Kanyakumari to Kashmir: Rahul’s Bharat Jodo Yatra

Polstrat
8 min readMay 23, 2023

The original version of the article was published on 3rd February 2023 in “The Daily Guardian”

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi at the Bharat Jodo Yatra in Kashmir

The Indian National Congress recently completed its Bharat Jodo Yatra in Jammu and Kashmir amidst much fanfare and the support of eight opposition parties, members of which attended the closing event. The Yatra was led by former party President Rahul Gandhi who termed it a non-political undertaking, an act aimed at unifying the country, and meant to “affirm love and unity in times of hatred and disunity”.

The Yatra, which began on 7th September 2022 from Kanyakumari in Tamil Nadu traversed through 12 states and two union territories over the course of its 136-day journey while skipping key poll-bound states like Gujarat. According to political analysts, the Yatra has been likened to a reformation of Rahul Gandhi’s image but might do little to benefit the Congress which is in dire need of strong reorganisation across the country.

Although the Yatra was undertaken as nonpolitical, it courted several controversies across its nearly five-month journey. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) first dismissed, then took head-on, every aspect of the Yatra, from questioning the people Gandhi met to statements made by Congress leaders such as Digvijiay Singh. We summarise the Bharat Yodo Yatra’s journey over the past few months, the next steps for the Congress in the form of the ‘Hath se Hath Jodo Yatra’, and what it means for the party before the upcoming Assembly and next Lok Sabha Elections.

Analysing the 136-Day Journey

Courting Controversy Over 4,080 Kms In September 2022, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi kicked off the Bharat Jodo Yatra from Tamil Nadu. He first paid homage at the Sriperumbudur memorial near Chennai, the site of the assassination of his father Rajiv Gandhi in 1991 and later addressed a rally from Kanyakumari to officially launch the Yatra.

According to the party, the Yatra was an attempt to provide an alternative to the current politics of “fear, bigotry and prejudice” and to the economics of livelihood destruction, increasing unemployment and growing inequalities.

The Yatra was in the form of a foot march covering 12 states — all the way from India’s southern tip, Kanyakumari, to Srinagar in the north, and was undertaken with a tagline of “mile kadam, jude vatan” (walk together, unite the country). Covering 4,080 kilometres across the length and breadth of the country, the Yatra is the first mass-mobilisation event conducted by the party in decades and was accompanied by separate small Yatras in the states of Assam, Tripura, Bihar, Odisha, Sikkim, West Bengal, and Nagaland.

Gandhi addressed 12 public meetings, over 100 corner meetings, and 13 press conferences during the five-month journey. He also took part in more than 275 planned walking interactions and more than 100 sitting interactions during the Yatra. According to political observers, the Yatra has largely acted as an image makeover for the leader as he emerged as a more active and compassionate individual who will not be cowed down by the BJP’s politics, challenging the party’s narrative every step of the way.

Courting Controversy Over 4,080 Kms In September 2022, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi kicked off the Bharat Jodo Yatra from Tamil Nadu. He first paid homage at the Sriperumbudur memorial near Chennai, the site of the assassination of his father Rajiv Gandhi in 1991 and later addressed a rally from Kanyakumari to officially launch the Yatra. According to the party, the Yatra was an attempt to provide an alternative to the current politics of “fear, bigotry and prejudice” and to the economics of livelihood destruction, increasing unemployment and growing inequalities. The Yatra was in the form of a foot march covering 12 states — all the way from India’s southern tip, Kanyakumari, to Srinagar in the north, and was undertaken with a tagline of “mile kadam, jude vatan” (walk together, unite the country).

Covering 4,080 kilometres across the length and breadth of the country, the Yatra is the first mass-mobilisation event conducted by the party in decades and was accompanied by separate small Yatras in the states of Assam, Tripura, Bihar, Odisha, Sikkim, West Bengal, and Nagaland. Gandhi addressed 12 public meetings, over 100 corner meetings, and 13 press conferences during the five-month journey. He also took part in more than 275 planned walking interactions and more than 100 sitting interactions during the Yatra.

According to political observers, the Yatra has largely acted as an image makeover for the leader as he emerged as a more active and compassionate individual who will not be cowed down by the BJP’s politics, challenging the party’s narrative every step of the way. Courting controversy over its long journey, the Yatra saw figures such as former Reserve Bank of India (RBI) governor Raghuram Rajan and former Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW) secretary Amarjit Singh Dulat sharing the stage with Gandhi. The BJP challenged Rajan’s presence at the Yatra as BJP National General Secretary CT Ravi called it an effort by Rajan to repay his debt to the dynasty (Gandhis) for making him the RBI Governor.

