Can Rahul Gandhi defeat Narendra Modi with ‘unity marches’?

India’s Mumbai has a As thousands of people gathered at Shivaji Park in Mumbai, India’s financial center, the famed venue that had frequently served as a home to rallies by freedom fighters during the country’s struggle for independence from the British decades ago, loud chants and songs about justice reverberated throughout the park.

The slogans this time called for a different kind of “freedom” – one that came from the Bharatiya Janata Party government, which is led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Vishal and Rekha Bhardwaj, two of the most famous vocalists in Bollywood, performed songs from both new and old films that are considered to be classics. The park was decorated with flags and cardboard cutouts of politicians from the Indian National Congress (INC) party, which is the opposition party. Despite the fact that there were police officers present everywhere, the atmosphere was so upbeat that it was almost like attending a rock performance. It was Rahul Gandhi, the scion of the Nehru-Gandhi family, who controlled India for the majority of the first fifty years after the country gained its freedom, who was the focal point of the occasion.

Gandhi, along with a multitude of leaders from other opposition parties, inaugurated the election campaign of their Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance (INDIA) from Shivaji Park on Sunday evening. This was one day after the Election Commission of India published the dates for the largest vote in the world. In a seven-phase election that begins on April 19 and concludes with the announcement of the results on June 4, over one billion people in India will vote for the government that will govern them at the next level.

While the Congress and other critics have accused the BJP of dividing the nation along religious lines and favoring select industrialists, the INDIA alliance hopes to challenge the BJP, which is aiming to win a third consecutive term in office, riding on the back of the prime minister’s personal popularity. The INDIA alliance is hoping to challenge the BJP.

The long marches that Gandhi led across the length and width of the country in order to galvanize support against Modi are at the core of the efforts that the opposition alliance is making. This past Saturday, the culmination of his Bharat Jodo Nyay Yatra, also known as the Uniting India for Justice March, took place in Mumbai.

Can India's Rahul Gandhi defeat Narendra Modi with 'unity marches'? | India  Election 2024 News | Al Jazeera

On Sunday, supporters gathered in Shivaji Park to express their resonance with the marches and Gandhi’s message of reconciliation and justice.
At the demonstration that took place on Sunday, Ganggu Bai, a chef who is forty years old and lives in Dharavi, Mumbai, which is one of the largest slum clusters in the world and was made famous all over the world by the film Slumdog Millionaire, which won an Academy Award, was present.

To show my support for the future of our nation, I am here today. and the rights of women,” according to her. The further statement that she made was, “This event gives me hope and feels like it is actually for the people of India.”

However, in order for Gandhi, the Congress, and the INDIA alliance to transform that emotion into a nationwide tsunami of opposition to the government that is currently in power, they will require the votes of more than just their essential supporters: The Congress party only managed to secure 52 seats in the Lok Sabha, which is the lower house of parliament, during the most recent national elections in 2019, while the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) secured an overwhelming majority with 303 seats.

Political message

During his speech at the gathering, Gandhi stressed that the struggle of the INDIA coalition was not against a political party (he was alluding to the BJP) or the prime minister, but rather for a vision of India.

The term ‘Shakti’ is used in the religion of Hinduism. There is a Shakti that we are fighting against. What exactly is that Shakti, this is the query. As he stated, “The soul of the king is in the Electronic Voting Machine (EVM) and every institution of the country, including the Enforcement Directorate (ED), Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), and the Income Tax department.” He went on to say that these institutions are the sole reason the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is in power.

The allegation is that Modi is the “king,” that electronic voting machines (EVMs) are susceptible to hacking, and that the government is employing law enforcement agencies to force members of the opposition and corporate leaders into compliance.
In addition, the rally was attended by a number of prominent politicians from the INDIA coalition, including the leader of the Congress party, Mallikarjun Kharge, the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu state, MK Stalin, and the former Chief Minister of Maharashtra state, Uddhav Thackeray.

