Congress ups political, perception game with Sonia Gandhi’s 1-km Bharat Jodo Yatra walk

Rahul Gandhi urged the BJP government in Karnataka to implement the Justice Nagamohan Das Committee report on SC/ST reservations.

ByAnusha Ravi Sood

Published Oct 06, 2022 | 11:41 PMUpdatedOct 06, 2022 | 11:42 PM

AICC Interim President Sonia Gandhi shares a smile with Rahul Gandhi at Bharat Jodo Yatra on Thursday in Mandya. (Supplied)

The Bharat Jodo Yatra on Thursday, 6 October, could have very well been the most special day of the walk for the Congress.

With AICC interim president Sonia Gandhi participating in the walkathon alongside her son Rahul Gandhi, crowds — largely women — swelled by the hour, lining along the yatra route.

Chants hailing Indira Gandhi, Sonia Gandhi, and Rahul Gandhi filled the air in Mandya on Thursday.

Such were the crowds that additional security personnel had to be deployed by evening.

In her two-hour participation in the yatra, Sonia Gandhi — clearly much more loved than her son by supporters of the Congress — walked for a little more than a kilomettre but interacted with dozens of yatris.

Recently recuperated from Covid-19, Sonia Gandhi walked alongside her son despite the fragile state of her health to uphold her statement in the Congress’ Udaipur Chintan Shivir that even “the old like her” would walk in the Bharat Jodo Yatra.

Various moods of the yatra on Thursday

There were moments of heartwarming mother-son affection as Rahul Gandhi tied his mother’s shoelace mid-walk.

Visuals of Rahul Gandhi creating a protective space around her — given her health — and urging her to stop walking and travel by car to avoid exhaustion, captured the Congress and its supporters’ imagination.

Rahul Gandhi tying Sonia Gandhi's shoe lace mid-walk on Thursday. (Supplied)

Rahul Gandhi tying Sonia Gandhi’s shoelace mid-walk on Thursday. (Supplied)

A son doting on his mother was the message that the Congress conveyed loud and clear by highlighting the moments Rahul and Sonia shared during the yatra.

There were moments of joy, like when the 75-year-old Siddaramaiah — despite heart ailments — sprinted hand in hand with Rahul Gandhi, grinning as he did so.

There were moments of camaraderie like the one Siddaramaiah and DK Shivakumar shared during the afternoon press conference — both coming down heavily on the BJP over fresh Enforcement Directorate summons to the latter.

There were moments of unity as one party with one voice when Rahul Gandhi reiterated Siddaramaiah’s demand on the Nagamohan Das Commission report implementation in his speech.

There were also tense moments, when journalists covering the yatra were assaulted by the police, or when one of the yatris breached the security cordon and ran towards Sonia and Rahul Gandhi.

Former Karnataka CM Siddaramaiah runs hand-in-hand with Rahul Gandhi at Bharat Jodo Yatra on Thursday. (Supplied)

Former Karnataka CM Siddaramaiah runs hand-in-hand with Rahul Gandhi at Bharat Jodo Yatra on Thursday. (Supplied)

But what remained the highlight of Thursday’s Bharat Jodo Yatra was how all the attention over Sonia Gandhi’s walk was used by the Congress to up its political and perception game.

“The BJP is against SC and STs,” charged Rahul Gandhi.

“We constituted the Justice Nagamohan Das Commission as we sought reservation for STs to be increased from 3 percent to 7 percent & and for SCs to be increased from 15 percent to 17 percent. However, the BJP government hasn’t acted on it,” he added.

Rahul Gandhi demanded the implementation of the Justice Nagamohan Das Committee report as if he were setting the narrative for the all-party meeting called for by Karnataka Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai on Friday to discuss the very issue of reservation.

JD(S) and BJP react

Although Sonia Gandhi’s participation in the yatra came in Mandya — the Vokkaliga heartland and the presumed bastion of the JD(S) — the regional party however downplayed the choice of place.

“According to me, she (Sonia Gandhi) came to Karnataka for rest at a resort. She barely walked for 10 minutes, and this won’t have any impact on our people’s lives,” HD Kumaraswamy told reporters.

Having lost the Mandya Lok Sabha seat in 2019, where his own son Nikhil Kumaraswamy was the party candidate, HD Kumaraswamy rejected the notion that the JD(S) was losing hold in the constituency.

The JD(S) is in direct contest with the Congress in the old Mysuru regions, including Mandya.

Page one advertisement attacking the Congress placed by BJP Karnataka on Thursday. (Supplied)

Page one advertisement attacking the Congress placed by BJP Karnataka on Thursday. (Supplied)

Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai’s response was similar to that of Kumaraswamy.

“She barely walked for half a kilometre. That is okay. All leaders walk for their party and prospects. That doesn’t mean her presence will have any impact,” Bommai told reporters on Thursday morning.

The BJP, however, was on the offensive on Thursday, timing its attack on the Congress on the day Sonia Gandhi was scheduled to walk.

The BJP placed news-looking full-page advertisements on the front page of four Kannada newspapers — Hosa Diganta, Kannada Prabha, Samyukta Karnataka, and Vishwavani.

One of the newspapers is owned by Union Minister for IT Rajeev Chandrashekhar’s company.

The four newspapers carried the frontpage-lookalike advertorial with a tiny description at the left bottom corner of the page that read: “Published by BJP Karnataka”.

“The BJP is running scared of the huge response the Bharat Jodo Yatra is receiving in Karnataka. Hence, it is desperate, and making despicable efforts to put out full-page ads dripping with lies, published as ‘news items’ in Kannada papers. What else can one expect from the chelas (acolytes) of the Jagadguru of Jhoot (lord of lies)?” said Jairam Ramesh, chief of the AICC communications team, in a swipe at Prime Minister Narendra Modi.