‘Bharat Jodo Yatra’: Rahul’s Master Stroke To Counter BJP’s Divisive Politics

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Photo credit: News18 Hindi

India was never so polarized as it is today, and the country desperately needed someone to come forward to counter the forces of communalism and polarization, which have raised their ugly heads in every street, village, town, and city.

Syed Khalique Ahmed

NEW DELHI—What the Congress is doing now – taking out Bharat Jodo Yatra – (March for National Integration) should have been done much earlier. However, it is better to do something even after the expected time than not doing at all.

The yatra led by Rahul Gandhi is no doubt a masterstroke against BJP and PM Narendra Modi so far as the 2024 Lok Sabha elections are concerned. This is because the Congress or even Rahul Gandhi, who had earlier chosen to remain silent on divisive issues, particularly about BJP and RSS targeting Muslims, has now taken on the Hindu ultra-nationalist groups from the front. The yatra that has great relevance in Indian culture, would provide an opportunity to Congress to connect with the masses and mobilize them in party’s favour.

Why did Congress maintain stoic silence over atrocities on Muslims and Dalits?

The party had maintained total silence when the radical Hindu groups indulged in mob lynching of Muslims, targetted their mosques and houses, and vilified them, holding them responsible for every problem in India. 

The Hindu vigilante groups and radicals terrorized Muslims by entering their houses in search of beef, prevented them from offering namaz even in the precincts of their homes and personal properties, and organized their economic boycott. The Congress leadership also did not speak when the Dalits were cornered and attacked by the ruling party in UP, India’s biggest state, where Mayawati, a Dalit, had once ruled the state. Whenever they spoke, it was very muted, subdued and low-key. Perhaps, the Congress leaders had imagined that the BJP government would not touch them, and hence, there was no need to oppose their anti-Muslim and anti-Dalit policies and actions in a strong way. Congress kept its Muslim leaders away from electioneering in the 2014 and 2019 general elections fearing that the divisive politics of the BJP might drive the party’s Hindu supporters away from the Congress. This was dubbed the ‘soft Hindutva’ of Congress. And it was done based on the Antony Committee report that had recommended keeping Muslims away from the public gaze in the party. But, indeed, this strategy did not bring any political dividend to the party. Instead, it harmed the party because Muslims, feeling insulted, switched over to other parties. So, Antony’s recommendations backfired. Congress, like BJP, also indulged in tactics to turn Muslims irrelevant in Indian politics. But, in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, Rahul Gandhi felt he would lose his Amethi seat to Smriti Irani. He then filed another nomination from Muslim majority Wayanad in Kerala and won with a vast majority. If Rahul Gandhi is a Lok Sabha member today, it is thanks to the Muslims who were written off politically by the Antony Committee.

Now, back to the Congress calculations responsible for its silence against atrocities on Muslims since Modi assumed power at the Centre. Ironically, all guesses proved them wrong. The Modi government did not spare even the top Congress leadership. Rahul Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi were called to Enforcement Directorate’s (ED) office and questioned for hours together. The party had to summon its chief ministers from Chattisgarh and Rajasthan to organize a sit-in outside the ED office to pressure officials and the BJP government to ensure that neither Rahul nor Sonia is arrested in the National Herald money laundering case. Senior Congress leaders were allegedly roughed up by Delhi police personnel inside the AICC office, and former home minister P Chidambaram was pushed by cops while participating in the protest against the questioning of Rahul Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi.

ED Action against Sonia, Rahul woke up Congress from its political inertia

Perhaps the ED’s action against the top Congress leadership woke up the 137-year-old party from its political inertia and made it pull up its socks to ensure that it was not completely erased from the country’s politics. Already, many regional parties have replaced Congress in several states, including Delhi, where AAP has captured power, with Congress having zero representation in the 70-member Delhi assembly.

Whether the Congress yatra is motivated by selfish interests or its commitment to secularism to keep all religious and caste groups united to strengthen the nation, Rahul Gandhi and Congress deserve all praise for directly challenging the BJP and the RSS when other Opposition parties are scared. While launching the yatra from Kanyakumari, Rahul Gandhi said that his foot march was against the “divisive politics” of the BJP and the RSS and aimed at uniting people of different religions, castes, and communities to make India stronger. India was never so polarized as it is today, and the country desperately needed someone to come forward to counter the forces of communalism and polarization, which have raised their ugly heads in every street, village, town, and city. The yatra that began from Kanyakumari on September 7 will culminate at Srinagar in Jammu and Kashmir after covering 3,570 km in 12 states over five months.

