Congress leader Rahul Gandhi during party's Bharat Jodo Yatra in Western India Image Credit: ANI

Last week, the Congress party’s Bharat jodo yatra (Unite India march), lead by Member of Parliament Rahul Gandhi. completed two months on the road.

After over 1500 kilometres and 4 states, the yatra entered the politically important state of Maharashtra. In all, they will cover 3,570km before concluding in Srinagar in early 2023.

It will take a total over 150 days to cover. Launched by Rahul Gandhi on Sep. 7, 2022, the Yatra’s main objective is to fight against, what the party says, “fear, bigotry and prejudice”.

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The Congress also says the yatra is all about uniting India at a divisive time, about raising issues that matter to people like unemployment and inflation.

To that extent, the idea of a yatra like this is laudable. Critics of the Congress have often said its leaders were only social media warriors who never hit the streets. At least that criticism is now invalid.

Through the course of the yatra, pictures of Rahul Gandhi with children, with the elderly and the poor, have humanised him to many Indians.

The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) IT cell’s “pappu’ tag has withered away from much of the narrative. Gandhi has talked about the economics of livelihood destruction, increasing unemployment and growing inequalities during the march.

It is also admirable to see a political party raise issues based on principles, at a time when other opposition parties like the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) won’t touch issues concerning minorities with a barge pole in order to placate the Hindu vote.

Senior Congress leader Jairam Ramesh said in a recent interview, “The yatra in itself is not a magic wand. It opens opportunities and changes perceptions. We are setting the narrative. The BJP is reacting to our narrative”

But the Congress has a dilemma, a problem. Will this yatra translate into votes? Congress leaders say the yatra is not aimed at winning elections but what is a political party that does not try to win elections?

The yatra coincides with the crucial state polls in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh. Big losses in these states will take the shine off the yatra, no matter how much they deny the march’s link with electoral politics.

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi during party's Bharat Jodo Yatra, in Nanded. Image Credit: ANI

Jairam Ramesh admits the political impact of the yatra is not yet clear. “There is no automaticity that this yatra will translate into electoral success. It will be a completely different ball game,” he was quoted as saying.

The fact is, the yatra has galvanised the Congress cadre and given them some hope of a fight back. But the party is still not dealing with factionalism and systemic problems that have seen its decline over the years.

Electoral challenges 

Take Gujarat, where the Congress is facing defections and a serious challenge from the AAP, which is trying to occupy the space they have vacated.

In Himachal Pradesh, it is not clear if the Congress can capitalise on anti incumbency against the BJP government and a massive internal rebellion in the BJP, to win.

Sachin Pilot has fired fresh shots at Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot only last week, and there are no signs that the party leadership, now under Mallikarjun Kharge, is willing to do anything about it anytime soon.

They elected a new party president but the congress now needs a proper revival plan. It has to figure out why it has shrunk from 404 seats in 1984 to just 52 Lok Sabha seats in 2019.

The Bharat jodi yatra is a start. But there is still a long way to go.