Keeping pace with Rahul Gandhi is not easy. A fitness freak and avid Aikido practitioner, Rahul Gandhi easily walks over 25 kilometres a day as part of the ‘Bharat Jodo Yatra’ and plans to cover the entire stretch in the next 140 days, most likely skipping the Winter Session of Parliament.
Gathering the crowd has been easy so far as the yatra has travelled through Tamil Nadu and Kerala till now where the BJP is weak and Congress has a connect. But as Rahul Gandhi and yatra move to BJP strongholds like Karnataka, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh, the journey and the MP will be put to test.
So far the feedback, as per reports, has been positive. This, despite the controversy over his Burberry T-shirt and meeting with controversial pastor George Ponniah. So far as the T-shirt is concerned, the Congress is not too worried as it feels the issue can boomerang on the BJP as well. However, the meeting with the pastor poses a problem as it can be used to attack the Congress and Rahul Gandhi for being ‘anti-Hindu’ and ‘anti-India’ — both issues on which the BJP has a clear edge.
YATRA A PART OF RAHUL GANDHI’S MAKEOVER
But what’s the yatra bringing to the table? Rahul Gandhi has been accused of being a runaway and a flash in the pan politician. But if he walks the entire stretch minus a break in 150 days and braves BJP’s attacks in their stronghold, it’s likely to work for his image.
The same cannot be said for the Congress though. While many feel the yatra will lift Rahul Gandhi’s image, it may not work for the party in terms of polls. Elections are won through ground strength and a strong party organisation — both counts where the Congress has much ground to cover.
There is also an opinion that if the yatra was held earlier, when Rahul Gandhi first experimented in 2017, he perhaps could have countered the BJP’s ‘Pappu’ tag. For instance, Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Jagan Mohan Reddy used his ‘Sankalp Yatra’ to counter the tag of being a brash, entitled son of a powerful chief minister — his father YSR Reddy.
A SECOND RENUNCIATION
The polls for the Congress president will be bang in the middle of the yatra, which is a work in progress for Rahul Gandhi’s image makeover. At a press conference during the yatra, the Congress leader said: “I have made my decision about the presidential polls.” No one knows yet what it is but sources indicate that he is unlikely to budge from his decision to not take over the reins of the party.
So, what’s the plan? Sources very close to Rahul Gandhi say he doesn’t want to contest. He wants to be just like any other party worker while someone else manages the affairs of the Congress. Sources also say if Rahul Gandhi skips the contest, there is likely to be a withdrawal of the Gandhis from controlling the day-to-day affairs of the party.
How will that help? Well, for one, it could negate the belief that a non-Gandhi as president would merely be a puppet. Second, the Gandhis, by virtue of their name and legacy, will still command respect within the party. A veteran leader said: “There is no rule that Rahul Gandhi cannot come back as president later. If results in 2024 are good, there may be renewed demand from party.”
The Gandhis’ calculation is that Rahul Gandhi, as a party karyakarta, will solve the problem, giving him power minus the responsibility and nullifying the BJP’s attacks on him. It’s an image makeover yet again, albeit too late. Sonia Gandhi’s power and stature also came from the fact that her party kept harping on her decision to decline the prime minister’s post. The Congress hopes a second renunciation may click again. This time for Rahul Gandhi.