Congress Marathon Walk & BJP
For a party that convinced itself right at the first coronation of Narendra Modi as prime minister of India that there will be no hurdle in achieving its goal of a Congress-free country, it is astonishing that the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party looks so uneasy and enraged by the 3500 km ‘Bharat Jodo’ (unite India) walkathon of the Congress that began in the first week of September from Kanyakumari.
That it is led by Rahul Gandhi, for the BJP the most hated Congress figure, cannot be the reason. Even before Narendra Modi became prime minister in May 2014, the formidable propaganda and publicity machinery of the RSS-BJP combine had reduced the Nehru-Gandhi scion to the status of a caricature and a virtual inconsequential politician. It helped that Rahul with his casual approach to politics was unable to counter the campaign to ridicule him and downsize him.
The BJP certainly cannot say that the Bharat Jodo Yatra took it by surprise. It was announced as early as last May at the Udaipur ‘Chintan’ (introspection) session of the Congress. For the next four months, nobody in the BJP even talked about it, much less viewing it as a Congress effort to upset the saffron apple cart.
The BJP leaders will not admit it but their words and actions betray a sense of unease and a fear that the Rahul Gandhi-led Yatra could help the revival of a ‘dead’ Congress and, worse, propel Rahul Gandhi as someone who can cross swords with Narendra Modi.
The enthusiastic public reaction during the first week of the Yatra passing through Tamil Nadu and Kerala would have warmed the cockles of the Congress—and may have worried the BJP leadership, though neither state has much of BJP following. It is amusing that the signs of nervousness and unhappiness have been betrayed by the BJP at such an early stage of the five-month Yatra which is to pass through a dozen states, many ruled by the BJP.
It will be construed as a resounding failure of the BJP’s vastly superior and efficient propaganda machinery if the Yatra attracts spontaneous crowds as it steps out of Kerala into the BJP-ruled Karnataka, before moving up to the Telugu-speaking region which the BJP hopes to capture.
The method that the BJP has chosen to ridicule and undermine the Yatra is first of all to depend on the mainstream media to either ignore the Yatra or show only things that can defame the Yatra and the Congress. It is backed up some misleading and acerbic comments on Rahul Gandhi like questioning the purpose of a pan-India march wearing expensive ‘foreign’ clothes.
If the BJP is doing something on the advice of its IT cell stalwarts and PR advisers it could not have hurt itself more. The controversy over Rahul Gandhi’s ‘Rs 41,000’ T-shirt invited an instant rejoinder that must have embarrassed the BJP.
Pictures of Modi wearing a monogrammed suit, allegedly costing rupees one million, his sun glasses costing Rs 1.5 lakh and Amit Shah, Modi’s alter ego, wearing a scarf that was said to be double the price of Rahu’s T-shirt went viral on the social media.
The apparel controversy died immediately but it was then the turn of Smriti Irani, the ‘degree holder’ from Harvard and one who had honed her histrionic skills in a soap opera which was full of tears and dialogue delivery in the highest decibel, to fire a salvo that boomeranged on her and her party.
In a typical filmy style of emotive dialogue delivery, she told a public meeting that Rahul Gandhi had acted most shamelessly by not bowing to the statue of Vivekanand at Kanyakumari before starting his marathon walk. The fact was that he had first paid a visit to the memorial for Vivekanand and the social media was circulating picture to ‘shame’ Irani.
The services of even an ‘agency’ headed by a nominee of the ruling party were employed with a letter to the election commission to pull up Rahul Gandhi for exploiting children for his Yatra, causing them ‘mental torture’ and what not! How? By letting some children walk a few steps with him!
The attempts of the BJP to denigrate the Yatra and target Rahul Gandhi looked all the more puzzling when the BJP has been so successful in branding Rahul Gandhi as a ‘Pappu’, denoting a juvenile imbecile.
As the Yatra proceeds, the BJP will almost certainly step up its attacks. It may not be confined to amateurish and boorish verbal barbs. Perhaps the umbrage that the BJP has taken over a Congress-circulated cartoon showing a burning half-pant (representing the RSS, ideological mother of the BJP) is an indication of that.
The crowds that greet the Yatra in BJP ruled state, beginning with Karnataka, may have some enthusiastic participants but there are bound to be many fiery members of the BJP and the Sangh Parivar to make the reception hot—and perhaps burning.
Any violence during the Yatra will attract negative publicity for the Congress. But it is equally likely that it may further alienate the public where signs of BJP’s dwindling popularity have been clearly visible in recent days.
It would have been better for the BJP not to overreact to the Bharat Jodo Yatra if it was so sure that the message for the masses from the walkathon would not be that it is an attempt not to ‘unite’ India but divide the country. But with unapologetic adherence to its politics of polarisation and the immoral and unethical manner of breaking the Opposition parties, the number of BJP sympathisers is in danger of shrinking at a fast rate.
Many may question the Congress talking about it, but the people of the country would certainly like to see more of ‘love’ and less and less of divisiveness, hatred and tension in the society which have grown to alarming proportions in the last eight years.
The most important thing for the BJP to remember is that the Congress revival will not follow automatically from a Yatra of unity and ‘love’. Hard work and good strategy to put life back into the century old party will still be a necessary precursor. ###
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