Bharat Jodo pragmatism of the Congress & illusions of the progressives

While the anti-hate Bharat Jodo Yatra has generated enthusiasm among ordinary people distanced and ignored by elitism in politics, the absence of organisational follow-up by the Congress may not yield in the expected electoral gains

Bharat JodoImage: Aaj Tak

On the 25th day of the Rahul Gandhi Bharat Jodo yatra of the Congress party , i.e., on the Oct 2, Gandhi Jayanti day, it  halted in a village called Badanavalu, in Karnataka near Mysore. This village is well known for the Khadi Gramadyog enterprise started by four Dalit women in 1927 and also has the fame of being visited and hailed by Gandhi in 1932. The Khadi Udyog itself  had flourished along with the Freedom Movement.

But, in the last few decades, the khadi homespun industry, has shown drastic decline and has now reached the state of extinction. This is so because the neo liberal polices unleashed by the Congress during 1990’s enabled the market forces and weakened the local economies due to the withdrawal of the state from the welfarism. Along with the Khadi Gramodyog the spirit of fraternity also declined as the post-independent and later neoliberal political economy which aggravated the rural crisis also nurtured the traditional cleavages between the communities.

Therefore, this  ‘Gandhi visited village’,  witnessed one of the worst caste atrocities in the state, in 1993 in which dominant Lingayats killed three Dalits. Now even though the relationship between the castes are “normalised” the village itself is known only for its past. In the present, it is just another village engulfed by the agrarian crisis facing  dwindling economic opportunities.

The dilapidated building that hosted the erstwhile Khadi industry which gave employment to more than 300 women in and around the village, and which remains as a monument of the betrayed promises was  painted with in tri-colours by the enthusiastic Congress workers to welcome Rahul Gandhi and his yatris of the Bharat Jodo effort. But when Rahul Gandhi promised a relief  package to Khadi workers if voted to power,  it hardly gave any  meaning to the victims since the Congress is yet to locate the roots of the devastation of Khadi and such local economies in the neo liberal economic policy which it heralded in the 90s.  

Likewise, Rahul Gandhi inaugurated re-developed  lane connecting the localities of the Lingayats and the Dalits in the village, which was abandoned after 1993 clashes,  and rechristened it as Bharat Jodo road. He also participated in the inter dining which included a meal eaten together by all the castes in the villages. But  it is doubtful if the road would even be used since the village has learnt to live separately and distinctly after the clashes.

Later in the day, Rahul Gandhi addressed a gathering near Mysore under a heavy down pour, and declared that nothing, even nature, could deter the resolve of the Yatra to fight against the politics of Hate. The images of Rahul Gandhi speaking under the heavy rains and even the people listening to him covering themselves under the chair, has gone viral. It has also instilled more energy into the Congress leaders and volunteers.

Whatever may be the limitations of the Bharat Jodo, it has provided a much needed platform to Rahul Gandhi to demonstrate his resolve and his politics to the country, loud and clear. Right from the beginning of the Yatra, Rahul Gandhi is showing enormous physical and emotional stamina laced with a degree of honesty conveying a message of love. He has also provided leadership to the Yatra which has electrified a disintegrating Congress party and its supporters. Gandhi has also been patiently listening to the grief and despair of different sections of the society. He is freely sharing and mingling with the masses enroute which has become a rare, political spectacle today. This is being cherished by ordinary people. This in itself is being compared to the political elitism of the present prime minister, who has always laid claim to humble origins unlike Rahul Gandhi   

These symbolism of the Bharat Jodo seems to be influencing many liberal intellectuals who were hopelessly aspiring for a political alternative. In fact such  progressive intellectuals have fully invested in the Yatra, bordering on an obsession. Civil society groups in Karnataka are extending unconditional support to the Yatra, attributing overbearing goals to it.

The Congress itself has considered Bharat Jodo Yatra as part of its survival strategy.

