(This is Part 1 of a two-part series on a detailed analysis on the rise of the Indian National Congress, its nation-wide outreach with Bharat Jodo Yatra and where it currently stands in India's socio-political realm.)
The Congress’ central leadership and the celebrated columnists in Lutyens Delhi have a common problem. They feed on each other. The leaders make perceptions and decisions from the published and unpublished advice of the columnists. The columnists, more socialites than journalists, make their judgments in the after-hour cocktails with the same leaders in New Delhi.
It’s a problem—and by now a systemic one because the answer to the Congress conundrum lies in the states and not in Delhi alone. And Gujarat 2022 amply demonstrates that the solution is screaming to be heard. A senior journalist from Delhi tells me that it is fashionable to write against the Congress. This is because nobody bothers to deny it or debate it.
Congress’s ‘Crowd-Pulling’ Walk & RaGa Relaunched
The BJP’s 'India Shining Campaign' disaster was a result of this Delhi syndrome. In a clear disconnect with the ground, the BJP leadership believed that India was actually shining and a select band of Delhi-stuck columnists also made them believe so.
Similarly, in a different context, the Congress’ central leadership is enamoured of the fact that Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Yatra is generating a massive response and by 26 January 2023 when it concludes, the party could well be battle-ready for nine assembly elections ahead of the big 2024 Lok Sabha war.
Simultaneously, several leading columnists are trying to make sense if Rahul Gandhi has finally arrived and is a match to Narendra Modi—if his “shop of love” could open in the “marketplace of hate.” There seems to be a general agreement that Rahul is taken more seriously than the pappu he was made out by a sustained plugged campaign to such an extent that a section of audio-visual media that would just bypass him or keep a social media gang ready to counter him have perforce taken note of the unprecedented crowds in the yatra.
Indeed, the yatra has drawn crowds that even the organisers might have not imagined. Albeit, now, there have been stray voices wondering if the yatra would on its own convert into an electoral advantage, and on this, most columnists and veteran journalists wouldn’t wish to hazard a guess – not going beyond stating that his own discovery of India has surely joined Rahul Gandhi more closely to India and has indeed helped him relaunch himself.
But will this help relaunch the Congress party and put spanners in the BJP’s works for a Congress-mukt Bharat? This is the key question the Congress leadership must answer as the party completes 137 years on 28 December 2022, and 75 years of existence since the country’s Independence as a result of the struggles of its towering personalities like Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Sardar Patel, et al.
'Bharat Jodo Not An Election Rally'
As of now, the Congress party has put all its eggs in the Bharat Jodo basket. Almost as if the yatra will help the party cruise through the challenges that lie ahead.
This is where the central leadership of the Congress should look beyond New Delhi and its haloed circle (pun intended), and into where India lives and decides its future—the states. Not only the states that gave the Bharat Jodo Yatra a thumbs up but also those that the yatra chose to ignore. Albeit, veterans like Mani Shankar Aiyar told The Quint that Rahul’s journey was not intended to be an election rally.
Aiyar says, “It has been repeatedly clarified that the yatra is aimed at the moral regeneration of the country as well as the Congress cadres. It has a singular objective of preparing the people and awakening them to the fundamental challenge to our ancient civilisation by a majoritarian and authoritarian rule that breeds hatred and fear.”
From a larger philosophical and ideological prism, Rahul’s refrain that the Bharat Jodo Yatra is a journey of love and empathy as a counter to politics of hate is sure an attempt to resurrect the Congress party on its original secular ethic of social equity. And to tell the world that he is not a visiting pappu to a beleaguered centurion institution.
But at times when subtleties are subdued by shrill voices, this narrative would stretch much longer than the 2024 elections to sink in and make a difference. The moot question is whether the message of uniting India which itself is vague—is percolating into the party’s rank and file or remains restricted to the resurrection of Rahul or a preparatory move for his eventual takeover while the rest of the Congress party waits for him. Until all this is amplified, Mallikarjun Kharge under the direct tutelage of mentor Sonia Gandhi, will hold the fort.
Underestimating Gujarat Elections Was a Bad Call for Congress
This is where the states count. Let us look at Gujarat which the Congress High Command ignored with the assumption of a lost case in the 2022 elections.
There are two clear reasons why Gujarat is a case in point. First, Gujarat 2017 elections are where Rahul Gandhi had his best stint and was anointed as the president on 15 December, three days before the results, and the same campaign themes he raised were available even more strongly at that time.
Second, the Congress party in 2022 which like earlier elections too, squandered away opportunities to return to its core values. It remained caught in a fear psychosis that raising certain issues would cost it its Hindu votes.
So Rahul ignoring Gujarat despite his best performance was the outcome of his briefing from Delhi and not a true analysis of the state’s 2017 election results. The Congress party, for the first time since its three-decade-old opposition role in the state, won the highest 77 seats, besides four Independent candidates in its alliance.
More than that, the BJP rescued defeat by seven seats winning 99 seats against the simple majority mark of 92 seats in an Assembly of 182. And there were 25 seats where the losing margins were less than 2% —in 10 of them Congress candidates lost by less than 500 votes.
Can Bharat Jodo’s Gujarat Outreach Cover Congress’s Bases for 2024?
This was Rahul’s Gujarat yatra of sorts where he stayed three days each in four regions of Gujarat—something no leader from the Nehru-Gandhi family or even Atal Bihari Vajpayee or LK Advani ever did. In all parts, he spoke of region-specific issues while the overarching theme was a direct attack on the economic policies of Narendra Modi pandering to huge corporate houses at the cost of small and medium-scale trade and industries, which in fact, are the backbone of the economic powerhouse that Gujarat is.
He spoke on these, not only referring to the Ambanis and the Adanis but also the Tatas who were given unprecedented SOPs to relocate its Nano car unit to Gujarat from Singur in West Bengal.
The Nano unit was a major disaster. Rahul also referred to the adverse effects of demonetisation and GST on the state’s industry. He reeled out unemployment data and spoke of increasing privatisation of education and healthcare sectors.
Continued in Part 2, read here.
(The writer is Founder Editor, Development News Network [DNN], Gujarat.This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)
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