Congress Joins Yatra Bandwagon, Rahul Gandhi Eyes Party’s Revival

Whether Congress succeeds to garner support for 2024 elections remains to be seen. What one does known is that more than a few times extensive yatras were followed by wins for the parties undertaking them.

Bharat Jodo Yatra
Kanyakumari: Giant cut-outs of Congress President Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi and late K Kamaraj ahead of the launch of Bharat Jodo Yatra, in Kanyakumari, Wednesday, Sep 7, 2022. (PTI Photo)

In its attempt for revival, the Congress party on September 7 launched its ‘Bharat Jodo Yatra‘, a strategy used often by political parties to garner the allegiance of voters. Congress’ move led by Rahul Gandhi, has seen the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) lash out in anger, calling it an attempt to bring back Rahul as the party leader – and keep the Gandhis in power. But whether the Congress succeeds in its attempt to bring people together before the 2024 elections, as they aim, would have to be seen. What one does know is that more than a few times extensive yatras were followed by wins for the parties who had undertaken them.

Take the example of YSRCP chief Y S Jagan Mohan Reddy who undertook a yatra which ended just months before the Andhra Pradesh Assembly elections of 2019. The ‘Praja Sankalpa Yatra’ covered 3,648 km of the state and was undertaken on foot in over 300 days till January 2019. His party won the elections that year and Reddy became the Chief Minister.

Even the BJP has used the yatra strategy in the past. The most significant one was in 1990 called the ‘Ram Rath Yatra’, undertaken to demand a Ram Temple in Ayodhya where Babri Masjid stood. It started off from Somnath in Gujarat on September 25, 1990, and was to cover 10,000 km to culminate in Ayodhya, Uttar Pradesh, on October 30. The rath yatra eventually saw right wing organisations unite, and communal riots erupt, but the BJP gained electorally.

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In 2011, the BJP had also taken out an ‘Ekta Yatra’ which was to take them on foot for 6,000 kms from Kolkata to Kashmir’s Lal Chowk. It was led by BJP’s youth wing ‘Bhajumyo’ national president and now Lok Sabha MP Anurag Thakur. This yatra was a duplicate of the 1991 yatra of the same name which took place from Kanyakumari to Kashmir.

The BJP on state-level launched its ‘Vande Gujarat Vikas Yatra’ this year, from July 5-19 to highlight the work done by its government in the last 20 years of being in power in the state. The yatra has taken place months before the assembly elections, due in December this year.

Then, to forge a front to defeat the BJP in the next general elections, on May 20, Telangana Chief Minister and TRS supremo K Chandrashekar Rao (KCR) began a ‘Bharat Yatra’. The Yatra would take him to different states to garner support to come together as a front against the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA). He met with Aam Aadmi Party’s Arvind Kejriwal, former Prime Minister H D Deve Gowda, and his son, former CM of Karnataka, H D Kumaraswamy.

In 2018, Congress leader Digvijay Singh had embarked on a yatra in Madhya Pradesh from the end of May until August with the objective “to meet and talk to Congress men in villages, blocks and districts, to iron out differences if any exist”. The yatra took place months before the assembly elections in November. While the Congress party won then, the government of CM Kamal Nath was brought down after 22 of the party MLAs resigned.

What Rahul and his team are aiming for is a journey of 3,570 km journey from Kanyakumari to Kashmir, completing in 150 days. The party hopes to turn things around for the 2024 elections.

The message Congress would like to promote is of uniting people on the common issues plaguing the country. Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, the Congress general secretary, asserted the ‘Bharat Jodo Yatra’ will be to unite people on issues like inflation, and unemployment among other matters of public importance.

Rahul, on his part, focused on countering the divisiveness of politics, attending a prayer meeting at the Rajiv Gandhi Memorial in Sriperumbudur on Wednesday, where the former prime minister was assassinated, and wrote on Twitter that he lost his father “to the politics of hate and division”.

“I will not lose my beloved country to it too. Love will conquer hate. Hope will defeat fear. Together, we will overcome,” Rahul wrote.

Whether the Congress party’s attempt, which comes well timed before the elections, is fruitful is anyone’s guess.