Congress’ locus for acting as fulcrum of opposition unity severely restricted by his Dausa comment.

Traversing 108 days, the Bharat Jodo Yatra—which some say is Rahul Gandhi’s bid to discover India (his supporters perceive it as India’s discovery of Rahul Gandhi)—meandering through 46 districts across nine states (skirting poll-bound Gujarat) has now entered Delhi. This is perhaps for the first time since 2003 when he chose to be in politics that Rahul has devoted his attention fulltime to a political endeavour remaining in India, sans visits abroad. Has the yatra brought Congress anywhere near a trajectory of returning to power in Lutyens’ Delhi—the niche from it was rudely dismantled in 2014? Or has it merely established Rahul as an ideologue of the Grand Old Party, whose pronouncements are at variance with the effort of the Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge (almost reminiscent of his tearing to smithereens a legislation passed by Parliament by the government of Manmohan Singh in 2013)? Kharge has received positive response in his bid to unite the Opposition in Parliament during the just concluded Winter Session, with AAP and Trinamool Congress giving up their earlier reservations and attending twice 15-party meets convened by Kharge as Leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha. Rahul’s jibe at his press meet at Dausa on the 100th day of the yatra put a spanner in the process of uniting the Opposition in the run-up to 2024. Rahul asserted that none of the regional parties can represent a vision for the country—they represent a vision for a community or the vision for a state. Surprisingly, this statement did not bring forth any reaction from regional allies of Congress or from other parties—perhaps leaders of other non-BJP parties are now used to taking his jibes in their stride. But it certainly severely restricts the ability of Congress to act as a fulcrum of Opposition unity, a role that Sharad Pawar, the patriarch of the unity bid, wants to assign to the GOP. Congress is a junior partner of the ruling DMK in Tamil Nadu; of JD(U)-RJD in Bihar; of JMM in Jharkhand; it shared power and now shares Opposition space in Maharashtra as a member of MVA with NCP and Shiv Sena (Uddhav); it bids to attract JD(S) to its side against BJP in Karnataka and even tries to tie up with Trinamool in West Bengal—if these parties, which each have a role in national politics, are perceived by Rahul as lacking in “national vision” then Congress ability to be a unifier in a bid for a non-BJP “Bharat Jodo” becomes questionable.
In the wake of the revival of the Covid threat internationally, an advisory was issued specifically to Rahul Gandhi to ensure that Covid protocol is observed during the yatra. The nascent Chief Minister of Himachal Pradesh, Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu contracted Covid soon after participating in the Yatra along with his band of 40 MLAs—perhaps the advisory was issued by the Union Health Minister in the light of this. However, as per the prevailing paradigm of the abrasive politics of our times, the Covid warning has been interpreted by the Congress as a political bid to stop the yatra, which, the Grand Old Party feels, has “unnerved” the ruling dispensation. The Yatra certainly has provided some enthusiasm to the decrepit GOP, which has emerged as a parody of the political behemoth it once used to be. Sporting an unkempt beard, Rahul has been seen mixing with a cross-section of the civil society and marching side by side with economists, film stars, NGO activists and the like. In Maharashtra, NCP’s inheritor Supriya Sule and her Shiv Sena (Uddhav) counterpart Adiyta Thackeray joined the yatra initially—however the enthusiasm of these Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) partners of GOP waned after Rahul’s comment on Veer Savarkar, who is revered across political lines by Marathi politicians.
Senior Congress leaders have vied with each other to be photographed in the yatra. The factional politics of Karnataka saw rivals Siddaramaiah and D.K. Shivakumar break into a jog to keep pace with Rahul. In Rajasthan, the Gehlot-Pilot chasm was all too noticeable. Post the rout in Gujarat, where Gehlot was the main campaigner, Pilot even managed to change Rahul’s route to avoid the constituencies of prime supporters of Gehlot like minister Shanti Dhariwal in Kota. The deep organisational perplexity and enfeeblement of Congress due to entrenched factionalism was all too evident throughout the route the yatra traversed. BJP has been mocking Congress to underscore the need for “Congress jodo”.
Narendra Modi’s charisma is backed by the sinews of BJP (and particularly RSS) organisational juggernaut. Rahul may become the darling of the chattering urban elite, which has been uncomfortable with the rise of the unconventional, “non-entitled” Modi since 2002, but unless Congress has the organisational heft, voters will not be mobilised in the manner in which “panna committees” (which manage each page of the voters’ list) of BJP garner votes for Modi’s party.
Otto Von Bismarck is credited with having said that one’s ability to think and maturity is not measured by the length of one’s beard. An African proverb goes: “If beards signified intelligence, the goat will be a genius.” Rahul Gandhi’s effort to emerge as an ideologue of Congress and a preacher of message against hatred is laudable. His political persona will be relevant only if his party wins seats. In 1983, Janata Party leader Chandra Shekhar undertook is Bharat Yatra from 6 January, the day his party’s Ramakrishna Hegde was sworn in as Karnataka CM. On 8 December 2022, as Gujarat results poured in, Rahul Gandhi took a break in Bharat Jodo Yatra to join his mother’s birthday bash in Ranthambore forest. Meanwhile, Narendra Modi summoned a meeting of the BJP top brass not to rejoice Gujarat, but to review 2024 preparations. The number of Lok Sabha seats lost by BJP in 2019 by a whisker where the party needs to put an extra effort in 2024 was revised upwards, from previous estimate of 144 to 160. Politics is not pastime, after all.