Thackeray stated, “Ab ki baar, BJP tadipaar,” which translates to “This time, the BJP will be exiled.” He went on to say that anybody who attempted to separate them (the INDIA alliance) will be brought to their knees.

When Stalin addressed the throng that were cheering, he said, “Everywhere Rahul goes, it looks like a festival.”

After that, he made a reference to the litmus test that is waiting for the partnership.

He stated that the defeat of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the conquest of Delhi were the true victories of Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Nyay Yatra.

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Are Gandhi’s marches working?

The gathering that Gandhi held at Shivaji Park took place one day after he finished his Bharat Jodo Nyay Yatra, which was a march that spanned 6,600 kilometers (4,100 miles) from the east to the west of India, with detours in each state that he traveled through. Panch nyay, which translates to “five pillars of justice,” is his vow to provide justice for women, youth, farmers, and laborers, as well as justice in terms of parity.

During the walk, he made the announcement that every woman living below the poverty line will receive a yearly dividend of one lakh rupees, which is equivalent to $1,200. Additionally, he promised to reserve fifty percent of all new employment in the central government for families with low incomes.

On January 15, this year, he started walking in the conflict-torn state of Manipur, which is located in the northeastern part of India. He made a promise to bring peace to the region despite the fact that tensions between the predominantly Christian Kuki-Zo and the predominantly Hindu Meitei have led to violence that has resulted in the deaths of hundreds of people and the displacement of more than 60,000 others. As Gandhi made his way westward from Manipur, he reached Mumbai on March 16 to bring his trek to a close.
In the past, he participated in a march known as the Bharat Jodo Yatra (Unite India walk), which aimed to combat issues such as poverty, unemployment, and the growing polarization between Hindus and Muslims in India. This march began in South India and ended in Kashmir, which is located in the north. It took place between September 2022 and January 2023.

Sudha Prakash* was motivated to accompany Gandhi on his first Bharat Jodo Yatra as a result of the messages that these texts contained.
I walked as a demonstration of solidarity. “I also walked to derive strength and hope from the thousands of others who walked, each with their own vision – and yet one that was also shared – of a better India for every single Indian,” Prakash, who is sixty years old and works as a teacher in elementary education in Mumbai, wrote in an interview with Al Jazeera.

“I had the privilege of meeting a large number of people, people from various regions of the country, people who were engaged in a variety of activities, people who belonged to a variety of communities, and people who represented a large number of Indians… it was wonderful.” She continued by saying, “I returned home feeling exhilarated, emotionally charged, and filled with hope.”

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Aiyshwarya Mahadev, a spokeswoman for the Indian National Congress, praised both of the yatras as the most extensive exercises that the Congress party has carried out in recent times in order to connect with the general populace.

The words of those on the ground were something that we wanted to hear and give them a voice. According to what she shared with Al Jazeera, “so during both of the yatras, we saw Rahul Gandhi listening to voices that hardly ever get heard, of people from communities that have traditionally been oppressed and marginalized.”

This yatra is not about political pomposity or any kind of chest thumping; rather, it was about reaching out to the people on the ground, listening to their voices, and becoming their voices. Regarding this particular aspect, it has been an enormous success.
Many Indians, however, do not share this view. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has frequently and mockingly referred to Gandhi’s marches as being intended to “break” India rather than “unite” it.

An individual who has previously worked for the Indian government, Ujal Bhatia, has expressed his belief that Gandhi’s marches will not result in electoral victories for the Congress party.

He told Al Jazeera that the narrative of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) retains control over a significant portion of the population. This narrative includes Hindutva, strong government, and welfare, which provides palliatives to the poor. The Hindu majoritarian political ideology of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is referred to as Hindutva. Over the course of its ten years in power, the Modi government has also launched a number of social programs that are aimed at women and other historically disadvantaged segments of society. However, critics have questioned the government’s assertions regarding the extent to which these programs are being implemented.

