Opinion Columnists 16 Nov 2022 Shikha Mukerjee | Af ...
The writer is a senior journalist in Kolkata.

Shikha Mukerjee | After Bharat Jodo, time for ‘Vote Jodo’ by Opp.

Published Nov 17, 2022, 12:05 am IST
Updated Nov 17, 2022, 12:05 am IST
File photo of Rahul Gandhi bharat jodo yatra from Alladurg to Masanapalli (Photo: DC Image/Deepak Deshpande)
 File photo of Rahul Gandhi bharat jodo yatra from Alladurg to Masanapalli (Photo: DC Image/Deepak Deshpande)

"Vote Jodo” should be the outcome and the follow-up action after the Bharat Jodo Yatra. That is the answer to the questions being raised, directly and indirectly, by the BJP as well as the tens of thousands of grassroots Congress loyalists who joined Rahul Gandhi as he walks down country roads connecting India from the South to the North.

The meandering route of the Bharat Jodo Yatra, mostly through rural India, is a gruelling exercise that seems to be working to replenish the political capital that the Congress Party has squandered with its mindless leadership mess, its ceaseless infighting and bad strategy put together by layabout losers with no ability to win elections. It is time, therefore, for the Congress Party and not just the Nehru-Gandhi family, to use its head and work to convert the goodwill and the support the Bharat Jodo Yatra is building into votes and, more importantly, state Assembly and Lok Sabha seats.

The winding progress of the Bharat Jodo Yatra that will cover 3,570 km, 12 states and two Union territories delivers a powerful visual message of the diversity and unity of the nation, which challenges because it contradicts the rigid division of Indians as either Hindu or non-Hindus. The diversity that the Bharat Jodo Yatra has evoked as representative of the Indian nation is altogether different from the Bharat that is imagined by Hindutva proselytisers, who divide the country by foregrounding religious identity to alienate Muslims and other religious minorities.

It is therefore the responsibility of the Congress to make sure that that the yatra is not a politically futile effort. Walking the roads connecting India from the South to the North has certainly transformed Rahul Gandhi into a very different political figure. In an age where “image” matters, he has certainly acquired an aura. It has breathed back life into the moribund Congress Party, creating that personal connection between the distant and guarded Gandhi family, the top leadership and the tens of thousands of grassroots loyalists of the party, who have voted for the party, regardless of the success or failure of the candidate and those who reluctantly or because of compulsions voted for a different symbol, but remained Congress loyalists.

The more Rahul Gandhi walks, the better he gets at establishing the lineage of the Congress as a unifying, inclusive and rooted institution that despite the best efforts of its fancy leaders remains alive and awaiting a revival. The more he walks the easier it should get for the Congress to realise that it has a responsibility to unify the political diversity of the anti-BJP regional and smaller parties into a coherent coalition that is the only alternative to the Narendra Modi-led BJP.

The fancy notion that Mamata Banerjee and other smaller party leaders have that the BJP can be taken on separately in each state by regional parties fighting on their own is as vague as it is silly. The scenario painted by the CPI(M)’s Sitaram Yechury is equally unrealistic, that all past successful coalitions at the Centre have been post-poll alliances. There is no comparison. The BJP now and in 2024 is a very different political organisation and Narendra Modi has little in common with either Atal Behari Vajpayee or Lal Krishna Advani.

The Gujarat Assembly election in December will make things clearer. In Gujarat, the Congress and the Aam Aadmi Party are contesting against the BJP and against each other. That is not a winning strategy. It may well be that the Congress and AAP undercut votes in such a way that the BJP loses in Gujarat. But that will be a fluke rather than a sensible plan.

It is simply not sufficient to leave things to chance; it is necessary to have a coalition, that is, a pooling together of strengths that eliminates or circumvents the weaknesses, constituency by constituency, state by state, of every anti-BJP Opposition party and candidate. It is equally imperative that every anti-BJP Opposition party, both separately and collectively, work to stitch together a bigger network of political parties. In other words, the anti-BJP Opposition needs to woo the tiny parties that represent one or more constituencies on their side, to prevent the BJP from using these parties that represent mostly sub-caste identities as vote multipliers.

In the Hindi heartland, identity politics of the sub-caste kind is a reality. In the Northeast and in tribal areas across the country, there are nuances of identity and representation that have to be factored in for the Opposition to turn itself into a serious challenger to the BJP.

The message of “Bharat Jodo” is too broad to make it meaningful in an election. It is an overarching idea that challenges the hegemonistic Hindutva agenda of the Sangh Parivar and Prime Minister Narendra Modi. As powerful as the message is, it will not work in the context of an election.

“Bharat Jodo” is just the warm-up. It will have served its purpose by getting the Congress Party into shape. Getting Opposition politics into shape is the next step. The Congress has political allies in a lot of states, starting with Tamil Nadu, where chief minister M.K. Stalin joined the yatra and extended support. As a case in point, the partnership needs to get stronger, so that the DMK can win more seats in 2024 and the Congress can perhaps benefit. The issue is to get the priorities right for the Congress. If it can work to shave off seats that would benefit the BJP, the Congress will punch way more than its weight.

The Congress ought to rethink its role and responsibility as the oldest national party and a political institution unlike any other. Its mission of “Bharat Jodo” will be best served if, in 2024, the Opposition wins more seats.

The Congress and the Opposition parties need to capitalise on the goodwill that the Bharat Jodo Yatra has generated. The yatra has spawned local yatras that have mobilised smaller groups of people, not all of whom are Congress faithful. Building on this is the job of the Congress and the Opposition because the target is obviously “vote jodo”, which is another way of saying “No Vote to the BJP”.

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