Rahul Gandhi’s Southern Sojourn On, With Controversies Along the Way

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Wayanad Member of Parliament (MP) and Congress leader Rahul Gandhi-led Bharat Jodo Yatra, the massive mass contact programme by the party launched in Tamil Nadu last week, has entered its 19-day Kerala leg.

The walkathon has been quite eventful for the leader, who, along with taking selfies and chatting with children, men and women, has also been dragged into several controversies along the way. The foot march, which is set to cover 3,570 km from Kanyakumari to Kashmir over a 150-day period, is being conducted with an eye on the 2024 general elections.

Interestingly, according to a C-voter survey released in February last year, Gandhi is the preferred prime ministerial candidate in Tamil Nadu and Kerala by a considerable margin and some senior leaders confirmed that this was also one of the major reasons to kickstart the yatra from the south — to revive and rejuvenate the Congress connect.

A look at the controversies:

SWAMI VIVEKANANDA

The Tamil Nadu leg, starting from Kanyakumari, from where the Bharat Jodo Yatra was launched, saw a controversy after Union Minister Smriti Irani accused Rahul Gandhi of not paying his respects to Swami Vivekananda.

Taking a potshot at Gandhi whom she defeated in his home turf in Amethi in 2019, Irani said: “Today, I would like to ask the Congress party, you say you are on a yatra to unite India. Don’t be so shameless that you ignore Swami Vivekananda. It looks like such a gesture to honour Swami Vivekananda does not have Rahul Gandhi’s approval.”

The Congress was quick respond to the jibe. Youth Congress president Srinivas BV shared side-by-side clips of Irani making the statement and Gandhi paying tribute to Vivekananda’s statue. Congress MP Jairam Ramesh also lashed out at Irani asking whether she needed a new pair of spectacles to see things clearly, which the Congress was ready to provide. He also accused the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of propagating lies.

PASTOR AND JESUS

The BJP got yet another chance to take a jibe at Gandhi when a recent video showing the Congress MP conversing with the controversial pastor George Ponnaiah went viral. The pastor had made a comment that “Jesus’ was the “only real god” who reveals himself in the human form, unlike other Shakti or powers.

ALSO READ | Bharat Jodo Yatra: A Bumpy Road Lies Ahead for The Congress, with A Lot Riding on The Journey

The BJP was quick to lap it up. Shehzad Poonawalla also tweeted saying, “Bharat Jodo with Bharat Todo icons.”

However, senior Congress leaders accompanying Gandhi on his padayatra told News18 that despite the controversies, the march has generated a lot of goodwill and strengthened the Congress’s connect with the people of India.

TAMIL BRIDE FOR GANDHI

There were lighter moments too. When Gandhi was talking to a group of elderly women in Tamil Nadu’s Marthandam, they said they loved him so much that they were ready to get him married to a Tamil girl.

An amused Gandhi was seen smiling when the proposal was put in front of him and later Congress MP Jairam Ramesh took to social media to talk about it. “During Rahul Gandhi’s interaction with women MGNREGA workers in Marthandam this afternoon, one lady said they know RG loved Tamil Nadu & they’re ready to get him married to a Tamil girl,” Ramesh tweeted.

A senior Congress leader who witnessed the interaction told News18 that the elderly women were serious about the possibility of a matrimonial alliance. “It was quite amusing and Rahul Gandhi ji had a smile that did not wear off for a long time,” he said.

Speaking about the Tamil Nadu leg of the yatra, the TN Congress in-charge and Karnataka MLA Dinesh Gundurao told News18 the response was there for all to see.

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“Literally, the whole town and villages we visited were on the road to be with him. People of all ages wanted a photo, selfie, autograph or gifted him with a shawl, among other things. They would shout out that they want him to lead the country and become the PM. These are not just Congressmen and supporters, but others as well,” Rao said.

“If you take an opinion poll in Tamil Nadu today, Rahul Gandhi will surely be ahead of Modi,” Rao added.

THE KERALA LEG

The Kerala leg of the padayatra began on Sunday (September 11) and as an MP representing the state from the Wayanad seat, the Congress is hopeful of making a deeper connect and revival in the coastal state.

SKIPPING MEMORIAL INAUGURATION

As the walkathon progressed, an incident that left the Congress embarrassed was when Gandhi skipped the inauguration of a memorial for freedom fighters in Thiruvananthapuram. A memorial had been set up for freedom fighters and Gandhians K E Mammen and P Gopinathan Nair near Neyyatinkara, but even though the Bharat Jodo Yatra passed through the locality, Gandhi did not go for the inauguration, even though the organisers were told he would be there.

ALSO READ | Exclusive | ‘Whoever Becomes Cong Chief Will Have to be Rahul Gandhi’s Slave, Carry Files’: Azad

Kerala MP Shashi Tharoor, who was at the event, criticised Gandhi for this saying, “Such things affect credibility.”

CONTAINER PROTEST

While the Congress tried to fight fire with this incident, another one was brewing. The leaders who are part of the yatra have been travelling and resting in specially altered containers. Gandhi and the team were to camp and rest at the agriculture college in Thiruvananthapuram. But the student wing of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) started a last-minute sit-in protest against the Bharat Jodo Yatra at the very location, forcing Rahul Gandhi and the leaders to spend the night at a school. The protest comes in the background of the CPM criticising the Congress for spending 19 days in Kerala and only two in BJP-ruled states like Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat.

“If the yatra is about exposing the BJP, then shouldn’t they be camping in those states and talking to people there,” said a student leader, who was part of the protest.

ALSO READ | Bitten More Than Once, Congress Never Shy: How Constant Misfiring Takes a Toll (and Poll) on Party

The Congress is confident that the yatra will have its desired effect and the BJP is rattled by Rahul Gandhi’s presence.

While speaking to News18, Congress Rajya Sabha MP Naseer Hussain called it an event that will bring in “new connect, new discoveries, new experiences, new explorations and a newer Gandhi”.

However, the Bharat Jodo Yatra has also kept the police and pickpockets busy.

The Thiruvananthapuram police have identified a pickpocket gang from Tamil Nadu in a CCTV footage, after several complaints of lost wallets were raised in the Kerala leg.

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