Bharat Jodo Yatra: A niche for Rahul Gandhi

A. J. Philip A. J. Philip
07 Nov 2022
The Bharat Jodo Yatra has done a lot to refurbish the image of Rahul. Many have begun to see him in a good light.

When Congress MP Rahul Gandhi announced his decision to go on his Bharat Jodo Yatra from Kanyakumari to Kashmir, many saw it as just bravado. Some claimed that he would chicken out after he trekked a few hundred kilometres. Some others thought that he would find an excuse to terminate his Yatra before it reached anywhere near Mumbai, forget Srinagar, his ultimate destination.

The most distressed were the leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) who did not know how to respond to his Yatra. When the Yatra entered Kerala from Tamil Nadu, the CPM unleashed the propaganda that he spent more time in Kerala than in Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh. They forgot for a while that Kerala was much more length-wise than width-wise.

His detractors were stunned by the response he evoked in all the places through which he passed. Lakhs of men, women and children waited for hours to cheer him as he and his Yatris passed through their areas on foot. Some of them took pride in joining hands with Rahul as he steadily and silently moved on preaching love and brotherhood.

The BJP hoped against hope that he would not be able to attract any crowd when he left the comfort zone of Kerala, where the Congress still has its roots. Despite the fact that the BJP is ruling Karnataka, tens of thousands of people gathered wherever Rahul stopped. The BJP leaders were shocked that he could inspire so much confidence among the common people.

For once, Rahul did not preach anywhere. Rather, he used the journey to listen to the people, more to empathise with them than to solve their problems. Those who know counselling know that lending an ear to a person in distress is in itself counselling. That is what yesteryear’s Naxalite and founder of Anweshi K. Ajitha said while addressing Kerala Club in New Delhi on her NGO’s work.

Again, the BJP thought that Rahul would be exposed when he entered Andhra Pradesh, once the Congress Party’s citadel. They wanted to see him walking forlorn with his fellow walkers. Surprisingly, he received a huge response from the people of Andhra Pradesh too. The trend continues as he traverses Telangana. He is assured of massive crowds when he enters Maharashtra and continues his onward journey.

Only once or twice he disrupted the walk either to pay tributes to a departed leader or to attend an urgent meeting of the Congress in New Delhi. He follows a strict regimen. At one place in Telangana, he surprised school students when he virtually defeated them in an impromptu race.

If there is any yardstick to measure his growth as a walker, it is the length of his beard. It is at best a conjecture how long the beard would be when he reaches Srinagar. Anyway, nobody harbours any doubt about his ability to complete the Yatra. If he is able to complete it, he will be the first Indian political leader to do so. Of course, one does not forget the Bharat Yatra that former Young Turk Chandra Shekhar undertook.

He was able to complete the Yatra which terminated in New Delhi but it did not enthuse the people because he would often break the journey and return to the road only after long breaks. In short, continuity was not the hallmark of his Yatra. He used the Yatra to collect funds which he used to buy a large plot of land near Sohna in Haryana. People began to call his new house an ashram.

True, he became Prime Minister but his prime ministership is remembered not so much for the police allegedly deputed to spy on Rajiv Gandhi as for the national shame he caused when he allowed a Jumbo Jet carrying gold bars, used as reserves and kept in the Reserve Bank vaults, to leave for London to resuscitate the rupee against the dollar and the pound. Nothing was more shameful than the sight of the plane about to leave for London.

There is only one comparable journey that anyone undertook. This happened in the eighth century when Adi Sankara went on what is known as his Dig Vijay Yatra. He visited the four corners of the country to set up his Mutts. They are Badrikashram Jyotirpeeth in the north, Dwarka's Shardha Peeth in the west, Govardhan Peetha in Puri in the east, and Sringeri Sharada Peetham in Chikkamagalur district, Karnataka.

Adi Sankara is also believed to have visited Mahishi in Bihar and Srinagar in Kashmir. Since he had divine powers that enabled him to enter the body of a dog to experience the pleasure of sex to continue his disputation with Mandan Mishra, it is difficult to believe that he walked all the way to all those places were roads were almost non-existent. 

In any case, all comparisons are odious. One thing is very clear. The Bharat Jodo Yatra has done a lot to refurbish the image of Rahul. Many have begun to see him in a good light. A few years ago when he jumped into the sea and dived deep, many realised that he was an aquatic champion who had the requisite qualification to do aquatic acrobatics. There is nothing strange about it.

Ask any pilot and he would tell you how difficult the routine medical tests are to renew the pilot’s licence. One of them asked me a bit angrily why he should jump from a certain height to prove that he is physically fit. I am sure Rahul’s father and former Prime minister Rajiv Gandhi, who was a licensed commercial pilot, would have followed a strict physical regimen to remain a pilot. 

Whatever be the case, I have seen a photograph of his great grandfather, Jawaharlal Nehru, doing Shirshasana (standing on head), called the king of asanas. My paternal uncle used to do it at home almost every day. In short, yoga and asanas run deep in the veins of the Nehru clan.

