Recently, I met a number of family friends in Vidarbha who are die-hard Congress or Bharatiya Janata Party loyalists. Vidarbha has a strong base for both parties, with the BJP having bagged good electoral fortunes in the past two elections, albeit with noticeable hiccups in the last Assembly polls. During our chats, the families discussed a development—Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Yatra. The Congress supporters were excited to know that the party was finally doing something much-needed to reach out to the people; the action that has been missing at all levels of the Congress organisation. If not much electoral gains, they expect the yatra to keep the party alive and kicking.
The families were even more excited about Gandhi’s direct involvement in the reach-out affair, one that promises to be five months long and uninterrupted. Enthusiastic family members said they won’t mind joining Gandhi’s march, travelling 200-400 km from their homes to the places where Rahul halts in Maharashtra, bearing their own expenses. Unlike some Congress leaders, who were more meticulous in planning their trip, to be seen walking with Gandhi and getting photographed, the families didn’t worry much about getting noticed. They said they will be happy to be there, walking the distance their body strength permits. “We don’t care if we don’t get noticed. We just want to support Rahul,” said a young one. If travelling long is not possible, the families will participate in the local padayatra they are planning to mobilise the like-minded. These are the people the Congress organisation has been taking for granted, knowing that they will stand by the Gandhis, as long as the family continues to control the Congress.
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During their friendly arguments, the pro-Congress and pro-BJP families tried to put the yatra in their own perspective. They shared a view that the yatra proves that Gandhis are still in command of the Congress. He takes over the party or not in the future, Rahul will be the de-facto in-charge, they said, adding that a non-Gandhi president, if at all the party gets one, will not dare cross the line and remain under Gandhi’s shadow. The Congress loyalist families cursed G-23 (currently fewer) leaders, accusing them of betrayal and sabotage. BJP loyalists said the BJP cannot escape Rahul and his kin. The BJP’s attacks on the Gandhis will escalate as the yatra’s distance between Kanyakumari and Kashmir decreases, they felt. A friendly ended in a draw. Both groups agreed that their respective parties should do whatever it takes to enlarge their footprints. “Let’s see what happens in the elections,” the argument concluded, with the BJP guys sounding more confident than their Congress counterparts.
Remarkably, some pro-BJP guys I met find their family roots in die-hard Congress loyalist forefathers. I know many such families. The grandsons of then Congress leaders have turned into strong BJP supporters in the past 15 years. There are aberrations in my local neighbourhood. A young gentleman, whose grandpa, father and uncles were RSS workers, is now a youth Congress leader. The family is vertically split. His family’s old generation still swears by the BJP and RSS. However, such RSS-turned-Congressperson could be few because the election results support this observation. The reason could be the saffron politics of the BJP, notwithstanding the Congress’s acceptance of soft Hindutva in its poll campaign and general approach.
The above account is representative of what could be happening on the ground in terms of a straight fight between the Congress and the BJP; who is gaining and losing, and why. For BJP, it is the organisation that puts it ahead. For Congress, it is also the organisation, a poorly led fossil that has gone back to the Stone Age. Speaking based on the interactions with the people from both sides, Rahul yatra is unlikely to make any significant electoral gains, but it will surely push the sceptic reformist in the Congress to believe, albeit unwillingly that it is only Gandhis who could be the party’s magnet, though not as powerful as they were in the past, when one of them decides to criss-cross the country by foot or by flight. The BJP, the Congress’s prime adversary, knows it even better and would be seen acting accordingly in the days to come.
Dharmendra Jore is political editor, mid-day. He tweets @dharmendrajore
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