A file photo of former Congress president Rahul Gandhi. (Image: PTI)
KANYAKUMARI: They may go to bed on Tuesday night despondent, down, bruised and defeated, but they will wake up on Wednesday morning filled with hope. The energy of Congress leaders and cadre travelling from Telangana to Kanyakumari is infectious. It possibly perfectly mirrors the mood of not only the thousands of fellow Congress people who will join party leader Rahul Gandhi for the start of Bharat Jodo Yatra at the former Cape Comorin, but of millions of common Indians he will meet along the arduous journey.
In a yatra that could go beyond seven to eight months, and cover over 3,570 kilometres, Rahul Gandhi is feeling up to a challenge when his chips are at their lowest, the odds stacked against him and his party.
The Congress is not only losing elections, winning fewer Lok Sabha seats than it would take to have a bonafide Leader of Opposition in two elections but also in most states.
The Congress is even losing governments it had won, like Karnataka or Madhya Pradesh, and its leaders, some loyal for decades, are deserting.
The party of A.O. Hume, Annie Beasant, Dadabhai Naoroji, Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Mahatma Gandhi and a foundational platform of leaders from Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose and Bhagat Singh, may be reaching a climax, and demise, under the watch of the final Gandhi-Nehru scion, according to most.
Either it will die, its death starting on Wednesday if the walk flops, or be set for a rebirth, a renaissance, if the fabled Gandhi-Nehru magic works with Indians.
And it could work. Because Rahul Gandhi is no stranger to losing. He lost his grandmother as a little child, and witnessed the most gruesome manner of losing a father. He lost his youth in a maze of political confusion, and saw power, and experienced its loss.
Now, he is ready to walk. Showing himself in common places, on foot, bereft of paraphernalia of power, away from the luxury of the palace he was born in.
Leaders who have converged here with anticipation and excitement greet each other, even as cadres shout slogans. They talk in different tones, with different emotions.
Hope and doubt dance on their faces, as expressions change, analysing and proposing varied scenarios.
A leader of over three decades from Maharashtra airs the most common of beliefs: "The Gandhis have a tryst with history, and destiny. Rahul ji could have chosen the easiest path to Prime Ministership, but he chose the hardest one."
There is tacit awareness, if not outright acknowledgment, that Rahul Gandhi is also on a mission to make history. A win, with an absolute majority, in 2024 will accord PM Narendra Modi an aura only his ideological arch enemy, Jawaharlal Nehru had. Modi will become an era, an icon, unmatched.
Can Rahul Gandhi match up to the best of his legacy and revive the glory of the Congress? There are more sceptics than believers. But history is tricky, and the path to making it is hardly straight.
"Anything is possible. One of the most written-off leaders is marching. When the defeated march, history gets rewritten. It is either a ‘Baahubali’ or a ‘Laal Singh Chaddha’ that we will see," said another bystander, watching the array of leaders descend at the Thiruvananthapuram airport.
Precedents exist; from Napoleon’s walk to Mahatma Gandhi’s Dandi march. In Telugu states, three leaders have walked their way into people’s hearts, and power. Even former prime minister Chandra Shekhar’s walk led to an accidental brush with the premier job.
If movie analogies work in politics, Indians have always loved double role flicks. Ram aur Shyam. Seeta aur Geeta. Now, Rahul Gandhi will be seen in the un-entitled powerless role, even as his adversary is in the stratospheric orbit.
Will the walk change the way Indians see Rahul Gandhi? They might. That could be all the hapless and clueless Congress needs right now. And that is the hope they will wake up tomorrow with. That as Rahul walks, India will see and feel the aura of all the other Gandhis before. And vote for the hand that guides a nation.