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100 Days of Bharat Jodo Yatra: Congress Gained Self-Belief. Will It Gain Votes?

In 100 days, the Bharat Jodo Yatra has covered about 2400 km across 8 states. Will this help Congress electorally?

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100 Days of Bharat Jodo Yatra: Congress Gained Self-Belief. Will It Gain Votes?
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The Congress party's Bharat Jodo Yatra completed 100 days on 16 December, covering about 2400 kilometers across eight states so far. It is presently in Eastern Rajasthan.

The fact that former Congress president Rahul Gandhi and rest of the Yatris have marched as per schedule over the past 100 days bears testimony to their physical endurance as well as the efficiency of the Yatra's logistical team.

The Yatra is about 70 percent done. It is scheduled to complete around end January in Srinagar.

During the Yatra, a number of key developments also took place within the Congress - the fiasco in Rajasthan during the presidential election, the election of Mallikarjun Kharge as the first non-Gandhi president in 25 years, the Congress' victory in the Himachal Pradesh Assembly elections and defeat in Gujarat, besides a number of bypoll and civic poll results.

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The completion of a hundred days is perhaps a good moment to examine the Yatra, what it has achieved from a politically point of view and where it has probably fallen short.

Restored Party Cadres' Belief

"As someone who works in the Congress party organisation, I can say with complete confidence that the Yatra has rejuvenated the party cadre," says Ranajit Mukherjee, AICC secretary.

"Think of it this way. If you speak to senior party workers, they would say Indira ji coming to their area or Rajiv ji meeting them has been a highlight of their lives. The Bharat Jodo Yatra has given a similar moment to lakhs of party workers across India," he adds.

Many party cadres who had begun to feel despondent or disillusioned with the party leadership, have started believing again. This is no small achievement.

Revival of Rahul Gandhi's Image

When the Yatra had completed the southern states, CVoter conducted a survey which showed that Rahul Gandhi's approval ratings had improved in all the states the Yatra had passed through.

"Crores of rupees were spent since 2012 just to malign Rahul Gandhi and caricature him. The Bharat Jodo Yatra has smashed that image," says Ranajit Mukherjee.

While it remains to be seen to what extent Gandhi's image has been revived, there is little doubt that his position within the Congress has now become undisputed.

Even the remaining members of the G-23 letter writers seem to have reconciled to this fact.

For instance, G-23 member and former Maharashtra CM Prithviraj Chavan said that "G-23 is now a thing of the past".

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Reinforced Congress' Ideological Foundations

"The Congress needs to understand who it is and what it stands for," Rahul Gandhi said at a press conference in Rajasthan, saying that this is the main aim behind the Bharat Jodo Yatra.

The Yatra seems to have achieved that effectively.

According to political researcher Asim Ali, "The Bharat Jodo Yatra has been the Congress' most effective articulation of its core idea. And it has been expressed primarily through images and metaphors, not through words."

Improved Congress' Credentials as the Main Anti-BJP Force

Several prominent individuals not associated with the Congress joined the Yatra - such as slain journalist Gauri Lankesh's sister Kavita Lankesh, late Rohith Vemula's mother Radhika Vemula, former RBI governor Raghuram Rajan, activists Prashant Bhushan, Medha Patkar and Yogendra Yadav, actors like Amol Palekar, Pooja Bhatt, Riya Sen and Sushant Singh, stand up comic Kunal Kamra to name a few.

These are not just prominent in their fields, they are also influencers of public opinion.

It does reflect that in some ways, people who are already against the BJP and were earlier doubtful about the Congress' abilities are now willing to see the party as the main way to defeat the BJP.

It is important that some of those who joined the Yatra, are people who have opposed the Congress in the past. Prashant Bhushan and Yogendra Yadav were both part of the India Against Corruption movement and later the Aam Aadmi Party. Medha Patkar too was part of both and she has also protested against the Congress earlier on several others issues.

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But Will It Lead to Electoral Gains?

"This is not the main focus," Rahul Gandhi said during the press conference, when asked about whether the Yatra is aimed at the 2024 Lok Sabha elections.

However, it cannot be denied that capturing power is one of the most important aims of a political party, if not the most important one.

If hatred is indeed being spread by the BJP and RSS, as Rahul Gandhi has been saying, then surely defeating the BJP in 2024 should be the main aim for any 'Bharat Jodo' exercise.

What seems to be happening is that through the Bharat Jodo Yatra, the Congress may have started the process of consolidating people who are already ideologically anti-BJP.

However, it doesn't seem to be convincing many BJP voters to switch to the Congress.

Basically, people who were against BJP and thinking "where is Congress?" or "what is Congress doing?" have been given an answer. But not BJP voters who may want an alternative.

According to the CVoter survey, the increase in Rahul Gandhi's approval ratings wasn't accompanied by any corresponding decrease in PM Modi's ratings. In fact, the PM's ratings also increased in this period.

To defeat the BJP in 2024, it is essential that the Congress or any other party gains at the BJP's expense.

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The other way to look at the possible electoral impact of the Bharat Jodo Yatra are the elections that took place in this period.

The Congress won Himachal Pradesh but was decimated in Gujarat. However, both are states that haven't been covered by the Yatra.

Incidentally, Rahul Gandhi stayed away from the campaign in Himachal Pradesh where the Congress ended up winning.

The party lost Munugode in Telangana after the Yatra passed through the state, though the seat per se wasn't part of the route.

The real electoral impact of the Yatra, or lack of it, may be visible next year during the Assembly elections in Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Telangana - states that were extensively covered in the Yatra. Then of course there are the 2024 Lok Sabha elections.

Sections of the Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh units did feel that a clearer message on jobs and farmers' issues would have made the Yatra more electorally beneficial than the thrust on "love vs hatred".

"This message of 'love' is vague and also subjective. It would have been better if there was a clearer focus on issues affecting all people - such as lack of jobs. Not many can related to the talk about 'love'" a party functionary from Rajasthan told The Quint.

One thing that the Yatra seems to get right from the perspective of 2024 is that the national election can't be seen as the sum of state elections, it requires a separate narrative and preparation. The Yatra can be seen as a step in that direction.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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