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Bharat Jodo Yatra: Rahul Gandhi’s Gamble

A. J. Philip A. J. Philip
12 Sep 2022
Nehru’s attempt was to “discover” India. His great-grandson’s attempt, as he confessed at Kanyakumari, is to “hear” India. Rahul Gandhi is certainly the “fittest” politician in the country, although he does not claim to have a 56-inch chest.

A group of friends asked me whether I endorse Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Yatra. I usually do not sign such appeals, for I know that my signature or endorsement does not make the cause any valuable. Yet, I endorsed the Yatra because it seeks to unite the people, rather than divide them on the basis of religion or caste. It is certainly one of the most ambitious a political leader has undertaken so far.

No, I do not forget the Bharat Yatra former Prime Minister Chandra Shekhar undertook. He was a leader whom I respected a lot, especially after a Bhopal-Delhi train journey when I saw him busy reading a book. His Yatra lost much of its sheen when he utilised the money he collected on the way to build a farmhouse in the name of “ashram” on the Gurgaon-Sohna road.

I had an occasion to visit the “ashram” and wondered why a leader, who was once known as the Young Turk, took so much interest in real estate when the three estates called for his attention. The Yatra certainly played a role in Shekhar becoming the Prime Minister, whose regime is remembered for a cargo flight carrying gold bars, kept in the Reserve Bank vaults, for “safekeeping” in London.

Why mention Chandra Shekhar when Mahatma Gandhi had himself undertaken a tour of the country to understand it better after he returned from South Africa and remained a brief-less lawyer for some time. Few realised that he was testing the water before he could plunge into it to emerge as the Father of the Nation.

None of the yatras comes anywhere near the one undertaken by Adi Sankara, who in the eighth century made the first Bharat Darshan when he visited the four corners of what is now Bharat, that is India, and set up four mutts — Badrikashram Jyotirpeeth in the north, Dwarka's Shardha Peeth in the west, Govardhan Peeth in Puri in the east, and Sringeri Sharada Peetham in Chikkamagalur district, Karnataka.

At the highest point in Srinagar is located the Shankaracharya temple to commemorate his visit to the Kashmir Valley. How he travelled to all those places when road communication was almost non-existent is not known. He even visited Mahishi in North Bihar to have an exchange of ideas with the great savant of Bihar, Mandan Mishra!

My own “discovery of India” began — it still continues — when I read Jawaharlal Nehru’s book by the same title. I thought it was flawless until a professor at my alma mater, St. Thomas College, Kozhencherry, did a Ph.D on the errors in Nehru’s writing. 

My efforts to get hold of a copy of the thesis were in vain as the professor was no more and his children were settled in the US. I remember the meeting held at the college where the professor was felicitated. Everybody praised him for the intellectual exercise that yielded him a Ph.D.

Nobody mentioned in what circumstances Nehru wrote his books whether it is the Autobiography or the Discovery of India or the Glimpses of World History. There was no Google Guru at that time. Nor was he at the British Museum in London, the most favourite destination for any scholar. On a visit to Nainital in Uttarakhand, I saw the jail where Nehru spent many years writing his books.

Nehru’s attempt was to “discover” India. His great-grandson’s attempt, as he confessed at Kanyakumari, is to “hear” India. Rahul Gandhi is certainly the “fittest” politician in the country, although he does not claim to have a 56-inch chest. Nor does he claim to have a double-heart. He certainly has a heart that is easily moved by the sight of penury or even hardship. 

When a lady passenger had difficulty in taking out her luggage from the overhead storage, Rahul Gandhi helped her. Soon, his detractors trolled him for not letting the air-hostesses do their job. I have myself helped fellow passengers and did not wait for air-hostesses to come. Now that I am a senior citizen, many come forward to help me. His detractors have a mindset that sees manual job as inferior!

Even for Rahul Gandhi who has demonstrable skills in snorkelling and scuba-diving, what he has chosen to do is to undergo a great test of endurance. He will be covering a distance of 3,570 kms between Kanyakumari and Kashmir. He will pass through 12 states and two Union Territories. The journey is wholly on foot. Accompanying him are 118 Bharat Yatris, including women.

The padyatra was flagged off at Kanyakumari, where the Bay of Bengal, the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean merge, by Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M.K. Stalin in the presence of the Congress Chief Ministers of Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan. I have seen the live coverage of the Yatra on YouTube and it can verily be said that it has evoked a good response from the ordinary people. 

It may not be surprising if the Yatra finds mass support in southern Tamil Nadu and Kerala where the Congress still has a good presence. The real test for the Yatris will begin when they cross the Vindhyas and move towards the Aravali Ranges and, finally, the mighty Himalayas. Let there be no mistaking that it is an attempt to rejuvenate the Congress, as mentioned by his mother and Congress president Sonia Gandhi.

The last time I voted for the Congress was when former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh contested unsuccessfully for the Lok Sabha. As a journalist, I never tried to cultivate any politician. In fact, I try to keep away from them. I reserve the right to question them if I find them on the wrong side of the law or pursuing an agenda which is at variance with the interests of the common man.

