A video of Rahul Gandhi speaking on the Bharat Jodo Yatra was put on YouTube on October 1; one of the most popular comments is a brutally honest assessment of the Congress party’s leader. According to Satya Sarthak Manohari, “Rahul Gandhi’s popularity has significantly grown.” It was not simple to make the leap from “pappu” to “popular.”
The Bharatiya Janata Party has used the Hindi word “pappu,” which means “simpleton,” to disparage Rahul Gandhi. The Congress may be humiliated by this. Nonetheless, I believe Manohari’s evaluation will be well received by Congress. This is exactly what Gandhi hopes to accomplish with the Bharat Jodo Yatra: by avoiding the press and going directly to the people, he would be able to recreate himself in time for the 2024 elections.
It’s early days, but there are evidence that it’s working, and the march still has a long way to go.
Insufficient public relations
Rahul Gandhi’s public image is certainly a source of contention for him. Given his inexperience with the media, he bears some blame for this disaster. Gandhi’s horrible interview with Arnab Goswami on Indian television soon before the 2014 Lok Sabha elections is a perfect example. Former Congressman Sanjay Jha said that the interview was to blame for Gandhi’s “annihilation” and the BJP’s adoption of the “pappu” moniker. Furthermore, the opposition party began referring to the interview as “pappu.”
Another factor is the Gandhi family’s struggle to keep control of the Congress party as their support base dwindles. In September, for example, Rajasthan’s Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot launched a startling rebellion against the party’s top command’s attempts to replace him. The rebellion appeared to have been successful. Rahul Gandhi is now having difficulty navigating the presidential elections for his party in order to find a successful candidate who can not only command the respect of the party but also obey his directions.
However, a substantial part of Gandhi’s public image crisis may be attributed to the BJP’s enormous web presence, as well as a massive ecosystem of supporter television networks, which have constantly attacked Gandhi, frequently by distributing incorrect material. A senior organizer of the Bharat Jodo Yatra, for example, informed a journalist that even his own firmly pro-Congress family believed the urban legend that Gandhi purportedly referenced a factory that could turn potatoes into gold. This myth has been repeated so many times that many people now consider it to be true.
Gandhi and about 120 other Congress workers will walk from Kanyakumari in southern India to Kashmir in northern India as part of the Bharat Jodo yatra, also known as a “united India march.” According to the Congress, the march will focus on “social polarization, economic injustice, and political centralization,” so those are the topics they intend to raise. The trip will take five months and will cover 3,500 kilometers. The march began on September 7 and has since travelled through three states, including Karnataka.
As clear as it may be, the purpose of all of this is to raise Rahul Gandhi’s public profile. The yatra’s strategy is to skip the press totally by circumventing institutions of power and going directly to the people (which the Congress views as hopelessly opposed to it).
“We are destroying the factory of lies created by the BJP on Rahul Gandhi over the past 10 years,” KC Venugopal, general secretary of the All India Congress Committee and a main yatra strategist, told Herald on October 2 while the yatra was tented in a village in Karnataka. We have constructed the factory of lies during the last decade. It’s fantastic that rural Indians would now have access to Rahul Gandhi information from which to form their own conclusions.
Since Mahatma, we’ve come a long way, and so has agricultural law.
Rahul Gandhi’s most powerful political weapon is his father, Mahatma Gandhi’s, tactic of self-sacrifice in the form of a long journey combined with public participation. Gandhi stated at a press conference on Saturday, “I believe in tapasya [penance].” As a result, “I intended for there to be some element of anguish on my end in this interaction with other people.”
Gandhi’s choice of this icon might be seen as a deft move on his side. “Indian culture actually likes political techniques like the padyatra,” Yogendra Yadav, a former psephologist and current leader of the political party Swaraj India, told Herald on October 1 before the day’s march began. Padyatri pilgrims are said to be welcomed into houses regardless of whether or not they agree with the honoree.
The Modi administration has been rocked by a string of public protests, and this yatra comes on the heels of all of that. Thousands of individuals across India were able to mobilize in opposition to the Citizenship Amendment Act, a new law that included a religious condition for Indian citizenship, between December 2019 and March 2020. The Citizenship Amendment Act was in question in this case. In an attempt to ameliorate the immediate consequences, the prime minister rejected plans to undertake a statewide citizenship verification operation, which would have violated the ideals of his own party’s manifesto. Despite the fact that the Citizenship Amendment Act has been on the books for nearly three years, it has yet to be implemented.
