Rahul Gandhi’s March is a Good Idea, But What About a Congress Jodo Yatra Too?

Ashok Gehlot's withdrawal from contesting party elections may ensure status quo in Rajasthan, but the Congress still needs to set its house in order.

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For a politician they routinely disparage as a clueless dilettante and a ‘pappu’, the Sanghis are obsessed with Rahul Gandhi. They leave no chance to lampoon and ridicule him, and the Bharat Jodo Yatra has given them a lot of opportunities.

The yatra, which he is leading, will take Gandhi and his team of Congress workers, from Kanyakumari to Kashmir over 150 days, and aims to focus on unity, in contrast, presumably, to the attempts to polarise society. Along the way, local crowds join in and invariably there are photo-ops, when men, women and children come up to him, whom he then hugs and smiles at. The Congress social media team, which has become extremely sharp of late, ensures that these images are spread far and wide. This way they can bypass the mainstream media, which either ignores him or joins in the establishment chorus.

The BJP’s ‘IT’ cell, not particularly known for his penchant for facts or the truth, has trained its guns on Gandhi. First, it focused on his t-shirt, saying it was priced at Rs 41,000.The point of it was somewhat vague, but it was generally meant to show his extravagant ways. 

This feeble attempt backfired in the most spectacular way, when the Congress brought up Narendra Modi’s monogrammed suit, said to have cost Rs 10 lakhs. The prime minister wore the suit, with ‘Narendra Damodardas Modi’ in gold thread, running down its entire length, during a meeting with US president Barack Obama. He was ridiculed even then, and Gandhi had called his government ‘suit boot ki sarkar’. Stung, Modi got rid of it and it was bought by a Gujarati diamond trader for Rs 4.31 crore, thus, immediately entering the Guinness Book of World Records. The Congress also pointed to Modi’s expensive dark glasses and other accoutrements.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the pinstripe suit gifted to him by business Ramesh Virani, along with Barack Obama in Delhi. Photo: PTI

The Congress publicity and social media team now has a new, sharp edge to it, and doesn’t wait too long to hit back.

Unaffected by this humiliation, the indefatigable IT cell and its many supporters have continued on their trolling spree, even if it means spreading fake information.

A tweet showing him hugging a young woman with cropped hair, juxtaposed with another women, saying, “Look carefully. Not Bharat Jodo, this is Bharat Todo!”. The second photo was that of Amulya Leona Noronha, a Bangalore-based activist who was arrested in February 2020 for allegedly chanting “Pakistan zindabad”, but the woman with Gandhi was Youth Congress leader Miva Jolly. The tweet appeared on the day when Hollywood actor John Cusack tweeted in Gandhi’s support and the attempt at spreading fake news fell flat.

So far, the trolling has not really made much of an impact but it will not stop his opponents to continue to run him down – he seems to haunt them. The BJP’s stated plan of “Congress-mukt Bharat” aims to decimate the Congress and in their minds, the Gandhi family stands in the way. Finish them and the Congress is over. 

The Yatra meanwhile rolls on, even if the questions surrounding it remain. What is it intending to achieve, apart from contrasting with the attempts to divide the country on religious grounds? It is foregrounding Rahul Gandhi at a time when he has made it clear he will not stand for the party elections. Does it aim to draw attention to the Congress as a party that believes in secular values? Or, since many senior leaders have joined in, to show the Congress as a party that is united?

There is an irony here because just as the Yatra picks up pace, the Congress is facing a crisis of sorts in Rajasthan which, if not handled with finesse, could result in the collapse of the only big state that is still with the party. 

Also read: Just as Things Appeared To Be Falling in Place, Congress Is in Crisis Again

Supporters of chief minister Ashok Gehlot, who until recently was a candidate in the Congress presidential elections, have made it clear that should he shifted to the headquarters, his replacement should be someone who stood up to the BJP, or else they will en masse resign, a clear signal that Sachin Pilot – whom the ‘High Command’ is supposed to be pushing – is not acceptable.

Pilot had revolted against his party, and holed up in a resort with his supporters, but eventually returned after the Gandhi’s mollified him. Tensions between Pilot and Gehlot have not entirely gone away and a vast majority of MLAs are with the chief minister; a central imposition to foist Pilot will seriously backfire. It shows not just Gehlot’s clout in his home state but is importance to the party – he is one of the few seniors clear about his Congress loyalties but is capable of shaking up the establishment if pushed too far.

Gehlot has since withdrawn from the Congress party contest, so it will now be status quo in Rajasthan.

But this will not please Sachin Pilot and those who are with him who will now seen Gehlot’s return as the party succumbing to his blackmail and their own leader’s chances receding.

Relations between Gehlot and Pilot will only worsen. The latter is not without his own supporters, even if they may be just a few, and will no doubt contemplate next steps; with a rich BJP on the prowl, there could be trouble down the road. A lot of finesse is required here, to save the government.

Most other states where the Congress was in power are no longer with it, either because of MLAs changing sides overnight or because it lost the elections. In Maharashtra, where it was in a coalition, the abrupt rebellion by a large number of Shiv Sena MLAs meant that the MVA government collapsed, taking down the Congress and the NCP with it. In Punjab, where the chief minister Amarinder Singh was deposed by the party bosses months before the elections, it lost to AAP. Singh meanwhile, after a short burst of defiance in trying to form his own outfit, has joined the BJP.

The Congress now needs to set its house in order. A new president, elected by due process, is welcome and should provide an opportunity to start rebuilding the organisation, but only if he is given a free hand and there is no shadow ‘high command’. But first the party has to sort out Rajasthan – a successful outcome there will set the tone and then ensure that MLAs and MPs stay within the fold. Perhaps there is also a need for a Congress Jodo Yatra.

A version of this piece was first published on The India Cable – a premium newsletter from The Wire & Galileo Ideas – and has been republished here. To subscribe to The India Cable, click here.