NB: For any mass campaign to focus on love and harmony is a welcome change from the atmosphere of communal animus and the non-stop sneering which has become the hallmark of Indian politics under the Modi government. Thanks are due to everyone involved in the Bharat Jodo Yatra. DS
The Bharat Jodo Yatra began on September 7 in Kanyakumari, Tamil Nadu. Just before the long walk, there was a small prayer meeting at the Gandhi Mandapam in which some of my students sang multi-faith hymns. Ever since then, I have followed the Yatra as it travelled through Kerala, Karnataka, Maharashtra and onward. Civil society members like myself grappled with the question of our participation in it. The Yatra is led by Rahul Gandhi and organised by the Indian National Congress. Does our participation mean we subscribe to the Congress ideology in its entirety? Does it strip us of our political independence? Will it affect people’s perception of us?
But, right from the outset, it was clear that this was not a campaign rally. The messaging was inarguably universal, welcoming and non-exclusive. It was an invitation to everyone who believed in a democratic and secular India. A call to all to awaken from moral stupor. India’s dangerously steep downward political curve that has normalised hate has to be arrested. Hence, it is imperative that we participate in any movement that calls for social embrace and conscientious action. Rahul must be applauded for walking the talk. If we do not join the Yatra, we are failing the nation and, above that, betraying our conscience.
Liberal intellectuals, who have been critical of the Congress and its dependence on its ‘first family’, have been asking for the collapse of the Congress’s present framework. But that does not mean one needs to trivialise what is a genuine exercise in nation-building. Their ignoring the Yatra is as unacceptable as the BJP-dominated media keeping it out of the news.
I joined the Yatra for an afternoon in Agar, Madhya Pradesh, in early December, just a day before it crossed over into Rajasthan. The atmosphere radiated positivity and happiness. Though there were hardened Congress supporters who just wanted to catch a glimpse of Rahul or get a picture with him, there were also many who participated because of what the ‘walk’ signified. An act of coming together that dissolved our differences, even if only for a morning or an afternoon. This was evident in the little stories of coming together and the need for harmony that members of the public shared with Rahul as we walked. There was not an iota of hate or negativity toward any person, political outfit or community. No hateful sloganeering. The large embrace of the fast-moving Yatra was beautiful. I also heard how people from a village in Maharashtra felt that communal tensions had subsided during the days the Yatra passed through their region.
Rahul’s demeanour and accessibility has certainly contributed to the warmth that is overflowing in the Yatra. Despite the many pulls and pushes from people, he not only remained calm, but more importantly listened to every single person he came across respectfully. A person of the Islamic faith tried breaking through the cordon. When the security stopped him forcefully, his cap fell off. Rahul asked that he be let through and helped to find and retrieve that symbol of his faith. These little acts of kindness were wonderful to witness. They may not mean anything in the larger scheme of things, but when we discuss political leadership, goodness of heart must matter.
…It was evident that he has realised that cultural transformation is at the core of inculcating democratic values. For too long now, we have neglected cultural realisations, dialogues and habits. It is not enough for us to recognise that we are a deeply divided society and put systems in our Constitution that address this issue. This needs to be translated into collective public action, education, and celebration. I believe that the Bharat Jodo Yatra can be the first step in this direction.
Columnists and political opponents will want to measure the Yatra’s success. It may not translate into votes for the Congress. For this to translate into anything fruitful for the party, there is a need for serious changes within. But I wonder if the Congress is ready to accept this new form of politics initiated by Rahul. A politics that is not trapped purely in electoral gains and challenges hierarchies within its leadership. Will an empowered younger generation and a vocal Congress worker be able to push back the ‘old guard’?
Even in larger society, this Yatra may not result in immediate results. But the nature of the discourse that it has triggered is in itself a paradigm shift. For too long, our politics has been offensive, in both senses of the word. To forge ahead with a politics of grace when we are surrounded by shouting, chest-thumping, vulgarity and reactionary abuse is indeed admirable. Rahul, through this Yatra, has provided a more compassionate and delicate political discourse. Walking together with people and taking them along for as long as they want is a beautiful act of togetherness. A collective movement of the mind and heart..
दौसा में आज यात्रा नहीं जन सैलाब आया हैं |bharat jodo Yatra | #rahulgandhi
Watch till end. Chaotic and spontaneous.