How Bharat Jodo Yatra of Rahul Gandhi became the most extensive political mobilisation in Kerala

Bharat Jodo Yatra was in sync with Congress belief in democratic mobilisation and people's engagement by discussing real politics.

ByV T Balram

Published Oct 01, 2022 | 9:21 AM Updated Oct 01, 2022 | 10:10 AM

Author of the article and KPCC Vice-president VT Balram with Rahul Gandhi during the Bharat Jodo Yatra. (Supplied)

When the Bharat Jodo Yatra led by Rahul Gandhi turned into a 19-day mass-contact programme of the Indian National Congress in seven among the 14 districts of Kerala, many sceptics questioned the very purpose of such an itinerary.

They asked us why the yatra, which aimed at uniting India against religious polarisation, spent too many days in Kerala. This state has always remained pluralistic and upheld the vision of inclusiveness.

Others remained doubtful of the efficacy of such a yatra through Kerala, where the Congress and the UDF coalition it heads failed to usurp power in the last Assembly election.

Another segment felt there was no purpose in a leader and his followers walking through the national highways braving extreme heat and an equally adverse political climate brought in by the CPI(M)-led government in the state and the BJP-led government at the Centre.

But the so-called political pundits were proved wrong when the Bharat Jodo Yatra completed its Kerala leg on 29 September at Vazhikkadavu in Malappuram district, in Rahul Gandhi’s parliamentary constituency of Wayanad.

Participation limit plan had to be dropped

The yatra has turned into the most significant political mobilisation the state has seen in recent times.

Each day, the yatra was to be done in two sessions: A morning session starting at 6.30 am and an evening session starting at 5 pm with an extended lunch break. Initially, we were planning to limit the participation in the morning session to a few hundred permanent yatris to avoid traffic congestion and arrange for mass participation only during the afternoon session.

Author of the article and KPCC Vice-president VT Balram with Rahul Gandhi during the Bharat Jodo Yatra. (Supplied)

Author of the article and KPCC Vice-president VT Balram with Rahul Gandhi during the Bharat Jodo Yatra. (Supplied)

But all such restrictions went out of the window from day one as people started pouring in tens of thousands each morning. In the evenings, it reached lakhs.

The masses who joined the yatra and thronged both sides of the roads through which it proceeded proved one thing beyond doubt: The only choice of Kerala and India to fight the divisive and communal agenda of Narendra Modi and the BJP-RSS is a solid and resurgent Congress party led by Rahul Gandhi.

Throughout the journey, people cutting across political and religious lines came forward to extend solidarity with Rahul Gandhi, a leader in whom they saw the ability and spirit to rise above partisan interests and assert the cause of ordinary people.

He did speak politics

Did Rahul Gandhi not speak “politics”, and was the whole yatra a mere spectacle?

Of course not. He did speak politics in the real sense of that term. In his evening speeches in the concluding sessions of each day’s yatra, he elaborately spoke on two or three essential things. He categorically asserted that he is not ready to accept an India of inequalities. An India where four or five prominent businessmen close to the ruling dispensation can do anything and everything is untenable, with millions of ordinary citizens suffering from acute unemployment and unbearable price hike.

Sachin Pilot with Rahul Gandhi at Bharat Jodo Yatra on Wednesday at Kochi

Sachin Pilot with Rahul Gandhi at the Bharat Jodo Yatra in Kochi (Supplied)

Second, why are we unable to discuss these critical issues of common concern? It’s because we are divided. We are divided on caste, religion, language, gender, and even the dress we wear and the food we eat.

Third, and most importantly, Rahul Gandhi explained to the thousands who came to listen to him that there is a connection between this growing inequality and the atmosphere of hatred, violence, and bigotry purposely promoted by the BJP-RSS. And that’s why we need a movement to unite the people of India, and Bharat Jodo Yatra is trying to do the same.

How else can a national leader of his stature better speak “politics” concerning the ordinary citizens of this country in these testing times?

‘He held hands of people pushed to the boundaries’

For Rahul Gandhi and Congress, the yatra is a vast, collective learning experience.

As AICC general secretary in charge of communications Jairam Ramesh asserted during a press conference in Thiruvananthapuram, it is a journey to listen to the people. And in fact, it did that, with Rahul Gandhi listening to people from different walks of life, including farmers, weavers, cashew workers, coir workers, MGNREGA workers, anganwadi workers, autorickshaw drivers, IT professionals, tourism entrepreneurs, transgender people, tribals and Dalits, who all came and voiced their concerns.

