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What has Rahul gained from yatra?  

Rahul’s strategists initially suggested a less strenuous bus tour. But he chose to undergo hardship, like walking thousands of kilometers with blisters on his feet and knee pain, sleeping in a caravan, and roughing it out.

Statesman News Service |

Has Congress leader Rahul Gandhi achieved anything with his Bharat Jodo yatra that ended this week? Will it pay any political dividend to him or his party in the coming months? Has he succeeded in his image makeover? Has he been able to unite the Opposition parties against the BJP?

There are many such questions after Rahul ended his Yatra on January 30, walking 3,500 km and passing through 12 states in five months.

Undoubtedly, undertaking a Kanyakumari to Kashmir yatra was a brilliant idea to connect with the public, get to know the issues first-hand, and achieve an image makeover. Many leaders like Chandrashekhar and L K Advani had undertaken such yatras earlier for political purposes.

Rahul’s strategists initially suggested a less strenuous bus tour. But he chose to undergo hardship, like walking thousands of kilometers with blisters on his feet and knee pain, sleeping in a caravan, and roughing it out. He even skipped addressing rallies in Himachal Pradesh last November as he was preoccupied with the yatra.

Has the yatra benefitted Rahul? He claims it was fulfilling. “I’ve learnt a lot, met lakhs of people, spoken to them. I don’t have words to describe it. The goal of the yatra was to unite India. It was against hate and violence. This has been the deepest and most beautiful experience of my life”. He further claimed that the yatra had opened “shops of love in a market of hate” (nafrat ke bazaar main mohabbat ki dukaan).

Expressing hope, Rahul said, “India now has two paths or ways of living to choose from. One is out to suppress the voices and spread hatred and violence; the other is to join the hearts. I believe this yatra is a first step that will impact the country’s politics.”

After the yatra, Congressmen hope that people will see Rahul as a serious politician, and not a “pappu” anymore. Rahul became popular, particularly in the South, where he drew huge crowds. His interaction with the public and press conferences en route helped present an alternative political option for those against the BJP. He raised issues like inequality, unemployment, rising prices, security on the border, and inflation. He did all that clever politicians do, like carrying children in his arms at times and interacting with youth, women, and seniors as he walked holding their hands.

Rahul should use this Yatra experience for his future. But the task ahead is not easy, as more than five months is needed for a complete makeover. The tricky part is that Rahul has to keep up the hard work until the 2024 polls and should keep going. The most challenging thing is to convert the crowds who came to see him into votes. For this, he needs organisation.

The second goal of the yatra was to lift his demoralized party. Any activity like a yatra should help here, as it kept Rahul and the Congress in the media glare for five months. The Congress has pinned hopes on the yatra to improve its political standing in the 2024 Lok Sabha elections. Its electoral gains will be tested before that, as nine states are going to polls this year.

Jammu and Kashmir might also go for elections this year. However, the factionalism in the party continues, as is evident in states like Karnataka, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Kerala, and Maharashtra.

The third goal was to emerge as the Opposition leader, uniting all nonBJP parties. But the Opposition parties have rival candidates like Telangana chief minister Chandra Shekhar Rao who mobilized a vast crowd to lead a Third Front last month. Though Rahul had invited many Opposition leaders to participate in the conclusion of the yatra in Kashmir this week, only leaders from 11 parties attended. Even during the yatra, influential leaders like Akhilesh Yadav skipped it.

Rahul has not given up hope .”Sure, there are differences in the Opposition, but they talk to each other. The Opposition will stand together and fight together. This is an ideological fight. On one side, there’s the RSS-BJP, and, on the other, it’s the forces opposed to them”, Gandhi said.

It is common knowledge that a divided Opposition is Modi’s key to returning for a third term. It would be an advantage if he can keep it that way.

The yatra has given new hope to the Congress and the Gandhi family. As Rahul said, the yatra was the beginning, and it was for the party to take the momentum forward. For the Congress and the Opposition, the next 14 months are crucial to this goal of remaining relevant in politics.