As political commentator Asim Ali has tried to explain in his article in the Telegraph, this Jodo was a necessary and a honest activity aimed at the survival of the Congress though not its revival. The route map itself is so planned to address the floating voters in the constituencies and the states where the Congress party’s vote share has not  decreased below 30%. Thus the Yatra has avoided the  whole of East India where the Congress has been pushed to third position in the last two elections and where regional parties are robustly taking on BJP.  It is also being said that the Congress party has a very pragmatic expectation from this 150-day yatra, through which it expects to add  30-40 seats additionally to its present strength, in the 2024 elections. Meanwhile, Jodo would also will have positive impact on the state elections like in Karnataka where it needs a little more nudging to reach victory. 

As a principle opposition party in a democratic set up, the Congress party is doing something which should have been done long back. No one can rise any objections to its Bharat Jodo Yatra even as a means to  electoral gain since it is seeking votes based on a  message of love and not hate. Thus even if it does not fulfil the electoral goals of the Congress, the effort, may, even at its worst, end up in throwing a  good impact on the society. Thus the Bharat Jodo is a welcome pragmatic electoral  initiative of the Congress.

But whether it is  capable of defeating BJP electorally,  leave alone fascism politically, or socially is an entirely different question which the desperate enthusiasm of the progressives fail to interrogate.  Leading supporters like Yogendra Yadav, who a few years ago declared  the metaphorical death of the Congress as a pre-requisite for the emergence of real opposition to the fascist BJP is now describing the Bharat Jodo as the anti-emergency moment and rallying around Congress as the need of the hour.

Many questions emanate from such unqualified and a-historical expectations from the Congress. And facts about the present and past of Indian Fascism does not find support or satisfaction in such easy solutions.

The onward march of the electoral BJP is and has always been caused and further supported by the expansion of social, organisational and political base of Hindutva.

Since the elections of 1984 where Congress obtained 49% of votes and the BJP just 7%, the BJP has consistently increased its vote share elections to elections (except the 2009 elections)  and in 2019 elections it could get double (36%) the support of its national rival Congress party (19%) . And in some states like Karnataka, UP, Gujarat, Uttarakhand, Delhi etc the vote share of BJP was/is between 51-65%.

So there is no real solace in the statistical misreading that says that 64% of voters did not vote BJP.

Even in Tamil Nadu and Punjab where BJP lost its vote share by 1-2%  in 2019 as compared to 2014, it improved its vote share in the subsequent assembly elections. BJP is becoming the ruling party or the party in in-waiting in almost all the states.  While its financial prowess is making it impregnable,  its social base and support among all sections of the people for its agenda of Hindu Rashtra has made it possible to create a Hindutva Vote bank.

For example, this Jodo yatra is often compared to Advani’s Rm Rath Yatra which was instrumental in the increase of BJP’s  vote share and seat share phenomenally all over India. It was one of the main reasons for the demise of the Congress system of politics  and the emergence of BJP system of politics in India.

While apparent parallels are obvious there are many substantial differences.

The Sangh Parivar had the machinery and the organisational strength to localise and amplify the hate message of Ratha Yatra in all the states it passed through. Thus, even after the Yatra was over the seeds it bred were nurtured carefully, and consistently to deliver a poisonous weed in the subsequent elections locally.

For example, the Rath Yatra carrying the message of  destruction of Babri Masjid allegedly built over Ram Mandir, was localised in Karnataka and the movement to liberate Bababudan Darga and transforming it into Datta temple was launched as early as 1992 itself. The slogan was Datta peetha will be the Ayodhya of south. Thus the political message of Rath Yatra was followed up politically and organisationally and consistently over the years . This vicious movement to liberate this Dargah was instrumental in expanding the social base of the Hindutva organisations, Hindutva ideology in Karnataka and subsequently in increasing the vote share and seat share of the BJP that led to its capturing of power in the state.

The Congress lacks such dedicated organisational structures and consistency in localising and amplifying the message of the Bharat Jodo Yatra so that its politics breaks the Hindutva hegemony and actually results in electoral gains.

Not only that, while the leadership and the cadres of the Hindutva regimen are convinced and dedicated to the cause of the Hindu Rashtra and consider the Congress as the enemy to its ideals, the same cannot be said about the Congress. For example, it is the Congress party’s opportunist collusion which legitimised either the destruction of Babri Masjid or partial Hinduisation of Bababudan Dargah in Karnataka. As scholar  Aizaz Ahmed described a long while back, while the BJP’s communalism is programmatic, Congress communalism is pragmatic and its commitment to secularism is also pragmatic and opportunistic,  barring of course a few towering personalities, especially at the local levels.

