Rahul Gandhi in Manipur is the correct image for the party, but the yatra’s big picture is still hazy.

Madhu

Rahul Gandhi in Manipur is the correct image for the party, but the yatra's big picture is still hazy.

A picture is supposed to be worth a million words. The photograph of youngsters in Manipur flanking a smiling Rahul Gandhi at the start of his Yatra-2 expressed what his words could not.

In February 1983, when I went to cover the horrible communal massacres in Nellie, a town in Central Assam, a senior administrator in Guwahati urged me, “Write your piece through the eyes of the children of Nellie.” I did.

I knew that the children in Nellie who had witnessed the heinous murders of their parents and loved ones, as well as the terror of impending death, would never forget what had happened, and it would scar their lives. As I looked at Rahul’s photos in Manipur, I realized that the children who surrounded him might never forget that “somebody important” had come from Delhi and held their hands when they didn’t know what would happen to them or their family the next day.

Rahul’s Bharat Jodo Nyay Yatra, which began in Manipur, was clearly motivated by state politics. The Congress has chastised Prime Minister Narendra Modi for not visiting Manipur once since a near-civil conflict broke out there eight months ago and sought to emphasize this point. (Home Minister Amit Shah did visit the state once, but it was not the same.)

Rahul Gandhi in Manipur is the correct image for the party, but the yatra's big picture is still hazy.
Rahul Gandhi in Manipur is the correct image for the party, but the yatra’s big picture is still hazy.

The importance of the Northeast is self-evident. The significance of Manipur, as well as Nagaland, Mizoram, and Arunachal Pradesh—where Manipur’s ripple effects were most felt—as sentinels on India’s border in these regions extends beyond the few Lok Sabha seats these states represent.

When a Naga elder says, “We fear the Northeast becoming a Hindu-dominant area, to the disadvantage of Christians,” he expresses concern about Manipur’s polarization between Hindu Meiteis in the valley and Christian Kukis in the hills, which has far-reaching consequences for the region. It may be prudent for the Congress to launch the Rahul Yatra from the Northeast in order to reach out to the aggrieved and insecure. However, the time makes little sense otherwise.

It has engaged the Congress’s already weakened organizational power to prepare and organize the Yatra rather than focusing on the polls, which are only a few months away. It may be claimed that the Yatra will be a long-running rally through 15 states and 100 Lok Sabha constituencies over the next two months. However, the Yatra is becoming an annoyance rather than a facilitator in the process of seat sharing between the Congress and its allies.

For the opposition to be effective, the India coalition must fight the BJP and NDA together; the Congress cannot do it alone. Its effectiveness will depend on its capacity to organize one-on-one competitions in as many Lok Sabha seats as is feasible. However, the Indian allies are dissatisfied with the Congress’s decision to proceed with the Bharat Jodo Nyay Yatra without consulting them. They were not informed of the concept, timing, or plan in the many states through which the Yatra will travel, where regional parties have a presence. Akhilesh Yadav, chief of the Samajwadi Party, has stated that he will not participate in it in Uttar Pradesh.

Rahul Gandhi

Rahul Gandhi in Manipur is the correct image for the party, but the yatra's big picture is still hazy.
Rahul Gandhi in Manipur is the correct image for the party, but the yatra’s big picture is still hazy.

Mamata Banerjee, the leader of the Trinamool Congress, has yet to announce her plans for West Bengal. As a result, the Yatra is deepening the opposition’s divisions rather than uniting them. The regional parties are also dissatisfied with the use of the term “Nyay (justice)” to characterize the yatra this time. The term “social justice” (as employed in the context of Mandal or OBC empowerment) is connected with regional parties rather than the Congress, and they believe it is exploiting their subject. Except in portions of the South, the OBCs have not traditionally been a Congress vote base, but Rahul has been courting their support with the demand for a caste census (which, incidentally, failed in the last state elections).

This accommodation may have included changing the yatra’s name to Bharat Jodo Nyay Yatra from Bharat Nyay Yatra. Rahul has attempted to relate Nyay’s name to combating “the injustices” under the RSS and BJP. Rahul Yatra-2 also indicates that the party is campaigning for the “future” (2029?) rather than the next election contests. There appear to be two Congresses within India’s grand old party today. Rahul wants to shape the Congress according to his vision and, over time, with his own team at the leadership, whom others may regard as novices, greenhorns, or politically inexperienced. Then there’s the rest of the party, who want the party to win first and foremost but are heavily influenced by Rahul’s actions.

The problem is that Rahul’s decisions are highly personal, and he frequently makes them without consulting the party as a whole, such as with the Bharat Jodo Nyay Yatra.

 

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