Will Rahul Gandhi's march change the fortunes of Congress?
The mess that the Congress party is in today is of its own making. The party grew too arrogant and soon lost touch with the country it represented
Since September, Rahul Gandhi has been on a march, literally, walking from Kanyakumari, the southern tip of India. The March will end in Srinagar with the hoisting of the national flag there. The march, like all things political, has invited both praise and critique. There are many who say that is Rahul’s moment, finally. Others shrug it off as the final attempt by a dying party to reestablish itself, and by Rahul to be taken seriously in the political arena.
The political background to this is as charged as it can be. The ruling Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) is popular with the masses and their electoral wins prove that. Their leader and Prime Minister Narendra Modi enjoys high approval ratings. No one can doubt the organizational skills of the party when it comes to elections and the lakhs of party workers who dedicate themselves to its agenda.
In this context, one is even arguing that Rahul Gandhi and his Bharat Jodo Yatra can even remotely challenge Modi. But the fact that Rahul is being joined by huge crowds and he is interacting with the masses, proves that maybe this can be a chance for him to reinvent himself. The pappu (fool) image has been there for way too long and has hurt him badly. At 52, he is still struggling to convince the people of India to take him seriously.
The march that began on September 7 aims to cover 3, 570km and will end in Srinagar after covering a total of 12 states in 150 days. This is an ambitious outreach by the party to reconnect with the people of this country. Going by the numbers coming out to join, hug and walk alongside Rahul, it seems to have hit the right spots. But then the proof of the pudding lies in eating and it is yet to be seen whether this march will indeed be able to translate into some electoral gains for the Congress as a party and for Rahul as a leader.
Sometimes in life, figures help us understand a situation better. In India today, the Congress party is in power in only 2 States and that needs to sink in first and foremost within the party itself. People have started referring to it as a dead or dying party. This could open the space for a legitimate Opposition led by parties like Arvind Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party(AAP) or even Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress (TMC).
So the battle for Rahul is not just for himself and for the party making an electoral comeback, it is also at a deeper level about finding a connect between the India of today and what he and his party stand for. The mess that the Congress party is in today is of its own making. The party grew too arrogant and soon lost touch with the country it represented. Its members and senior leaders believed the Gandhi name alone would win them elections forever. And in their complacency, other parties connected with the people and grew in relevance. National parties like the BJP and regional parties like TMC grew because the Grand Old Party was too busy living in the past.
The Bharat Jodo Yatra has helped the people of India see the different and more humane face of Rahul Gandhi. I wouldn’t say he has been able to shed his pappu image totally but a difference has been made. This yatra is unlikely to yield major electoral gains and party insiders accept that stark reality. Can the Congress party step out from its echo chambers and hear other voices? Is there hope for resuscitation for the party? Time will tell. But I would hold out only a sliver of hope for both Rahul and the party. Sadly, both seem to be lacking the hunger and the appetite for a long-drawn battle.
- The writer is a senior journalist based in Delhi