While a long list of ‘how the Congress betrayed the country over secularism’ can be drawn up, a few telling and defining examples should be suffice. It was the same Indira Gandhi, who introduced Secularism to the preamble during emergency,  who first introduced the politics of “Hindu and National Integrity is in danger” politics in 1980s during her “second coming”. The systematic othering of the minorities had its root in the excesses of the Emergency also. In all, the three bans Congress imposed on the RSS, the tall leaders of the Congress like Sardar Patel to PV Narasimha Rao wanted the ban to be ineffectual and worked over night to repeal it at the earliest occasion. While Rajiv Gandhi was instrumental in the alienation the North East and Kashmir and opening the gates of Masjid, irresponsible and collusive  attitude of PVN Rao is also guilty of its destruction. The collusion of the Congress with the Shiv Sena in its anti-Muslim violence, the unexplainable inaction of the UPA government towards draconian NPR/NRC acts passed during Vajapayee regime, the changes made to Visa rules during UPA-2, which discriminated applicants based on religion which later became the basis for CAA etc and the recent claims to the glory of building Ram Mandir instead  of condemning it as irreligious act and collecting even funds for Ram mandir etc are but few of its inherent Hindutva-leaning steps by the Congress. This makes it structurally impossible for the Congress to break from this and provide the alternative. Thus, even when it came to power it could not break the Hindutva hegemony and worked with or through a milder form of Fascist governance.

The same can be said about all other opposition parties also. While the AAP leadership competes with the BJP including for being aggressive Hindutva politician, the BSP did not find it politically and ideologically unacceptable to campaign for  Modi  immediately after Gujarat genocide. All these parties started their election campaign in the last  UP elections from Ayodhya promising a more spectacular temple, sooner. While AAP supported the abrogation of article 370, BSP supported the amendment to UA(P)A and the now secular turn coat JDU supported the CAA bill in Rajya sabha.

Thus all the political parties helped the BJP to legislate Hindutva. And the Communists want UAPA with all its draconian forms in Kerala but oppose the same in rest of the country

It is because none of these parties have the political, ideological and organisational prowess to break the hegemony of the Hindutva which the Sangh Parivar is successful in building over years. More so the Congress in its present form.  And, as the recent elections have proved, the pre-election exercises to take on BJP on its politics without having sufficient machinery to reach the people at the grass roots would only polarise the electoral atmosphere in favour of BJP.

Thus, for the Congress, it would be good and consistent on the message of Jodo and compliment the process with an organisational outreach, for at least for  few years before expecting any substantial electoral results. Even to do that, the Congress party might have to undergo a complete metamorphosis, which is a difficult call. But nevertheless necessary.

It would help to save the country if the Rahul Gandhi led Jodo eventually leads the party to such an ideological, political and organisational metamorphosis. But will this actually happen? This could be another grand illusion if one recollects the developments during late 1960’s where ‘leftist’ Indira Gandhi generated far bigger hopes than her grandson. That political posture of Indira Gandhi even made the CPI consider the Kumaramangalam Thesis which strongly advocated the merger of Communists with the Indira Congress. But few years later, after the elections, purging, authoritarian pro-capital laws, and the declaration of the Emergency which, amongst other things, displayed a communal stinge against Muslims were all played out in less than five years.

While the situation and personas may be different, the lessons of the past should guide the future. The only litmus test to support or oppose any party, act, efforts or event should be whether it is against Brahminism and Capitalism, fascism being the aggressive, naked dictatorship of the same.


*Views expressed are the author’s own. The author is an activist and freelance journalist who was also a columnist for Gauri Lankesh’s publication.

Other pieces by Shivasundar:

Adani’s capital Modi’s power in Sri Lanka

Modi’s eight years: Eight acts of shameful disgrace

How a state suffocated by Saffron got a new breath from Blue

Never Ever Forget



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