Yet, I cannot accept the slogan “Congress-mukt Bharat”, which is a prelude to “Communist-mukt Bharat”, “Muslim-mukt Bharat” and “Isai-Mukt Bharat”. No, mine is not a misapprehension. Our media have been going to town with probabilities of Rishi Sunak becoming the Prime Minister of Britain. He did well in the initial stages of the election but, finally, lost to Liz Truss in the popular vote.

Did any British politician attack Sunak for his Indian connection? True, the media highlighted the fact that his wife was richer than the Queen and did not pay taxes under British law. Is that the case in India where Sonia Gandhi is always referred to as an Italian? We celebrate the fact that people of Indian origin hold high positions in multinational companies like Microsoft and ministerial berths in countries like Canada and Britain.

What is the state of Muslim representation in the Union Cabinet? Or, for that matter, Christian representation? Christians have a large presence in the education sector. Yet, there is no representation for Christians in the minorities’ education commission. Remember that in the past the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) was headed by a Jesuit. Of course, he was chosen for his competence, not for the cassock he wore.

Once the Gujarat Electricity Board had a chairman. His name was Varghese Kurien, who is also known as the “milkman of India”. When I interviewed him, he asked me one pointed question, “Will the Kerala Government appoint a successful Gujarati businessman in Kerala as chairman of the KSEB?”

Gujarat is a changed place now. Modi and Co have no regard for Kurien or his mentor Tribhuvandas Patel, a dyed-in-the-wool Congressman who spent the evening of his life in a small house on the Amul campus at Anand. 

Mahatma Gandhi was first given a job by a Gujarati Muslim, who had a roaring business in South Africa. Today, there is not a single Muslim among the BJP legislators in Gujarat, forget the State Cabinet. What’s worse, there are attempts to marginalise the community, not just in Gujarat but all over the country.

Of late, film and documentary producers have been at work producing films and videos glorifying the past and projecting little known characters as great saviours of the nation. One school textbook says that Savarkar used to visit “India” while he was jailed in Andamans using extraterrestrial powers. Of course, the book did not say why such a person had to send mercy petition after mercy petition to the British.

Those who know the history of Andamans, especially the Cellular Jails there, know how the condition of the prisoners deteriorated when the Japanese took control of the jail for a brief period. During that time, Netaji Bose visited the jail because he was close to the Japanese. The prisoners approached him for help.

The fact is that he could not do a thing for them. A Sikh friend’s father, who was a medical doctor posted at the jail, was declared a British spy, jailed in the same jail and was killed. The collaborator of the Japanese and friend of Mussolini has been rewarded with a statue with a canopy that suited the King of England.

At the rate at which Muslim names are changed, those born after 2014 would not even know about the Mughal period from the early 16th to the mid-19th century. When the Viceroy’s House was re-christened Rashtrapati Bhavan, it had a logic. Renaming Kingsway as Rajpath and Queensway as Janpath was also logical.

No such thoughts occurred to Narendra Modi when he changed the name of Rajpath to Karthavya Path. Yes, Karthavya (Duty) is important. What about the fundamental rights that the Constitution guarantees? Will he rename Janpath as “Adhikar Path” or Path of Rights? Is this time for semantic jugglery?

There has been a large body of work which suggests that the condition of the people has been deteriorating. The hiatus between the rich and the poor has been widening by leaps and bounds. Gautam Adani was a little-known industrialist till he made available his aircraft to Narendra Modi for his 2014 Lok Sabha campaign.

Every day the aircraft would take off from Ahmedabad and return to the city the same day after Modi addressed a series of election meetings. Today, the same Adani is the richest person in Asia. He owns ports, airports, mines and what not.

The condition of the people has been deteriorating. Joblessness has been acute. Most people are yet to return to the pre-Covid period. Meanwhile, prices of essential commodities have been going up. There used to be a popular Hindi jingle about Dal-Roti, the staple diet of the poor. Pulses are so expensive that the poor cannot afford them. They make do with onion and green chilly. Yet, there is no discussion in the media about such issues.

Instead, attention is diverted from bread-and-butter issues to cooked-up issues like Har Ghar Tiranga. Hundreds of crores of rupees have been wasted in the name of promoting the national flag. What has the country gained by the campaign? Of course, some businessmen have benefited.

There are 195 countries in the world today. Has any country wasted its resources to have “Har Ghar Tiranga”? Nothing better can be expected from a Prime Minister who spent Rs 20,000 crore to beautify the Central Vista in New Delhi and build a new Parliament House and a house for himself. 

Of course, he showed his priorities when he built the world’s largest statue for a Gujarati, who was born a Congressman, lived a Congressman and died a Congressman little knowing that not a single government dollar was spent on constructing the Statue of Liberty in New York. It was Joseph Pulitzer’s newspaper which raised money to erect the statue gifted by the people of Paris.

Divisive slogans like Love Jihad are raised to drive the minorities to a corner and institutions like the Enforcement Directorate are used to send shivers down the spine of anyone who stands up to the regime. It is in this context that attempts like Bharat Jodo Yatra need to be seen. No nation can prosper without the unity of its people. Otherwise, it will end up like the Third Reich.

ajphilip@gmail.com

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