“Bharat Jodo or seat jodo, 18 days in Kerala and 2 days in UP… strange ways to fight the BJP-RSS,” the CPM said in a recent dig at the grand old party.
Being the Congress’s principal opponent in Kerala, it’s natural for the CPM to target the party. But the questions raised by the Left have brought attention to a glaring imbalance in the mega 12-state padyatra. Here’s why…
Gujarat not on map. UP a formality?
Though dubbed a pan-India yatra that will travel from Kanyakumari to Kashmir, the Congress’s march leaves out crucial states like poll-bound Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh.
Gujarat is a crucial state as far as Congress is concerned since the party here is in a direct fight with BJP.
However, Congress has tasted little success in the state in the last two decades.
In the previous two Lok Sabha polls, the Congress drew a blank in the state while BJP won all 26 seats.
Though Congress put up a spirited fight in the previous assembly polls, it wasn’t enough to topple the BJP.
This is why the exclusion of Gujarat stands out. It begs the question whether the Congress has given up all hopes in Gujarat and would rather focus on states where it has a higher chance of winning.
Besides Gujarat, Congress has given little importance to UP, the state which sends the maximum number of members to Lok Sabha. As per the yatra route, the Congress will only cover Bulandshahr in western UP and spend just two days in the state.
Here too, the Gujarat logic makes sense. The Congress has been all but decimated in UP.
With a buoyant BJP and regional players like SP and BSP in the fray, the Congress’s political space in the state has shrunk to almost nothing in the last few years.
In fact, the party even lost its stronghold of Amethi in 2019 when BJP’s Smriti Irani defeated Rahul Gandhi from the seat.
The Congress has also snubbed Goa in its yatra. The coastal state rejected the grand old party in the elections held earlier this year. Though the party won 11 out of 40 seats, a majority of its MLAs have now defected to the BJP.
Focus on south?
The yatra was kicked off on September 7 from Kanyakumari in Tamil Nadu.
From there, it reached Kerala on September 11 where Congress leaders will spend a total of 18 days. On September 30, the yatra will reach Karnataka and traverse through the state for 21 days before moving north. It will also cover Vikarabad in Telangana along the way.
It’s clear that the Congress plans to focus heavily on states like Kerala and Karnataka to boost its poll prospects and keep its seats intact.
Kerala is one of the last strongholds of the Congress, especially since former party chief Rahul Gandhi won the Lok Sabha polls from Wayanad in 2019. Moreover, the party still has a strong presence in the state and is the main challenger to the Left rule.
In Karnataka, the Congress is banking on infighting in BJP and anti-incumbency to increase its electoral gains in next year’s polls. In 2018, it formed a coalition government with JD(S) which was toppled two years later after the resignation of over a dozen MLAs.
Out of the 53 seats Congress won in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, 24 are from Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Kerala.
In fact, Congress won 19 seats in Kerala itself.
Eye on Rajasthan, MP too
The Congress’s Bharat Jodo Yatra will also emphasize states like Rajasthan and MP, where the Congress won in 2018.
The yatra will devote as many as 16 days to MP while in Rajasthan, it will spend nearly three weeks or 21 days.
The grand old party is hoping to repeat its 2018 performance next year and the long time spent in these states is a testament to the fact that Congress is going all out to woo the voters here.
In MP, Congress had formed a government led by Kamal Nath but it was toppled after Jyotiraditya Scindia exited the party along with his loyalists and joined BJP.
In Rajasthan, the party has managed to hold on to power since 2018. It’s the only other state where Congress is ruling without an alliance partner; the other being Chhattisgarh.
Congress’s focus on these two states indicates that the party wants to consolidate, rather than challenge its opponents.
However, there’s a surprise exclusion of Chhattisgarh in the yatra. Though Congress is placed comfortably in the state, especially after winning a crucial by-election earlier this year, it would have made political sense to cover the state and bank on these gains.
But overall, the route plan of the yatra indicates Congress’s intent to keep its seats intact or increase their share in states where it has better prospects even at the cost of avoiding regions where it is anyway not performing well.
But do yatras really help?
Whatever the end-goal, the success of Congress’s nationwide exercise will be measured in the party’s electoral performance after its conclusion.
Political yatras have been used a potent political tool over the years to woo the voters at the grassroots level.
Be it pan-India padyatras or state-level parikramas, political leaders have often taken to the streets to connect with the cadres/voters with hopes to drum up support for their party whenever elections are in sight.
In the last few decades, India has witnessed some memorable yatras which have catapulted leaders from the sidelines to the highest seat of power. Whereas, others have hardly made any impact on the voters.
For instance, in 1983, Janata Party president and former PM Chandra Shekhar started an all-India padyatra from Kanyakumari to Delhi.
The yatra turned him into a true challenger to the Delhi throne, when Indira Gandhi was at the peak of her popularity and the Janata Party was suffering from a split.
Even though the yatra turned out to be a success, Indira Gandhi’s assassination in 1984 drowned the hopes of opposition parties and nullified all the gains. Plus, Chandra Shekhar himself was pipped by VP Singh as the leading opposition candidate by the end of the decade.
Conversely, then BJP president LK Advani announced a Somnath-to-Ayodhya Rath Yatra in support of a Ram Temple in Ayodhya. The yatra became a watershed movement for the BJP, then a struggling party. It not only brought about a tectonic change in Indian politics but laid the foundation for the BJP to dominate the same in the years to come.
There are several other examples of political yatras leading to immediate success while others failing to produce the desired result.
After Rajiv Gandhi lost power, he started Bharat Yatra in 1990 by travelling on trains in second-class compartments. However, the yatra didn’t produce the desired result.
I lost my father to the politics of hate and division. I will not lose my beloved country to it too.Love will con… https://t.co/xNRrg5tDsK
— Rahul Gandhi (@RahulGandhi) 1662522423000
The late NT Rama Rao’s “Chaitanya Yatra” shook up Congress in Andhra Pradesh in 1982-82. It helped TDP storm to power in the state in the ensuing elections.
In fact, the legacy of yatras in Andhra Pradesh can be best described by the twin successes achieved by the father-son duo of late YS Rajasekhara Reddy and Jagan Reddy.
In 2003, YS Rajasekhara Reddy led Congress to a thumping victory following his padyatra across united Andhra Pradesh. The same was successfully emulated by son Jagan Reddy in 2017 when he embarked on a nearly year-long yatra across the state — the longest by an Indian politician. He too led his party, YSR Congress, to power in the subsequent elections.