Karnal, Haryana – The nationwide Bharat Jodo Yatra (Unite India March) of India’s leading opposition leader Rahul Gandhi entered the northern state of Haryana earlier this week.
Thousands of his supporters thronged the streets of Karnal – a city in Haryana state, three hours north of India’s capital New Delhi – as the Gandhi scion entered the final leg of the march after passing through the politically important states Uttar Pradesh had been drawn. and Delhi.
Experts say Gandhi’s march is an attempt to revive the electoral fortunes of the Grand Old Party, which dominated Indian politics for decades.
The Congress Party, which spearheaded India’s anti-colonial struggle, has been relegated to the margins of Indian politics since the rise of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
The march, which began in mid-September in the southern city of Kanyakumari, will end on January 30 in Sri Nagar, the main city of Indian-administered Kashmir.
The nearly 4,000 km long yatra covering 12 states has been called the party’s largest mass contact program. Rahul Gandhi, three members of whose families have been prime ministers, launched it, accusing the Modi government of smothering opposition voices in parliament and the media.
The 52-year-old leader has pointed to rising prices, farmer issues, record unemployment and increasing attacks against minorities in the multi-faith country of 1.3 billion.
“Hindu-Muslim hatred is spread 24 hours a day to divert your attention from real problems,” Gandhi said in his December 24 speech at the Mughal-era Red Fort in the Indian capital.
“Main nafrat ke bazaar mein mohabat ki dukan lagane aaya hun,” (In the market of hate I am setting up a love shop) Gandhi said on Dec. 19 in Alwar, Rajasthan state.
Kamal Nath, the leader of the Congress party, said Rahul Gandhi was forced to hit the road because of the authoritarian style of Modi’s rule. He used the slogan “Vyawastha Modi hai, media godi hai aur janta ro di hai,” (The establishment is Modi, the media is in the bosom of the establishment and the people are crying) to describe the state of affairs in the country.
“The kind of response we are seeing is extremely heartwarming,” said Kamal Nath, a former central minister and chief minister of Madhya Pradesh state.
“I have never seen so much affection and confidence in the eyes of the people in my long political career as I did during the Madhya Pradesh leg of Rahul Gandhi’s yatra,” he told Al Jazeera.
In Karnal, Satyendra Chaudhry, a farmer, compared the march to the famous Salt March led by India’s independence icon Mahatma Gandhi in 1930.
“This yatra will be a game changer,” he told Al Jazeera. People who joined the yatra in Haryana praised Gandhi for addressing issues faced by common people.
“He raises the real issues – community harmony, unemployment and price increases are the issues that concern us,” Yash Shrivastava, who came from Uttar Pradesh to participate in the yatra, told Al Jazeera.
Community harmony has been a concern since Modi took office in 2014. His government’s legislative agenda, such as the controversial citizenship register, has been targeted by critics at Muslims, while far-right Hindu groups have stepped up attacks against minorities, especially Muslims.
Will this walk achieve its stated goal? We have no parameters to judge.
Judging by the reactions of the people, the march can be called a success. But will this translate into voting in the 2024 general election?
Experts say the party needs to strengthen its organizational weakness to win elections. A senior congress leader told Al Jazeera that the party must form alliances with key regional parties to present a formidable challenge to Modi.
‘Just a road show’
Gandhi repeatedly raised issues such as inflation and unemployment, which concern the masses.
Given the size of the march in Karnal, it seems that he has succeeded in boosting party cadres. But senior BJP leader Sudhanshu Mittal said the yatra has failed “both in stated and unstated purpose”.
“It’s just a roadshow from Congress, by Congress, and for Congress. Bharat has nothing to do with it,” he told Al Jazeera. Mittal took a shot at the Congress leader, saying the yatra was a ploy to relaunch the Gandhi scion.
“This is the ninth issue in relaunching a product that has failed in many forms,” he told Al Jazeera, referring to Gandhi’s failure to lead the Congress party to victory in the last two elections. He also questioned Gandhi’s claims of growing hatred in the country.
“He claimed that BJP is spreading hate and that he traveled all over the country but couldn’t find any hate.”
The yatra, which will now head to the northern state of Punjab, has caused quite a stir, with Gandhi sporting a new beard and walking in a t-shirt in extremely cold weather, making him the center of gossip on social media.
As the Karnal rally drew to a close, a group of enthusiastic supporters tried to make their point amidst the cacophony of the crowd.
A young Sikh man said, “Sura soi pehachaniye jolade deen kheth,” (Brave is he who fights for the underprivileged), suggesting that Gandhi fights for the poor.
Another youngster borrowed a line from superstar Shah Rukh Khan’s dialogue from his latest film, Pathan, which is coming out soon.
“The yatra has proved that secularism zinda hai, bhaichara zinda hai, congress zinda hai,” (The march has proved that secularism lives, communal harmony lives, congress lives).