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'Yatra breaking down image created around Rahul'

By ARCHANA MASIH
Last updated on: October 27, 2022 14:52 IST
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'The Bharat Jodo Yatra has done very well in the south, and if they are able to pull voters in the south and rely on their allies in the north like in Bihar, UP and do well in Rajasthan, then there are chances that there might be a formidable opposition or at least a force to fight the BJP.'

IMAGE: A glimpse of the audience listening to Congress MP Rahul Gandhi speak during the Bharat Jodo Yatra in Raichur, Karnataka, October 22, 2022. Photograph: ANI Photo

"In the South, the Bharat Jodo Yatra is at least bringing the Congress back into the political imagination of people," explains Dr Shilp Shikha Singh, assistant professor at the Lucknow-based Giri Institute of Development Studies whose research is focussed on marginalities and governance, trends of protests and public action.

"They focussed more on the southern states (during the Bharat Jodo Yatra) because there's a possibility of pulling back voters who had left the party," Dr Singh tells Rediff.com's Archana Masih in a phone interview.

 

Now that the Congress has a non-Gandhi as its president, how will it impact the party, especially because it has been constantly criticised for being controlled by one family?

Mallikarjun Kharge has very humble origins and is a very good leader. The only criticism that the BJP is able to bring towards him is that he would be a puppet in the hands of the Gandhis.

If the other contenders for the post of Congress president had been elected, they could have become soft targets of the Opposition, but there is nothing against Kharge that the BJP can attack him with.

They can't blame him for events of the past. Of course, the Opposition will find some other ways, that's the business of politics. But the point is that other parties have never had an election like the Congress.

Everybody is concerned about leadership within the Congress. Nobody raises these kinds of questions for the BJP, SP or RJD. Nobody talks about party democracy within these parties.

IMAGE: Former Congress president Sonia Gandhi, second from left, speaks to her successor as Congress President Mallikarjun Kharge, third from left, as Madhusudan Mistry, chairman of the party's Central Election Authority, second from right, has a word with Rahul Gandhi, right, who served as the party president between 2017 and May 2019 at the Congress headquarters in New Delhi, October 26, 2022. Photograph: Vijay Verma/PTI Photo

What are the biggest challenges for Mr Kharge?

He is currently acceptable to everybody. It's a bed of thorns and there are challenges everywhere, but the way people within the party went on to support him, I think if that tempo remains, then he should be able to resolve many issues.

He received support from across states and should try to build on that support. There are challenges in every state and people are not ready to talk about the Congress. They think the Congress is a spent force. The party is out of the political imagination of people.

In the South, the Bharat Jodo Yatra is at least bringing the Congress back into the political imagination of people. I'm not very sure whether we will see this kind of effect in the North because in Uttar Pradesh, the yatra is barely touching the state.

If they had elongated the route, then the yatra would have gone on for many more months. They focussed more on the southern states because there's a possibility of pulling back voters who had left the party.

The other significant outcome of the yatra is that it's breaking down the image that has been created around Rahul Gandhi. You don't hear those kinds of descriptions about him on social media these days.

But this will not translate into votes in the same proportion.

IMAGE: Sonia Gandhi shows a portrait of her late husband Rajiv Gandhi presented to her by Mallikarjun Kharge. Photograph: Vijay Verma/PTI Photo

What is the legacy of the Nehru-Gandhi hold over the Congress presidency?

I was looking at the history of Congress presidents. People from all parts of the country have been president since Independence.

The tenure of the Nehru-Gandhi parivar as Congress president within this entire history of the party has not been very long.

Even Pandit Nehru was president only for three-four years.

It is only Sonia Gandhi, who remained president for the longest time -- 20 years -- except the two years in between when Rahul Gandhi pitched in.

There have been many other party presidents who played important roles. So it is a misnomer to say that the Gandhi parivar has been synonymous with the Congress.

Sonia Gandhi, if you remember, was not willing to be president of the party. It is only when nobody else was ready to take up this challenge that she stepped in.

During her 20 years as party president, the Congress has been in power only for 10 years -- that too in coalition.

All senior members of the party who have left the party become very moral and ethical as soon as they leave the party.

They were all at the helm when the party was in power, but they put the entire blame on the Gandhi parivar as soon as they step out.

It is a difficult time for the Gandhi parivar because they don't have a choice. Compared to others, their commitment to the party is much more. They have been at the helm when the party was or is in the most difficult situation.

IMAGE: Congress MP Rahul Gandhi during the Bharat Jodo Yatra in Kurnool, Andhra Pradesh, October 21, 2022. Photograph: ANI Photo

Will Kharge's presidency attract Dalits to the Congress party?

This is the only space that is left for the Congress because the upper castes are not going to come back to Congress. But Dalits will not automatically be drawn to the party just because Kharge has become the president; the Congress would need to build on its strategy and work in the community. Only then there are chances that some from the Dalit community might get attracted.

Yet Kharge's election is a good beginning. Dialogues have started and they are planning to inaugurate more programmes. Within the upper castes, the BJP has an upper hand.

At the state level in UP, there is the Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party that have their own base among the OBCs and Dalits.

There is always a chunk within each group that is floating. This group is enlarging because of the BSP's downfall within the state (Uttar Pradesh) and it is there that the Congress is trying to attract and mobilise. Whether they succeed or not succeed, only the future will tell.

There is no point in sort of mobilising the upper castes right now. They might come later if they start seeing any prospect in the Congress.

But right now, they will not. But nothing would happen automatically, the Congress will have to work a lot. And we are not sure whether this will happen in 2024.

But something might happen. The Bharat Jodo Yatra has done very well in the south, and if they are able to pull voters in the south and rely on their allies in the north like in Bihar, UP and do well in Rajasthan, then there are chances that there might be a formidable opposition or at least a force to fight the BJP.

It is only the Congress that has national appeal, irrespective of the fact that it has less seats. In every state people know about the Congress and have been supporters of this party.

People can't say there's no Opposition because that's the narrative that the media loves to spread to discredit the Congress.

All ethical expectations are from the Congress. But when you are condemning it for not fulfilling those ethical and moral expectations, then you should also look at other parties.

That's the sort of narrative that is being deliberately built against the Congress.

Feature Presentation: Aslam Hunani/Rediff.com

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