However, the yatra may have helped Rahul leave behind his ‘pappu’ image for now.
NEW DELHI: Congress leader Rahul Gandhi’s image hasn’t improved despite his Bharat Jodo Yatra (BJY), though his coterie claims his image has improved. Though the yatra may have helped Rahul Gandhi leave behind his “pappu” image for the time being, in Indian political landscape, he is still seen as a “part-time” political—an image which has been made worse by his past failures in running the organisation and simultaneously, his inability to win elections.
Rahul Gandhi’s critics claim that though he has escaped responsibility of fixing his party, he has, instead, switched to an image-building exercise to match Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s popularity. Congress leaders, however, believe that Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Yatra is an “important ingredient” of a recipe that will make the party supreme on the ideological front, and will pay rich dividends in the 2029 Lok Sabha polls. “Till then, the Congress ideology will spread and overshadow the saffron ideology of Hindutva; the focus is on ideology not on electoral benefits,” the Congress ex-president of a state said.
A senior Congress office-bearer working with Gandhi said, “Today, it is different. Being seen with Gandhi these days is getting noticed by leaders for I get multiple calls. It has created a positive energy within the camp and working with him has become more honourable than ever. Yes, there is a lot to be done after this and we will do it.” Syed Naseer Hussain, Rajya Sabha MP and coordinator to Congress president, Mallikarjun Kharge, told The Sunday Guardian, “If somebody wants to have electoral benefits out of it, definitely they should do a lot of structural changes in the organisation and reach out to people in those areas Bharat Jodo Yatra has gone or where it has not gone. A socio-political movement like the yatra is a different thing and electioneering is different. So you need to put your house in order; put things in place. Restructure your organisation; plus now, we are fighting different enemies.” Meanwhile, the yatra’s progress in the Hindi heartland (Delhi) of the country has brought fresh energy to party cadres. However, the party knows that riding on the momentum of the yatra alone will have no significant bearing on the general elections of 2024, unless there are big changes in the organisation.
WHAT OTHER PARTIES THINK
The three popular anti-BJP parties that are also not on the same page with the Congress at present are Bharat Rashtra Samiti (formerly TRS), Trinamool Congress (TMC) and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). According to political pundits, how opposition parties view the yatra doing on the electoral grounds is important.
Recently, K. Chandrashekhar Rao, BRS chief and Telangana Chief Minister, in a closed door meet with his legislators said, “Rahul Gandhi’s yatra is aimless and is not going to have any electoral impact here.” The realisation among BRS leaders is that the Telangana cadre of the Congress is bickering among themselves and needs complete rejig and not any cosmetic change. Hence, the yatra in the state, without organising its cadre first, was pointless. Sociologists suggest that public memory of Gandhi’s yatra will fade in the state unless there is ground cadre who carries the grand narrative among people. Else, the yatra will become history. TMC chief Mamta Banerjee in Bengal has not received the yatra in her state. Still, there is a sense of exclusion of Rahul Gandhi from her statements even though both have vowed to fight against the saffron party thoroughly and vigorously. It is heard from their close circles that Mamata Banerjee is not at a comfortable wavelength with the Gandhi. Another significant party, Samajwadi Party, has also kept aloof from the yatra.
AAP VS CONGRESS
“We don’t have any past baggage,” Raghav Chadha recently said suggesting it to be the cause of its electoral gains in recently held elections, like the victory in Punjab and about 13% vote share in Gujarat. On the contrary, the Congress’ past hasn’t helped its present efforts—whether it be corruption, stifling of civil liberties during the Emergency era, failure in securing Indian borders during the 1962 India-China clashes and its dynastic politics, to mention a few.
As the Congress has repeatedly failed to counter this narrative, it has taken to a new brand of hybrid-politics. In a bid to come out of the closet of dynastic politics, Rahul Gandhi had to give the opportunity to a non-dynast to allow him to fix the nut and bolts of the party. This move was evident before the yatra as some of his close aides had been saying that he has categorically denied to take the command of the party.
Though the Congress has been openly denying that the AAP is its challenger, it has faced most of its gloom from them. The AAP has until now overthrown Congress governments in more than one state (Delhi and Punjab). Moreover, in Gujarat elections, it ate up a huge chunk of Congress vote share. Rahul Gandhi has precisely tried to plug in wherever BJP is being seen faltering while speaking about people’s needs. Also, he has kept himself away from politically motivated statements. At the least, he has been able to dismantle the air of “irrelevant politician” around him and made a figurehead out of himself, which according to political observers, was much-needed. His full-time presence on roads has given his party leaders opportunity to talk about politics, the future of the party and issues. The workers are guided to think that the party has now kept its feet on the acceleration pedal. And also invoked hope among them that “Congress may rise again in future”.
A senior Congress leader said, “When things are right, everything happens right and you try to give your 110%. And when everything is negative, you tend to give only 80%. The Congress has been suffering from that 80% effort. And now this is us making up for lost time.”
A political analyst said, “What is ascertained as a victory today can be perceived as an illusion tomorrow, if immediate focus is not put to strengthening of the organisation. Although it has recharged the ground cadre, it needs to persist. At the same time, it must churn sincere leaders who will work for the organisation and not for their personal goals only.”