Farmers who fought back against three new pieces of legislation that would have lessened government supervision of agriculture while increasing corporate engagement won a huge win. These rules were implemented as a result of the farmers’ protests. Protests began in September 2020 and lasted until November 2021, mostly along Delhi’s borders. This is what motivated Prime Minister Narendra Modi to declare that the law would be repealed. The event occurred following his televised apology to farmers.
Gaurav Pandhi, the national media coordinator for the Bharat Jodo yatra, made a clear link between the farmer protest and the yatra. When the yatra arrived in Karnataka, he told Hindustan Herald, people thanked the farmers for remaining in the area for so long. The farmers’ ability to sit there for so long earned them respect even from their opponents. The same thing is happening in this area right now. We have no choice but to continue moving in the opposite direction as the BJP continues to create ludicrous difficulties. The general population has overwhelmingly approved of this. As evidenced by the recent elections, people have moved on from the BJP’s rhetoric and are now open to what Rahul Gandhi has to say.
Establishing a new political party
After a month, it is evident that the yatra’s idea of direct mass engagement has worked. On October 2, an image of Rahul Gandhi addressing yatris in the rain in Mysore instantly went viral. Four days later, a new photograph of Gandhi assisting his mother Sonia in tying her shoes went popular on the internet. Even notable Hindi media people who are normally considered as loyal to the BJP tweeted their support for the images, giving the Congress a rare victory in what writer Ravish Kumar refers to as the “godi” or “lapdog” media.
Rank-and-file Demoralized Congress Party members are also seeing the good benefits of Rahul Gandhi’s image regeneration through the Bharat Jodo Yatra. (The party now controls only two states, giving it the smallest footprint in American history.) Venugopal asserted in an interview with Herald that “the entire Congress cadre has been revitalized all across India.” “If we’re going to keep up this pace, we’ll need a decent follow-up.”
This becomes clear as one travels with the yatris and assesses the group’s morale. Uma Shankar, a Bengalurean Congress supporter, made this remark while accompanying Rahul Gandhi on his yatra in Karnataka. She asserted that the Bharat Jodo Yatra will resurrect the Congress party. Because of the tsunami that this produces, we will win both the Karnataka and federal elections.
The charge had been botched.
It is too early to tell whether Shankar’s optimistic prediction will come true, but it is evident that the BJP is having difficulty targeting Rahul Gandhi for the first time in nearly a decade as a result of the yatra’s momentum. As it tries to find new talking points, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) resorts to an old tactic: branding the Congress as “minority appeasers.”
On September 11, BJP members chastised Gandhi for meeting with a Tamil Nadu preacher. The BJP’s spokesman, Sambit Patra, stated that the Congress and, in particular, Rahul Gandhi’s “Hindu Hatred” is no longer veiled. There is now open discussion about the Congress’s “Hindu animosity,” particularly Rahul Gandhi’s. Patra highlighted Gandhi and the Muslim girl walking together as an example of “appeasement” on September 20. On October 1, the BJP issued advertisements condemning the seven-decade-old Bharat Jodo Yatra and blaming Nehru for Partition. The advertisements in this section are a direct response to the Bharat Jodo Yatra.
Surprisingly, even pro-BJP media outlets have generally ignored these attacks. Dissatisfaction with the ruling BJP over the economy benefits the Congress party as well. As Many media houses covered the yatra, large audiences gathered wherever the Congress convoy stopped in Karnataka, expressing sympathy for Gandhi’s message that high prices and pervasive corruption must be combated.
Prabhu told one of the independent media house as he stood with his son on his shoulders in the Karnataka village of Bendagalli, “this administration will be gone soon since everything has become so expensive, just the government is becoming prosperous.” Prabhu anticipated that the current administration will be out of office soon due to increased costs across the board.
However, it is questionable whether Gandhi would be met with the same excitement in the north, where the Congress organization is smaller and the BJP is stronger than it was in Karnataka. It remains to be seen if Gandhi would receive the same greeting in the north.
With Narendra Modi and the BJP forming the most powerful Union administration in decades and the Congress at an all-time low, the Grand Old Party will be hoping that the yatra generates enough momentum for Rahul Gandhi to launch a credible campaign ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha elections. With Congress at an all-time low, this is the Grand Old Party’s final best opportunity.
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