Can India's Rahul Gandhi defeat Narendra Modi with 'unity marches'? | India  Election 2024 News | Al Jazeera

Bhatia continued by saying, “Rahul will receive a great deal of positive energy from his travels; however, Congress cadres are weak, and the Gandhi family is hesitant to cede power to regional leaders.”

A lawyer named Raj Malhotra, who is 33 years old and hails from Bangalore, held a similar viewpoint.

The opposition appears to be clueless about how to use this to its advantage, despite the fact that a sufficient number of people in the country are now fed up with the partisan politics and crony capitalism. Malhotra spoke to Al Jazeera and accused the Congress party of engaging in nepotism and dynastic politics. He went on to say that a significant portion of this is due to the fact that the Congress party has failed to pay attention to organizational flaws for more than a decade.

It is unfortunate that Rahul Gandhi is being portrayed as a “pappu” by the propaganda mill of the BJP, despite the fact that he may still be a candidate worth being considered. According to him, “the party really needs to look inwards and sort out the mess that it has created within itself.” For a long time, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its supporters on social media have referred to Gandhi as “Pappu,” which is a derogatory term used in Hindi-speaking northern India to indicate someone who is intellectually dumb.

‘Democracy’ vs ‘command and control’

Sam Pitroda, a telecom engineer who later served as an advisor to Rajiv Gandhi and Manmohan Singh, two former prime ministers of India who were members of the Congress party, admitted that the party appears to be significantly more disorganized than the BJP. On the other hand, he stated that this is the core of what democracy is all about.

In contrast to the Congress party, which is not structured and is founded on cooperation and co-creation, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is built on command and control. This appears to be a chaotic situation at times. However, that is the fundamental structure of the party, he explained to Al Jazeera. People have the misconception that debates and arguments regarding party policies indicate a lack of organization and unity in the party. On the other hand, if you desire democracy, you must refrain from being authoritarian and instead allow people to argue.As a leader, Rahul Gandhi is also a brilliant and accomplished individual. He is being slandered by the propaganda of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). What do you think about holding a national discussion between Gandhi and Modi before the elections? Following that, we would be able to determine who the true “pappu” is, Pitroda suggested.

According to Mahadev, the marches have also been instrumental in bringing together the members and workers of the Congress party, which is a great development.

“As a result of the yatras, Rahul Gandhi, Mallikarjun Kharge, Priyanka Gandhi (Rahul’s sister), and other leaders were all there on the ground, and the workers had the opportunity to meet and connect with them. In addition, this further galvanized the cadre and gave them the confidence to operate with newfound vigor, as Mahadev articulated.

This kind of engagement, in which a worker is shown that the work that he is doing on the ground is important, helps the party, and is reminded of the enormous role that he plays in our success, is a reality that exists in today’s India. It is a reality that the voices of the opposition are stifled, and at times, the future appears to be bleak.

What’s next?

Additionally, the INDIA coalition has been plagued by fractures, as a number of its most influential leaders have left the group due to political disagreements. However, Mahadev stated that the opposition’s agenda has been in the process of being crafted through the yatras.

We went across a number of states during the initial portion of the yatra, during which we engaged in conversations with many stakeholders from all over the country who discussed the problems that they were facing. This contributed to the formation of our story and provided us with the foundation for a number of our manifestos,” she stated. There are a number of regional parties and our friends in the INDIA bloc that have representations and ideas that will be put forward as the promises that we make during the elections.
It was admitted by Mahadev that it was not obvious how much of a direct impact the marches would have on the number of votes that the Congress or its partners would receive. However, she stated that this was never the primary objective behind the yatras, regardless of the circumstances.

“It is possible that his footsteps will not always translate into votes in place, but the purpose of the yatras was to talk to people on the ground who came from a variety of socioeconomic structures, vocations, and even marginalized communities,” she said. These gatherings were not political events; rather, they were his interactions with different people in order to listen to them, learn their reality, comprehend their problems, and be a voice for them.

She stated that Gandhi’s marching was about pursuing “peace and unity” and “fighting for India as a democracy.” She added that Gandhi’s marching was for these things.

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