Rahul’s Major Political March Has Just Begun! 

bharat jodo yatra

Decision of Congress stalwart Sonia Gandhi to join Rahul Gandhi’s “Bharat Jodo Yatra” for a day in Mysore is perhaps a symbolic but definite acknowledgement of the importance being given to this phase of march. It is possible, she may have stayed away if the yatra was not being applauded as a success. With Rahul earning laurels personally and politically, it probably became imperative for her to participate in it, though briefly. Karnataka is headed for assembly elections in the coming year. This apparently is also responsible for selection of Mallikarjun Kharge as “official candidate” for party’s presidential post. Eighty-year old Kharge, a senior Congress leader from Karnataka is known as a loyalist to the Gandhi family. His selection is expected to boost party’s morale in Karnataka. At present, even if Kharge-card was not being played by Congress stalwarts, Rahul’s march is certainly going a long way in reviving the party’s fading image. In all probability, this would have still prompted Sonia to walk a few steps with him, if not in Karnataka, somewhere else. At present, Kharge-card together with eyes set on assembly polls in the state have apparently led her join him here.

Karnataka-phase of Rahul’s march also stands for the alacrity with which media-cells have spread photos as well as news-clippings highlighting some not to be missed parts. These include photographs and videos of his braving the rains in Mysuru, not stopping his speech, despite being drenched to the skin (Oct 2), bending down to tie shoe-laces of his mother Sonia Gandhi (Oct 6), his reaching out to citizens, giving chocolates to children and so forth. These have gone viral and earned a positive response in general literally out-smarting his rivals’ strategies of spreading “negative news” about him.

Undeniably, till now general impression about Rahul Gandhi rested primarily on negative news circulating about him. It is possible, people in general believed these and/or chose not to question the same for primarily two reasons. One is that excessive frequency and extensive degree to which these have been spread. Second is the failure of Congress leaders to effectively counter the same. The latter may have been the case because of Congress leaders being too engrossed with intra-party crisis. Also, till recently Congress-stalwarts may not have displayed commitment and also seriousness about their communication strategies. It is not as if this had been ignored by them. However, failure of master strategists like Prashant Kishor to spell any notable gain for this party may have compelled party leaders to come grips with hard reality- that outsiders cannot be expected to spell wonders for them. The need is for party leaders to reach out to people. It is possible, success gained by Mamata Bannerjee in West Bengal and nature of her campaign in comparison with failure of Congress in Punjab moved this party to give greater importance to their leaders reaching out directly to people. Of course, Bannerjee used Kishor’s help but she remained in the forefront throughout her campaign.

Besides, importance of people’s voice has acquired a new vigour and greater democratic importance. This was reflected by support gained by Muslim women’s demonstration at Shaheen Bagh (Dec 2019 to March 2020) and farmers’ protest (Aug 2020 to Dec 2021). Both were expressions of protest in opposition to certain measures of government. Shaheen Bagh protest was against Citizenship Amendment Act and that of farmers against three laws linked with sale, pricing and storage of farm produce. Support and media attention – national as well as international- for both still stands out strongly. It is possible, the nature of this support convinced some political observers about the democratic importance borne by people’s voice opposing specific policies of the government. Rahul’s march is clearly also suggestive of his prior motive being to come out strongly against “shortcomings” of the present government. This may be viewed as his attempt to tap on issues which appear to be easily comprehensible and appealing for the people, socially as well as politically. In this context, he has not totally ignored the religious card, which is suggested by his reaching out to members of Hindu, Muslim and Christian communities in Karnataka. However, he certainly is not banking solely and exclusively on such religious cards. The decision to communicate with all these communities is also suggestive of importance given by him to constitutional nature of Indian secularism. It commands all communities’ right to religion and freedom of worship, without abusing any.

Just when it seemed that there was virtually no hope for Rahul’s political cards, at present, his yatra has certainly shattered these images. It may be recalled, not too long ago, old Congress members chose to walk out of this party after virtually pointing fingers at him. There seemed no dearth of negative campaign targeting him. Now, it is clear that these failed to corner Rahul to the point of totally abandoning his political campaign and virtually giving up. Rather, they have had the opposite impact as suggested by nature and impact of Rahul’s yatra.

Yes, it is certainly too early to bank on whether this march will also spell electoral gains for Rahul and his party. The reality that it has considerably diminished impact of negative campaign against Congress cannot be simply dismissed. What also stands out at present is positive impact of his yatra among people in general. At least, at present, people don’t appear to be moved against Rahul and his party because of his yatra. Rather, the opposite appears to be his yatra’s impact. Equally significant is the apparent display of Rahul walking with the people. Communication strategy of this nature may also be viewed as bridging communication gaps with the people and preventing communication errors leading to only negative images about Rahul and Congress in general. The people have the option to judge him themselves rather than fall for negative images manufactured by his rivals.

Given that defeat of Congress has also been result of divisive politics engineered against it by its rivals, it is to be watched as to how far Rahul’s yatra helps in rising above these barriers. He has certainly signalled a strong message of being a leader who walks with the people and not ahead of them and/or at a distant from them. Rahul’s yatra signals beginning of a major political march, the goal of which is still quite a distance away. Now, it is to be seen whether Congress gains support of allies together with needed electoral strength without it weakening with divisions!

Nilofar Suhrawardy is a senior journalist and writer with specialization in communication studies and nuclear diplomacy. She has come out with several books. These include:– Modi’s Victory, A Lesson for the Congress…? (2019); Arab Spring, Not Just a Mirage! (2019), Image and Substance, Modi’s First Year in Office (2015) and Ayodhya Without the Communal Stamp, In the Name of Indian Secularism (2006).

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