Almost a month after Kerala leg of Bharat Jodo Yatra, people urge Congress to sustain tempo

Many feel infighting within the Congress' Kerala unit over Sashi Tharoor's run for the AICC president post affected the yatra's goodwill.

ByK A Shaji

Published Oct 22, 2022 | 5:19 PMUpdatedOct 22, 2022 | 5:21 PM

Sree Narayana Guru Mutt Rahul

Though the euphoria created by the Kerala leg of Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Yatra lingers in the minds of people across the state, sustaining the tempo till the Lok Sabha election in 2024 remains an arduous task for the state unit of the Congress.

Civil society groups that met Rahul Gandhi and shared their expectations of a political alternative to the BJP-RSS are demanding — almost one month since the yatra covered eight of the 14 districts of Kerala — that follow-up actions be undertaken to translate the unprecedented mass mobilisation programme into electoral gains.

The general perception is that Sashi Tharoor’s contest in the AICC presidential election and the manoeuvring of Kerala leaders against him have created a situation in which the concerns raised by the yatra were either sidelined or ignored.

Kerala’s ruling CPI(M) and the BJP also aspire to reap dividends in the coming days by exploiting possible polarisations around Tharoor within the state unit of the Congress.

They hope they can defuse the challenges posed by the yatra if Tharoor fails to find accommodation in the Congress Working Committee or the national office-bearer list because of the efforts of fellow leaders from the state.

Related: Month after Kerala leg of Bharat Jodo Yatra, civil society sees Rahul Gandhi as a leader with a difference

Current Congress condition in Kerala

Candidate for AICC President election Dr Shashi Tharoor casting his vote. (Twitter: INC India)

Candidate for AICC President election Dr Shashi Tharoor casting his vote. (Twitter: INC India)

“The future of the Congress in the state depends largely on Tharoor, who won many votes in the AICC election from the state despite the rallying together of rival groups against him. If the party denies him a ticket in the Lok Sabha election and sidelines him as revenge for contesting for the president post, all the gains made by the yatra would be futile,” said G Pramod Kumar, a former advisor with United Nations Development Programme.

Young leaders in the party have strong reservations with Lok sabha members Kodikunnil Suresh and K Muraleedharan, because of their controversial statements against Tharoor, which diminished the enthusiasm created by the yatra.

Rape allegations that emerged against party MLA Eldho Kunnappally also made the party defensive just after the yatra, and Muraleedharan even made a public statement against the state leadership for delaying disciplinary action against the controversial MLA.

Rahul Gandhi marches into Kerala as massive crowd gathers to welcome his 'Bharat Jodo Yatra' on Sunday, 11 September. (Supplied)

Rahul Gandhi marches into Kerala as massive crowd gathers to welcome his ‘Bharat Jodo Yatra’ on Sunday, 11 September. (Supplied)

“It’s true that Rahul Gandhi created a wave across the state by listening to people and engaging with their survival struggles. But it’s the responsibility of the state leadership of the party to maintain the tempo till the general elections by undertaking effective follow-up,” said Tito D’Cruz, a coastal conservation activist.

“In Thiruvananthapuram, Rahul Gandhi met fish workers agitating against the Adani-sponsored Vizhinjam transhipment terminal and shared their concerns over the environmental and livelihood crisis created by the project. Though he directed the Kerala unit to reach a unanimous policy decision on the project’s future, the state party has not yet convened even a single meeting over it,” he pointed out.

The then Oommen Chandy-led Congress government in Kerala brought in the controversial project by accepting the terms fixed by Adani.

The state unit is deeply divided over the issue, with most leaders expressing solidarity with the fish workers, and another segment comprising Chandy and Tharoor supporting Adani.

“It’s true that the Congress is not in power at the Centre and in the state. But its policy decisions on agriculture, environment, livelihood and the welfare of marginalised people are important to Kerala. It’s high time the party starts addressing the issues raised by civil society movements across the state,” said environmentalist CR Neelakandan, who walked with Rahul Gandhi in a short stretch of the yatra on the invitation.

Attacks boomeranged

Bharat Jodo Yatra Day 5

Rahul Gandhi, with other Congress leaders, in Kerala on Day 5 of the Bharat Jodo Yatra. (Supplied)

Throughout the yatra, Rahul Gandhi uttered nothing critical against Kerala’s ruling CPI(M) despite there being deliberate attempts by Left leaders to provoke him. On many occasions, CPI(M) leaders, cadres, and social media activists termed the yatra as one in search of food. Most news organisations in Kerala focused on the restaurants and other eateries where Rahul Gandhi consumed the local cuisine.

“One of the positive impacts of the yatra was that the organised vilification campaigns against it boomeranged.  Both the CPI(M) and the BJP-RSS paid the price for their heinous campaigns against the yatra. But the goodwill created by it must have to be protected,” opined social activist Joseph C Mathew.

The rice farmers of Kuttanad and cash crop growers of Wayanad, Idukki, and Pathanamthitta also want Rahul Gandhi’s direct presentation of their grievances in the Lok Sabha.

“He reached out to us and understood our issues. Based on whatever he grasped from the ground, Rahul Gandhi must use Parliament to become the voice of the nation’s farmers. We are hopeful that he will not forget us,” said PT John, then South India coordinator of the Rashtriya Kisan Maha Sangh.

“The yatra proved Rahul Gandhi was a leader with a difference. People understood how sensible and sensitive he was in the case of larger issues concerning society. So, the Congress unit in the state must identify itself with the suffering masses of the state and wage their battles. Other than that, there is no easy route for Congress to survive. It would be better if the leadership asks certain leaders to remain mum,” said activist Kusumam Joseph.