Comparable to Mahatma Gandhi’s Dandi yatra and Naokhali yatra in villages of Bengal to curb communalism

Undoubtedly, it is not only a historic moment for Congress and Rahul Gandhi but the nation as a whole because there is no other party that can challenge the might of the BJP and its ideological mentor RSS. His “Bharat Jodo Yatra” is like the Dandi Yatra of Mahatma Gandhi in 1930, launched to resist the Salt Tax. The Dandi Yatra mobilized the Indian masses, finally forcing the Britishers to quit India. Likewise, the present political dispensation in the country has subverted every democratic institution and trampled upon citizens’ democratic and fundamental rights, particularly those belonging to weaker sections, vulnerable groups, Dalits, and minorities. Even people from upper castes and elite classes, opposition leaders, and ministers who raise their voices against government policies are hounded by central investigative agencies and thrown into jails for no reason.

But several BJP leaders have tried to ridicule Rahul Gandhi’s yatra, saying that the country is already united. So, what is the logic behind taking out the “Bharat Jodo yatra”? They are mocking Rahul Gandhi because BJP leaders know the power of yatras. If Mahatma Gandhi was able to mobilize people against the despotic British rule by taking out Dandi Yatra in 1930 and united Hindus and Muslims by taking out Peace Marches in villages of Bengal after the Naokhali violence in 1946-47, Rahul Gandhi’s yatra against the forces of division and communalism may to a large extent prove a catalytic force to bring Hindus and Muslims together by de-toxifying the society that has been injected with communal poison in the last few decades by forces claiming themselves to be nationalistic. The country today faces the same type of communal split that was there in 1946-47. In fact, the communal division is more severe now because it is based on a particular ideology that is deeper and more lethal than the communalism of the 1940s, which had its genesis in some rapid political developments involving Hindus and Muslims. But the current political divide between Hindus and Muslims is based on an ideological basis to reduce Muslims to second-class citizens in their own native land and deny them the rights available to citizens under Indian Constitution. Hence, this communal divide being played by the radicals belonging to the majority community is more dangerous than any other communalism in the past. In this context, Rahul Gandhi’s role in launching a yatra to unite communities in such a situation is a very bold initiative, and it is immaterial whether this exercise brings the party more seats or not. Connecting the communities will be an outstanding achievement for Congress and Rahul Gandhi.

As for BJP leaders en masse criticizing Rahul’s yatra, the saffron brigade must be aware that the BJP owes its rise to political power to yatras itself. The party that had won 85 Lok Sabha seats in the 1989 elections bagged 120 seats after LK Advani’s Somnath to Ayodhya Yatra in 1991.

Apart from this, BJP president Murli Manohar Joshi took out an Ekta Yatra in 1991 for national unity. And this Ekta Yatra was launched from Kanyakumari like Congress’ Bharat Jodo Yatra. If BJP leaders mock Rahul’s national integration march saying the country is united and so, why this yatra? One can ask them: Was the country disunited in 1991 that BJP’s Joshi had to launch an Ekta Yatra? The questions of the saffron leaders reflect a kind of political threat they feel in Rahul’s yatra intended to unite the religious communities that directly clashes with the political strategy of the saffron forces. And PM Modi was among the main participants and organizers of Joshi’s Ekta Yatra. 

Another Ekta Yatra was led in 2011 by Anurag Thakur, currently a Lok Sabha member and a minister in the central government. Like Joshi’s Ekta, Anurag Thakur-led Yatra that began in Kolkata also culminated in Srinagar.

The BJP took out a five-day Jan Ashirwad Yatra in August 2021 to change the people’s perception of the government’s handling of the Covid pandemic. As many as 39 Union ministers were involved, and the yatra was organized in 22 states. It was padayatras in villages of West Bengal by Mamta Banerjee in 2011 that enabled her to unseat the Left Front government and capture power in the state. Even AAP takes out yatras in various states on trivial issues. So why mock Congress and Rahul Gandhi over taking out Bharat Jodo Yatra?

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