A politician is measured for his qualities of both head and heart. During the last elections in West Bengal, a flyover under construction in Kolkata collapsed. One evening I was on social media when I saw a video which had just been uploaded. It showed a flyover under construction at Gurgaon collapsing. I took a screenshot and did a post on Facebook within minutes.

Why I took interest in the collapse was because I used to see the construction on the way to Gusbethi in Haryana where Deepalaya, of which I was the Chief Executive, had a school. The incident happened in Haryana, ruled by the BJP. The bridge was being constructed by the National Highway Authority of India, a Central undertaking. The failure was that of the Modi government.

It was an accident, a failure of the engineers. No Opposition party blamed Modi for the mishap. But that was not the case in West Bengal. Narendra Modi was quick in fixing the responsibility on the Trinamool Congress government. He said the bridge collapse was a warning given by God. He did not mention which god. The collapse implied that the whole state would be destroyed if Trinamool Congress continued to rule the state.

When I saw this video, I wondered how Modi could plummet to such low depths. Gujarat will go to polls in December next. Rahul could have taken the government to task for its failure to avert the tragedy. Instead, he said he did not want to take any political mileage from the tragedy. He saw it as a tragedy, unlike Modi.

What happened in Morbi in Gujarat on Sunday last was shocking. It was a suspension bridge built in 1887 by the local ruler. The contract for renovating the bridge was given to Oreva, a clock manufacturer. The company did not have any experience of undertaking the job. So, what it did was to engage another company as a subcontractor. In doing so, both companies wanted to cut corners. So what they did was to do some painting work. The cables, nuts and bolts which were rusting away remained while the bridge was opened to the public. They did not obtain a fitness certificate from the authorities concerned.

As many as 400 people were on the bridge when the cables broke plunging all of them into the river. At the time of writing this, as many as 135 were dead with many injured, some of them still in hospital. The municipal authorities did not follow any of the standard procedures while giving contract to Oreva. Had someone checked the renovation work, the accident could have been averted. Yet, what did Oreva tell the court hearing the case?

A manager of the company said that the disaster was an “act of God”. It was the same argument Modi used against Mamata Banerjee. He is not the first one to do so. A few years ago when an earthquake struck Nepal, some BJP leaders blamed Rahul Gandhi for the calamity. His fault? “A beef-eater like him had visited Nepal”. When an earthquake hit Uttarakhand, the same forces blamed the same leader because he had visited the state.

Yet, none of the leaders was reprimanded. One BJP leader from Kerala tweeted that it was the presence of Christian missionaries in Nepal that caused the earthquake. When the likes of him rule the country, what else can be expected? Few know how Dr Rajendra Prasad became a top Congress leader worthy enough to be chosen as the first President of India.

A devastating earthquake hit Bihar and Nepal with Munger as the epicenter. A committee with Rajendra Prasad as chairman was constituted to provide relief to the earthquake-hit. This was in 1934. He did a wonderful job and he became the tallest Congress leader from Bihar. Mahatma Gandhi saw the earthquake differently.

He saw it as a God’s punishment for treating the “Harijans”, a term he used for the Scheduled Castes, as “untouchables”. It was an irrational and unscientific statement for a leader of his calibre to make. He, perhaps, did not know that there was a group of Scheduled Castes in Kerala who were even treated as “unseeable”.

It was Rabindranath Tagore who first used the term “Mahatma” for Gandhi. He objected to his statement and wrote a letter to Gandhi asking him to publish it in his journal Harijan. He exposed the ridiculousness of linking ethical issues with cosmic happenings. Gandhi had to publish the Bard of Santiniketan’s letter. In a round-about manner he admitted his folly while claiming that it was his personal belief.

Rahul’s response to the Morbi disaster showed that human considerations were above political considerations. Of course, not everyone can appreciate the goodness of another. Those who wear a yellow spectacle would see everything only in a yellow shade. 

There is little doubt that the Bharat Jodo Yatra has evoked a good response from the people at large. Rahul has emerged as the tallest Congress leader. Few have the guts or the stamina or the charisma to undertake such a journey. It is a different matter whether the Congress would be able to use the gains of the Yatra for the electoral advantage of the party.

Electoral victories and defeats depend on various factors like the electoral alliances that a party forges. The BJP had invested heavily into perpetuating the myth that Rahul was an idiot. He has never even once shied away from meeting the media and answering whatever questions they had to ask him. It is now eight years since Modi became prime minister but he is yet to address the media.

When his teleprompter conked out while he was addressing an international gathering at Davos, he could not even say one sentence by way of concluding his speech. Yet, the irony is that Narendra Modi is considered a great communicator, while Rahul Gandhi who has been walking with the common people from dawn to dusk everyday for the last so many weeks is called a Pappu. What an irony!

ajphilip@gmail.com

Bharat Jodo Yatra Rahul Gandhi Congress Yatra Kerala BJP Narendra Modi Morbi bridge collapse case News Issue 46 2022 Indian Currents

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