As Rahul’s Bharat Jodo Yatra takes on the color of a pilgrimage, BJP tries to cover their tracks
The BJP is showing signs of feeling the heat that the yatra may eventually turn on the ruling party’s entrenched and deepening hegemony over politics and society
It is indeed a kind of spiritual hegemony built by the BJP and RSS that has recently swept the minds of the majority of voters in the vast swaths of the Hindi belt. The Sangh has been assiduously building this over Hindutva over years, or rather decades, to dominate politics. But now it seems awaiting a challenge with Bharat Jodo Yatra from Congress leader Rahul Gandhi. So the BJP is trying to cover their tracks.
Though the yatra has yet to reach the twin-engined BJP-ruled states of the north, Rahul’s journey towards the unification or reunification of India has begun to take on the hue of a pilgrimage as it weaves its way through parts of first Tamil Nadu and then Kerala in the north-south since over two weeks.
The yatra will take months to reach Kashmir, where it is scheduled to end, passing parts of the Hindi hinterland in between. Still, the BJP has shown signs of coming under the heat that may eventually turn against the ruling party’s entrenched and deepening hegemony over politics and society in the larger and more politically significant parts of the country.
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RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat’s rendezvous with a Delhi imam on September 22, and a month earlier’s interaction with some prominent figures in the Muslim community, are seen as part of the Sangh’s effort to appease Muslims a little and ease the rising temperatures in to lower the communities.
To further cover its tracks, the sangh has also gone a step further by cultivating a backward caste-conscious image. The RSS has invited top climber Santosh Yadav to its headquarters in Nagpur as the main guest for its annual Dussehra daily show. Sudha Yadav was nominated to the BJP parliamentary board a few weeks ago. The two Yadav women hail from Haryana, but their accorded prominence may have implications for a caste group in the greater Hindi belt known for forging political alliances with Muslim voters in recent elections.
But undeterred by the Sangh’s moves, the 52-year-old Congressional Wager trudges far south. As he walks, he often hugs curious onlookers, plays with children he encounters, and casts his kind and compassionate eyes on strangers who look at him hopefully. On the way, he often stops to wave at them.
So far his yatra has been compared to that of Mahatma Gandhi’s famous Dandi March. Other leaders undertook similar exercises after Gandhi’s march, for different reasons or for their own reasons. Yet traveling hermits have been fairly well known since time immemorial, or long before the Mahatma took on the task of liberating the country from British rule by using or asserting human power.
Rooted in tradition
Since the time of the Bhakti movement or the Middle Ages, ascetics have roamed from place to place for no apparent good reason, but with a deep purpose to raise the level of ethical and moral standards among the masses and, through their spiritual appeal, to raise awareness of strict austerity, unimpeachable conduct and high standards of their selfless devotion to the public cause. The anthems of Kabirdas and Tulsidas are still burned into the public consciousness and serve as a bulwark against obstinacy of any kind.
In fact, Gandhi and other freedom fighters benefited enormously from the bhakti and mystical traditions of the past. Today’s Indian ethos, including the Constitution or Basic Laws, found its roots in compassionate and imaginative universalism as opposed to narrow sectarianism, thanks to this great and historic tradition. He had also led the people through the struggle for freedom.
On the other hand, it is known that the RSS and the Hindu Mahasabha (from which first the Jan Sangh and later the BJP descended) were largely indifferent to the struggle for India’s independence. Her unwavering belief in ethnic purity, rather than Gandhi’s all-encompassing universalism, got in the way of her warming up to Mahatma’s epic struggle for freedom.
Instead, they relied on British hegemony and its unfettered powers, becoming a player in its divide-and-conquer strategy. The British were forced to accept their moral defeat and sailed back home amid mass uprisings and ongoing Indian fighting. But the Sangh and Muslim League flaunted their respective ethnic roots and sought to outdo Congress, the Communists and the Socialists by accusing them of having no roots in the two strictly religious milieus created by the retreating British were to be accommodated by the division into two separate dominions.
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As a result, spirituality gave way to bigotry, which post-independence Congress fought with varying degrees and gradually flagging commitment, with the result that it eventually lost power; and losing it for the longest spell from now.
With this in mind, Congress decided to undertake one of the longest walks the country has seen in its contemporary history.
Symbolism vs. Bean counting
Before embarking on the almost 3,600 km journey from Kanyakumari to Kashmir, Rahul visited the memorial of his father, the late Rajiv Gandhi in Tamil Nadu; and in the tweet, which included an image of the spot where Rajiv was assassinated in 1991, Rahul wrote: “I lost my father to the politics of hate and division. I will not lose my beloved country because of this.”
But no sooner had his yatra begun, after such a solemn if profound remark, than the subtlety began. A Union minister chided Rahul for moving out of Kanyakumari before turning 19th-Century reformist and philosopher Swami Vivekananda’s memorial there. Congress responded by issuing Rahul’s picture, which pays homage to the famous Swami statue erected on a rocky outcrop at the confluence of the Indian Ocean, Bay of Bengal and Arabian Sea off Kanyakumari.
And right at the start of the yatra from there on September 7, Rahul traced the idea of the BJP and RSS back to British times, describing them as similar to that of the East India Company. He noted: “The idea (from BJP-RSS) is very similar to what the British used to do – divide India, get Indians to fight with each other and steal from the Indian people. At that time it was still called the East India Company; it was the one big company that controlled all of India. Today there are three to four big corporations that control India and policies like demonetization, GST, the three farm laws are designed to take India’s future away, to take away the poor people of India.”
Thus, through his yatra, Rahul is more concerned with history and its nuances than current politics. He has shown little willingness to delve into the intricacies of today’s politics. He was addressing a September 9 press conference in Puliyoorkurichy, Tamil Nadu, where he attempted to raise questions regarding the election of the next Congress President, the need for unity among opposition parties to face the BJP, and the itinerary needed for his yatra Concentration has been drawn, downplaying a few states more than others or those in the Hindi belt.
An image makeover
Rahul then stressed the ideological nature of the post of Congress President in another press conference held on September 22 in Ernakulam, Kerala. He reiterated his determination to stay away from the competition. This reflects a kind of penance Rahul decided to make after the defeat of Congress in the 2019 general election when he led the party. He was also indifferent to the hairsplitting that took place between the BJP and his party colleagues over his choice of clothing and similar other silly issues raised by social media bots during his yatra.
Also Read: Bharat Jodo Yatra: Rahul Charms Kerala as BJP, Left Clock Confused
Such stoicism, despite a keen lens from media, critics, and political rivals over his yatra, is indicative of the deeper strategy of Rahul and his closest associates. This appears to have been shaped by Congress’ efforts to make him sound distant and selfless despite being a serious and significant contender for political primacy, with the intent that he should come across as kind, considerate, and benevolent to the people can prove. The Congress plan regarding the Yatra looks like Rahul will develop a better relationship with the people and also develop an emotional relationship with them. So far the plan appears to be working, albeit not entirely successfully.
Because of this, some of the BJP leaders have often shown signs of concern about Rahul’s Yatra over the past two weeks. And in times to come, the ambitious expedition of the Bharat Jodo Yatra Congress may well result in clearer battle lines being drawn between the two rival and bitterly opposed factions.