The Lok Sabha elections of 2024 are only one and a half years away. The main Opposition Congress is currently ruling only two States, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh. Both these account for 36 Lok Sabha seats. In the last 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP almost swept these seats by winning 33, although the grand old party won these two States by ousting the incumbent BJP in 2018. This year the Congress lost Punjab to AAP, which is cutting into its votes.
The Congress has been unable to recover the ground from the BJP and has been going through the worst phase ever. Now, it also has to battle against Delhi Chief Minister Kejriwal’s AAP party in ensuing Assembly elections in Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat. At such a crucial time, former party president Rahul Gandhi has been undertaking the Bharat Jodo Yatra. It started from Kanyakumari and would end in Kashmir. According to Congress leaders, this yatra would be a “historic one” in Indian politics and “would herald a new phase of politics by ending the BJP’s rule in 2024”. They also claim that this yatra would also bring a change in Indian society which, according to them, has been “vitiated by the hatred policies of BJP and RSS”.
First, it needs to be accepted that the grand old party has taken the right decision to undertake a yatra, although has come too late. Nevertheless, it has boosted the morale of party cadre and supporters. For it has brought a chance for the party to connect not only with the supporters but also with the common people.
At a time when there have been serious allegations against Rahul Gandhi’s political ability for his failure to emerge as the face of the Opposition, this yatra has, undoubtedly, shown, as of now, that he is trying to connect with the masses. It is more important for Rahul than the Congress. By leading this yatra, he has shown the political courage to emerge as the only alternative against Modi. Subtly, he also has been trying to send messages to other Opposition leaders like Nitish Kumar, Arvind Kejriwal, Mamata Banerjee, Sharad Pawar and K Chandrasekhar Rao, that he is still ahead in the race as the main alternative against Modi.
Having said this, Bharat Jodo Yatra doesn’t seem to address all the problems of the grand old party. The large issue that it faces today among the majority is the perception that it’s biased towards the religious minorities of the country. However, it scoffs this by saying it’s not true and is BJP’s “vitiating campaign” against it. But that is the problem—it believes the saffron party is responsible for the worst phase it has been going through!
The Congress has a lot to answer to the majority community, as a section doesn’t seem to be satisfied with their religious views. The party proudly claims itself as a champion of pluralism but on the other hand a section of the majority community in the present time isn’t ready to vote for the party. After the debacle in 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the party had appointed a four-member panel under the leadership of former Union Minister A.K. Antony which had listed minority appeasement by the party as one of the major reasons. Much water has flown since then and it’s a fact the party is still perceived as one appeasing the minority.
This is because the party hasn’t made serious attempts to remove that perception, barring some temple hopping occasionally undertaken by its leaders. As is evident the party faced another debacle in 2019 Lok Sabha elections. The party’s tendency, as seen during this yatra too, is to attack the RSS every time, but it isn’t going to help. True that RSS is an ideological parent of BJP, but it is also a fact that it is a social organisation and, in a way, reaches out to the masses.
Another problem this yatra doesn’t address is the party’s obsession to attack the industrialists. In today’s world, where private jobs have been a source of bread and butter for a large section of the country, such an anti-industrialist stand isn’t going to benefit the party. It has been seen that for Rahul and party leaders close to him to it has become routine to attack the industrialists, incidentally many of whom would have accumulated their wealth under Congress rule.
Notably, the Bharat Jodo Yatra stayed in Telangana for 12 days but the recent Munugode bypoll showed that the Congress has fallen to the third spot after the ruling Telangana Rashtra Samiti and the BJP, which has been successful to replace the Congress as the main Opposition. Apart from this, the grand old party has to be worried with Hyderabad MP Asaduddin Owaisi-led AIMIM, which has been trying its luck outside Hyderabad. The party has been able to attract Muslim votes and got some success in states like Maharashtra and Bihar. Importantly, it seems that BJP itself wants AIMIM, with just 2 Lok Sabha MPs remain afloat in the country’s politics as the communal comments made by the party leaders in the noisy evening debates on the national TV news channels, benefit the saffron politics.
The big question is whether the yatra and the crowds that it is drawing would translate into votes for Congress in the ensuing Assembly elections. Price rise and unemployment are two main burning topics, which the yatra has been rightly highlighting, but the party can’t run away from the truth that these issues were very much present when it ruled the country. Currently the state where it rules, Rajasthan, is one of the states with high unemployment rate. Also, it is a reality that BJP under Modi has been successful in implementing the welfare schemes on the ground level with benefits reaching to the marginalised communities. That’s why BJP is popular and wins elections. Only attacking BJP and RSS won’t do; Congress has to correct its own mistakes. Only then, it can emerge as the people’s choice once again