, the yatra may be seen as a desperate journey for desperate times, but something along the way has clicked, both for Rahul Gandhi and for those who want constitutional issues to be highlighted.
The long and short of it is that yatras have been paying propositions politically. This is because the more a leader goes to the people, the more he connects better, and understands better. Someone may even say that adventures are the best way to learn, but the fact is that yatras are in the DNA of India.