Anand Sahay | As Yatra nears end, will it shift India’s politics, change history?

The Asian Age.  | Anand K Sahay

Opinion, Columnists

The response to Bharat Jodo Yatra has been overwhelming.

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi carries torch with party leaders and supporters during the party's Bharat Jodo Yatra at Lakhanpur border in J&K. (PTI Photo)

Unless something untoward happens, the Bharat Jodo Yatra (BJY) will culminate in Srinagar on January 30, the date on which Mahatma Gandhi fell to a murderous conspiracy hatched by India’s first fascists. The date has considerable symbolic value, especially now. The essence of it has provided the Yatra with its ideological fuel — the same fuel that drove the Mahatma, especially toward the end of his life.

Rahul Gandhi’s popular frontline slogan of “Nafrat Chhoro, Bharat Jodo” — a call to shed communal hatred and unite India — which has been turned into a jingle that has played to enthusiastic appreciation as lakhs have marched spiritedly over thousands of kilometres, attests to the appeal of the Mahatma’s credo and its propagation by Mr Gandhi through the BJY.

Remembering the Mahatma on the anniversary of his assassination seeks to underline that something is seriously wrong with the country nowadays, and that in some ways the current situation reminds us of the sectarian religious hysteria — which killed Gandhi — that was whipped up by adherents of a particular thought around the time of Independence.

The difference between then and now too is revealing: The national leadership after Independence took strong measures, including a ban on the RSS for a while, to squelch the attempt of extremists to control the narrative and establish hegemony, with Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel accusing the outfit of fomenting trouble, while the opposite is the case today. The forces of mayhem and violence now have a free run and appear to receive indulgent treatment.

The overwhelming response to the Bharat Jodo Yatra suggests that ordinary Indians have figured this out. Other than those strongly supporting the ideology of inter-community hatred, ordinary Indians would appear to have put their thinking cap on at last, although it remains to be seen to what extent. However, if voting behaviour is a key test, then the ruling party was roundly beaten in the Assembly election in Himachal Pradesh while the BJY was in progress, in spite of the hard work put in by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

To the burning question of communal hatred and intense communal propaganda spread by dangerous outfits which, alas, see themselves mirrored in the ruling establishment, the Bharat Jodo Yatra has added another burning dimension — that of record unemployment in the Modi Raj with the allied theme of an inexorable rise in prices.

Such troubling levels of unemployment speak of a disregard of policies that can shore up morale among the poor classes and across the broad middle class. This, in turn, shows that the demographic dividend — the benefits meant to accrue from a young population — is passing India by in the nearly nine years of Mr Modi’s rule.

And this brings up the question that has been asked in recent times — will the poor of the majority community continue to be guided by the communal impulse alone when they vote, in spite of their worsening economiccondition?

While few answers are definitive in appraising political movements and trends when politics are not static, the above question can be answered through another question: Who is to say that many enthusiasts now marching — or actually half-running — in the Yatra (since Mr Gandhi’s walk makes others sweat) have not been BJP votaries before, and whether by now they have not already influenced many like themselves?

If this is even halfway valid, then it is a fair bet that the political tastes of voters are undergoing a change, meaning the haunting question — whether people will continue choosing economic misery so long as it comes with the emotional satisfaction that nurturing communal violence may bring — is at last rendered “non-est” or non-existent.

The Yatra that Mr Gandhi has guided deftly, and in intrepid fashion, has by now produced the widespread understanding that the architects of unemployment and vaulting prices are also the blind men who did not see open communal violence being unleashed, frequently in the guise of policy. Put another way, the economic and social well-being of a nation will continue to suffer if inter-community violence is not urgently reined in.

What struck this columnist, while walking for some distance with the thousands of people when the BJY resumed its onward journey from Delhi on January 3, was that there were hardly any slogans exalting the Congress or its leaders, barring the occasional shout for Rahul Gandhi. There were no slogans, allegations or hateful rhetoric against government leaders. There was no sea of Congress Party flags though this party has obviously done some mobilising.

Missing were the cheerleaders of normal protest marches who in their ringing voice give the sonorous, rhyming, lead for others to follow. It was plain and simple a wave of people of all sections intent on walking with an inner purpose.

And way more than the thick numbers of marchers were patiently waiting women and men of all classes, lined up on both sides of the road, cheering on the Yatris in an atmosphere of unconcealed enthusiasm. “Nafrat Chhoro, Bharat Jodo” set to music was amplified and played right through. From eyewitnesses, one heard afterward, if there were one lakh people walking in the Yatra itself once BJY crossed into western Uttar Pradesh, there was a mind-boggling horde of some 10 lakh farmers and others walking with the yatris until they crossed into Haryana — and this region has been for some years a no-go zone for the Congress, electorally.

Not a partisan demonstration but a genuine people’s march — is the only way to characterise the BJY. In what ways do people change history when they begin to move? That is the question.