File photo of Rahul Gandhi. (Photo: PTI)
Rahul Gandhi’s "Long March" -- the "Bharat Jodo Yatra", or the campaign to "heal India’s ruptures", covering 3,500 km and spanning five months as it winds its way from Kanyakumari in the country’s extreme south to Kashmir in the far north -- is not a straightforward assault on the citadel.
But the campaign to begin on September 7 may be seen as a nationwide "jan jagran", or awakening of people to their own pressing concerns; in short, a massive nationwide mobilisation of the kind not seen before. Such a stir, if successful, can have kinetic effects.
On the theoretical plane, this potentially has elements of the "countryside surrounding the towns" -- a tactic used by Mao and Lin Biao. Of course, the historical Chinese parallel refers to military manoeuvres of first consolidating rural bases before advancing to urban centres. In our own context, it just means sweeping up the needy sections across the board.
The historical import of what is being attempted is hard to miss. Peaceful mass mobilisation on a scale like this, and made spectacular through the act of a determined band relentlessly marching through the length of the land, has not been undertaken in Independent India. This is a political act of the first timbre, and Mr Gandhi’s foes will see it as just that as they fashion their response.
More, while the campaign has been seeded by Mr Gandhi and is being executed by the Congress, it has drawn the participation of some 150 civil society organisations, most of which have been the Congress’ critics. This is suggestive of the sheer import of the programme.
Evidently, a wide variety of groups and prominent people linked with them are on the same page as the Congress in contesting the policies, ways, and habits of the ruling establishment, in spite of their disagreements with the Congress Party.
A response like this, and on such a scale, places a special responsibility on the Congress leadership, especially Mr Gandhi. It is fair speculation that many would have been moved to march in step with the Congress on account of Mr Gandhi’s firm stance that the party must elect a president outside of the Gandhi family.
A conscious attempt at distancing from the dynasty tag is in the true spirit of democratisation. If the Congress cannot democratise, Rahul Gandhi’s Long March will be hard put to fulfil the expectations from it as it will have less headroom to challenge the ruling party and the Narendra Modi government whose hallmark is authoritarianism and a personality cult that inclines toward big business at the cost of the lower strata of society.
It's also important to understand that while the "Bharat Jodo" march will end after 150 days, as planned, the momentum it can unleash will need to be channelised well after that in a variety of ways in different parts of the country. Does the Congress have the suppleness to take this on board? Will civil society outfits continue to cooperate?
There is an overt element to the campaign -- calling attention to the economic ruin of Indians who live in the "downstairs" of society, that is most of the country – due to the prolonged unemployment crisis and rising inflation, resulting from the government’s class policies.
This is without doubt India’s most pressing concern which is visible on an everyday basis, and equally affects people of all religions, castes and regions. This concern needs to be articulated in a focused way in order to give people hope that they have not been left adrift.
There is also a vital wrap-around theme in the Kanyakumari to Kashmir march which is critical. This emphasises inter-community harmony. Communal violence with sanction from on high has cut deep gashes into the body politic. This has been made possible through extensive and unprecedented connivance of all organs of the State over an extended period of time.
For the perpetrators, their dark effort is crucial to erecting what in Goebbelsian fashion is touted as the "New India". The fundamental objective of this scheme is to falsify, erase and jettison the spirit of the nationalism of the freedom movement in which every section of India participated and made sacrifices, and to foist in its place an artificially manufactured new definition of "nationalism" which involves only the religious majority. Integral to this enterprise is the demonising of the largest minority, and punishing it.
We recently saw early manifestations of "New India" in the case of Bilkees Bano, a Muslim woman in Gujarat. When the jail term of her gang-rapists and mass murderers of her family was eased through an obvious conspiracy, and the convicts released -- on Independence Day of all days -- in an act of planned irony, they were feted by goon outfits with marks of religious symbolism.
"New India" is in its infancy yet. However, the infant will grow if Indians are not alert to the danger. One of the aims of "New India" is also to divide the victims of government’s economic policies by keeping them perennially divided and engrossed in pseudo-religious wars. In fact, all the overt political campaigns of the ruling party are built exclusively around themes of majority community religiosity.
This is part of the perennial war pre-planning. This becomes necessary because it is important for the establishment to ensure that those made to bear the brunt of pro-elite policies may never be in a position to unite and resist as religious polarisation causes the deepest divisions.
The "Bharat Jodo" call is a deep political act. The democratisation impulse in the Congress may be seen to be of intrinsic value in its success, and that bears watching.