Questioning Dulat’s entry into the Yatra on 3rd January 2023, BJP leaders were quick to probe the former spymaster’s role in “Kashmir’s fiasco” and his association with Gandhi at the Yatra. Gujarat chief minister and BJP leader Bhupendra Patel labelled the Yatra as “antiGujarati”, after social rights activist Medha Patkar, who spearheaded the Narmada Bachao Andolan against the Gujarat government, marked her presence at the Yatra as well.

The Yatra traversed through 75 districts and saw the BJP challenge it during its other legs too. Senior Congress leader Digvijaya Singh’s catch sizing the BJP government’s claims on surgical strikes led to an inflamed response from the latter calling it an insult to both Prime Minister Modi and the Indian Armed Forces. To avoid further controversy, Rahul Gandhi dismissed Singh’s remarks as being his personal opinion and not the official stand of the party.

A Shot in the Arm for a Declining Congress

While the biggest achievement of the Yatra was its ability to attract crowds and offer much-needed media mileage to the Congress, the padyatra, with Rahul Gandhi at the helm, also attracted support from other opposition parties and leaders. Congress ally-DMK chief and Tamil Nadu Chief Minister MK Stalin flagged off the Yatra at the beginning to show his support for the party and Gandhi. Actor-politician Kamal Haasan met Gandhi in January 2023 on the sidelines of the yatra and extended his support as well.

Maha Vikas Aghadi allies Shiv Sena and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) voiced their support for the Yatra as NCP chief Sharad Pawar dubbed it “immensely useful” for the Congress. Only eight out of 21 opposition parties that were invited showed up at the closing ceremony of the Yatra in Srinagar on 30th January 2023. Leaders from DMK, Farooq Abdullah’s National Conference, Mehbooba Mufti’s Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (VCK), Indian Union Muslim League (IUML), CPI, RSP, and Jharkhand Mukti Morcha attended the closing ceremony, whereas the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), which was not invited, dismissed the Yatra by terming it of “no consequence” and did not take any part in it.

The Congress has been in a constant state of decline as it lost several elections at the national, state, and local levels. From 206 seats in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, the party was reduced to a mere one-fourth (52 seats) in the 2019 national elections. It lost elections in several states such as Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Gujarat, and Goa and lost governments in Madhya Pradesh and Karnataka due to internal factionalism and conflicts.

The party has been called out for its weak organisational structure and inactive leadership which has impacted its cadre on the ground and questioned its ability to present a credible opposition to the incumbent BJP government. As the party lost key state elections in 2022 including Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, and Gujarat, the Bharat Jodo Yatra was viewed in light of the benefits it will bring to the party before the crucial Lok Sabha fight in 2024. According to analysts, the Yatra has been beneficial so far as it provided the required boost to the Congress on the ground and somewhat reformed Rahul Gandhi’s image as an active leader.

It has been described as a foot march which saw the party’s top leadership walk hundreds of miles across different terrains and through varying weather conditions, attracting massive crowds wherever it went and is said to have added some energy to Congress leaders. Political observers also point out that in some ways the Yatra also contributed to reaffirming the Congress’ position as the principal opposition party to the BJP at the national level and to the rising band of regional political parties in different states.

Opposition Support for Gandhi’s Padyatra

A Shot in the Arm for a Declining Congress While the biggest achievement of the Yatra was its ability to attract crowds and offer much-needed media mileage to the Congress, the padyatra, with Rahul Gandhi at the helm, also attracted support from other opposition parties and leaders. Congress ally-DMK chief and Tamil Nadu Chief Minister MK Stalin flagged off the Yatra at the beginning to show his support for the party and Gandhi.

Actor-politician Kamal Haasan met Gandhi in January 2023 on the sidelines of the yatra and extended his support as well. Maha Vikas Aghadi allies Shiv Sena and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) voiced their support for the Yatra as NCP chief Sharad Pawar dubbed it “immensely useful” for the Congress. Only eight out of 21 opposition parties that were invited showed up at the closing ceremony of the Yatra in Srinagar on 30th January 2023. Leaders from DMK, Farooq Abdullah’s National Conference, Mehbooba Mufti’s Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (VCK), Indian Union Muslim League (IUML), CPI, RSP, and Jharkhand Mukti Morcha attended the closing ceremony, whereas the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), which was not invited, dismissed the Yatra by terming it of “no consequence” and did not take any part in it.

Damini Mehta/New Delhi

From Polstrat, a non-partisan political consultancy which aims to shift the narrative of political discourse in the country from a problem-centric to a solutions-oriented approach.

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Polstrat

Polstrat is a political consultancy aiming to shift the narrative of political discourse in the country from a problem-centric to a solutions-oriented approach.