Rahul Gandhi with CR Neelakandan

Rahul Gandhi with environmental activist CR Neelakandan during the Bharat Jodo Yatra in Ernakulam district (Supplied)

People found a natural leader free from any boosting done by public relations agencies. Rahul Gandhi appeared before them as original to the core. He ate food with ordinary people in rural tea shops and snack centres. He held the hands of several people pushed to the boundaries by the elite and powerful.

Rahul Gandhi urged the people to uphold the democratic and renaissance values of legendary social reformers like Sree Narayana Guru, Chattambi Swami, and Mahatma Ayyankali. He warned people about how corporate greed could wipe out the livelihoods of the most marginalised sections of our society and why there’s a need to unite, putting aside all our differences and partisan interests to fight for an India of our dreams.

Congress no longer a spent force

The whole Kerala leg of the Bharat Jodo Yatra reassured the people of the state and Rahul Gandhi. They realised the Congress would stand with them in the fight against communal fascism.

The people of Kerala have conveyed a clear message to the country: The Congress is no longer a spent force and continues to hold the power to bring the nation’s destiny back on track.

The relevance of the Kerala leg of the Bharat Jodo Yatra is that it gave a new dimension to the larger secular politics of the country. It proved beyond doubt that people would not agree to any political formation without a leadership role for Congress at the national level.

It conveys the message that secularists would find any attempt to weaken Congress as a move to strengthen the BJP-RSS communal designs.

An eye-opener for CPI(M)

Throughout the Kerala leg of the Bharat Jodo Yatra, Rahul Gandhi said nothing critical or damaging about the ruling CPI(M) in the state except for occasional references to the condition of roads and the lack of employment opportunities for the educated youth in the state.

But the CPI(M) leaders, especially Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, turned aggressive after seeing that the yatra reached out to the secular masses beyond party politics. He even came up with a strange and laughable accusation that Rahul Gandhi was speaking on RSS lines, which was promptly rejected by the secular mindset of the state.

The success of the yatra and the massive turnout is a stern message to Vijayan and his cronies, who act as the B team of the BJP-RSS in the state. Across the state, the yatra reached out to even cadres of CPI(M) and LDF by effectively resisting the adverse campaigns of Vijayan and company, who echoed the daily badmouthing of the right-wing social media handles of the BJP-RSS.

The Bharat Jodo Yatra is an eye-opener for the CPI(M), which is engaged in its regressive agenda in Kerala to destroy the Congress and grow the BJP-RSS as the principal opposition in its place.

Rahul Gandhi with Sheetal Shyam

Rahul Gandhi with transgender activist Sheetal Shyam (Facebook/Rahul Gandhi)

We fought and won over the adverse campaign by cyber goons of the left and right that it was a yatra in search of food varieties.

Crowds in the hometown of EMS

Sadly, some national and local media also played a vital role in the campaign by focusing their cameras on the food eaten by Rahul Gandhi in the wayside eateries. The CPI(M) and their youth organisation amplified this mockery by raising derogatory banners. But by saying so, they proved that their leaders who live in ivory towers would not descend to the road and eat with ordinary people from roadside eateries.

In Elamkulam, the hometown of one of the most prominent Communist leaders EMS Namboodirippad, who had once infamously said that he would support any devil to defeat the Congress, a banner was raised by the DYFI abusing the yatra. But we could see hundreds of men, women, and children from Communist families waiting for hours and waving at Rahul Gandhi just beside that banner.

Some shortsighted opponents, again from the CPI(M), termed it a “container yatra”, alluding to the use of modified containers for accommodating the permanent yatris.

Such containers are now used worldwide for temporary accommodations, especially for workers in makeshift labour camps. Sadly, the new generation leaders of a so-called “worker’s party” like the CPI(M) are unaware of what’s happening worldwide.

Out of their age-old antipathy to the Congress, they lacked any clear or meaningful politics to discuss. The more significant concerns of a collective effort to keep India a democratic, secular, and inclusive nation somehow miss their priorities.

Rahul Gandhi yatra just a beginning

Through the yatra, we enter into an everlasting agreement with the people: That the Congress and Rahul Gandhi will stand solidly with them, directly engage with their concerns, and fight till the last to end the politics of hatred and violence.

For us, it’s the beginning. The beginning of the larger mission is to reclaim the founding ideals of our Republic and the values that make us a nation. And as during our historic freedom movement, the Congress always believes in democratic mobilisation and people’s engagement by discussing real politics.

(A former member of the Kerala Assembly, VT Balram is vice president of the Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee. He was also chairman of the media committee for the Kerala leg of the Bharat Jodo Yatra. These are the personal views of the author)