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Rahul Gandhi, With Yatra, Tries To Walk The Talk

These days Rahul Gandhi looks like a different person. With a thick beard, tanned skin and long hair, he looks much older than his age. The boyish look has disappeared. The image of a serious and industrious leader is emerging. This is the byproduct of the Bharat Jodo Yatra which he is planning to conclude in five months, and which, in his opinion, is a counter to the politics of divisiveness brought about by the BJP and Sangh Parivaar, and shepherded by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. 

The yatra is a unique innovation for Indian politics which has been missing ethical politics. Party-switching at the drop of a hat, the obsessive and shameful use of government agencies to break opponents, mixing of religion with politics to marginalise minorities, stereotyping a particular religious community, and highly toxic campaigning to garner votes has become the hallmark of contemporary politics. The Yatra is the anti-thesis of this – or so it claims. No wonder the BJP, which initially tried to target and discredit the campaign, has withdrawn a bit and turned its guns towards the Aam Aadmi Party instead.

But it is be too early to conclude that the Yatra will succeed in rescuing Rahul Gandhi’s stature or in reviving the Congress. Nor can one assume that it will establish Rahul Gandhi as the pivot of Opposition unity. But it can safely be said that the Congress has made a good beginning which, if pursued with follow-up actions, has the potential to impact the BJP. It can help the Congress regain its traditional roots amongst the masses and cadres, for example. It can serve in positioning Rahul Gandhi as a serious politician, not a dilettante or “Pappu”. He has definitely shown courage in embarking on a 3,570-km-long journey by foot. Lal Krishna Advani’s Rath Yatra from Somnath to Ayodhya was not that arduous because he was not walking, he was on a make-shift motor vehicle and he had to only to stand on the raised platform of the vehicle and wave at onlookers. Rahul Gandhi is walking all along and meeting people, hugging people and talking to them. At best, it can be compared with the “foot march” of former Prime Minister Chandra Shekhar. If Indira Gandhi had not been assassinated in 1984, Chandra Shekhar would have proved to be a different leader.

Advani’s Yatra helped the BJP immensely by placing the Hindutva agenda at the centre of North India politics. Voters were exposed to the ideological core of the RSS and BJP which had existed for more than six decades but had not earned acceptability and consequently, respectability. Hindutva became a talking point. It offered an alternate vision to the Congress’s secular India. For the first time, since Independence, it created fissures in the Nehruvian Consensus. Many elite and urban intellectuals migrated towards the BJP, accepted Hindutva as the new creed. This was also the time when communism was losing its lustre. There was an ideological void. The BJP had taken a large step towards filling that gap.

Decades later, an alternate vision to Modi’s Hindutva is missing. Opposition leaders are either copying Hindutva or have meekly surrendered to the might of the state. Rahul Gandhi, after some initial confusion, has realised that soft Hindutva will not be the answer to Modi’s Hindu Rashtra. Hindutva’s ‘divisive politics’ cannot be challenged by simply ‘temple-hopping’ to reset the Congress’s image as a pro-Muslim party. Now, there is a forceful articulation of an alternate vision for India, and by rediscovering the legacy of the freedom movement, the concept of social harmony and Gandhian thesis of Dharma.

Unlike the liberal-left, Gandhi did not discard religion from public life. In his famous book Hind Swaraj Gandhi writes, “I love Dharma that is why my first pain is that Hindustan is moving away from dharma.” Then he explains Dharma. He says, “Dharma does not mean Hindu, Muslim, or Christian but what is core of these religions is moving away from India: we are getting distanced from Ishwar.”

In the context of the conflict between different religions, Gandhi says, “Religions are different paths to reach the same destination. If we take different routes then what is wrong? Where is the conflict?” Rahul Gandhi is trying to follow this, meeting with members of all faiths, the opposite of the BJP’s understanding of Hindu Dharma. The kind of response he is getting is indicative of the fact that he is striking a chord with the public. Though he is yet to enter North India, what has been so far is alarming the BJP. 

Unlike Arvind Kejriwal, who fancies himself as a real challenger to Modi, but by copying the BJP’s brand of Hindutva, Rahul Gandhi’s Yatra has given some ideological clarity to Congressmen. Instead of portraying Modi as the lynchpin of Hindutva, he considers the RSS the real reason for the enmity between communities. In his opinion, Modi is simply an executioner, executing ideas which RSS has been articulating for decades.

If the Yatra can inspire Congressmen, make them battle-ready and prepare them for the long haul, it will be a big success. One of the biggest strengths of the RSS and the BJP is their sense of organisation and discipline. The Congress lacks that. Their leaders have become lazy, they have lost the will to fight. Darbari leaders have to be thrown out. New cadre has to be developed. This is the toughest task. Rahul Gandhi’s Yatra takes strides towards that.

(Ashutosh is author of ‘Hindu Rashtra’ and Editor, satyahindi.com.)

Disclaimer: These are the personal opinions of the author.

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