The Congress launched the Bharat Jodo Yatra (unite India march) to address three issues – to deal with the tremendous challenge of economic inequality, social polarisation and political division between the Centre and the states.
On the other hand, the BJP called the Bharat Jodo Yatra as Bharat Todo Yatra (break India march) and Congress Jodo Yatra (unite Congress march).
The Congress has hit back hard at the BJP whenever the latter tried to find fault with or mock the 3.570-km Kanyakumari to Kashmir yatra passing through 12 states and two Union territories in about 160 days.
However, the party is on the backfoot ever since the Gehlot camp defied the high command on September 26 over change in leadership in Rajasthan.
Rajasthan political crisis
Gehlot is believed to have been hand-picked by the Nehru-Gandhis to succeed Sonia Gandhi as the Congress president. However, he wanted to keep both the posts – that of the Rajasthan CM as well as the Congress chief.
But Rahul Gandhi vetoed it citing the decision of ‘one man-one post’ taken in the party’s ‘Chintan Shivir’ (brain-storming camp) in Udaipur in May.
Gehlot agreed to it but he was not ready to pass on the reins of the government to his bete noire Sachin Pilot. He wanted any one from among his loyalists to be installed as the CM.
Sonia sent leader of opposition in the Rajya Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge and Congress general secretary in-charge of Rajasthan Ajay Maken to Jaipur on September 26 as observers to elect a new Congress Legislative Party (CLP) leader in place of Gehlot.
While the observers convened a meeting of the CLP, the Rajasthan CM held a parallel meeting with his loyalist MLAs. More than 80 MLAs owing allegiance to Gehlot tendered their resignation to assembly speaker CP Joshi to thwart any move by the observers to select Pilot as the CLP leader.
These MLAs called Pilot and 18 MLAs loyal to him “traitors” for rising in revolt against Gehlot in 2020. They said any of the 102 MLAs who had stood rock solid behind the Congress should be named as Gehlot’s successor.
As the Rajasthan political crisis takes the centrestage across all media, the Bharat Jodo Yatra has got overshadowed.
However, the Congress leaders are tight-lipped about the issue. Otherwise, in all controversies that had taken place earlier, the Congress blamed the BJP and said the latter had got rattled due to the ‘success” of the padyatra and wanted to create controversies to deviate the people’s attention from it.
Rahul Gandhi’s T-shirt
The padyatra was launched in Tamil Nadu’s Kanyakumari on September 7 but actually took off a day later. On September 9, the BJP fired the first salvo at the padyatra. It highlighted the brand and cost of the T-shirt that Congress leader Rahul Gandhi was wearing.
The BJP tweeted, “Look, India.”
Bharat, dekho! https://t.co/UzBy6LL1pH
— BJP (@BJP4India) 1662713101000
The Congress retorted saying the BJP did not have anything concrete and meaningful to criticise about the yatra and, therefore, was indulging in cheap gimmicks to belittle Rahul and the padyatra.
It tweeted in Hindi, “Hey, did you get scared seeing the crowd gathered in Bharat Jodo Yatra? Talk about the relevant issues. Speak on unemployment and inflation. Otherwise, if we have to discuss clothes, then (Prime Minister Narendra) Modi’s suit of Rs 10 lakh and glasses of Rs 1.5 lakh will also be discussed.”
Next, the BJP targetted the containers in which the 120 Bharat yatris were spending their night. It took a dig at the lifestyle of the yatris.
Congress spokesperson and general secretary in-charge of communications Jairam Ramesh retaliated by saying that the BJP had got rattled by the overwhelming response that the yatra was receiving.
He said, “The allegations that have been made by the BJP IT cell with the encouragement of the prime minister to defame the Bharat Jodo Yatra show that the BJP is rattled.”
Ramesh said the containers were “very basic” and “very minimal. “I wish both (Union home minister) Amit Shah and (BJP leader co-in-charge of West Bengal) Amit Malviya see these containers and then they will know what it is to live in a container. This is not like the Rath Yatra. It is not a Toyota yatra or an Innova yatra. Ours is a padyatra,” he said and added that the containers were not made in China.
Namibian Cheetahs in Kuno Park
Prime Minister Narendra Modi released eight Namibian cheetahs in Kuno national park situated in Madhya Pradesh on September 17, the day he turned 72. The event was the most discussed topic on mainstream and social media for a couple of days.
Jairam Ramesh linked the release of cheetahs to Bharat Jodo Yatra. He alleged that the event was deliberately planned to overshadow the padyatra. He even criticised PM Modi for saying that nothing was done for several decades to bring back the cheetahs which had been declared extinct in India in 1952. Ramesh said the idea was mooted by the Manmohan Singh government in 2008-2009 and he had even visited Africa in that regard when he was the Union minister for environment and forests.
‘प्रोजेक्ट चीता’ का प्रस्ताव 2008-09 में तैयार हुआ।मनमोहन सिंह जी की सरकार ने इसे स्वीकृति दी।अप्रैल 2010 में त… https://t.co/TstsibdI96
— Congress (@INCIndia) 1663324655000
8 Goa Congress MLAs join BJP
The Congress also viewed the defections of leaders from the party as part of “headline management” by the BJP.
On September 14, eight out of 11 Congress MLAs in Goa quit the party and joined the ruling BJP. The BJP mocked the Congress and taunted that it should launch Congress Jodo Yatra instead of Bharat Jodo Yatra.
However, Jairam Ramesh called the defection of Congress MLAs as ‘Operation Kichad (mud)’ instead of the popular term Operation Lotus. He claimed it had been fast-tracked because of the visible success of the Bharat Jodo Yatra.
“BJP is nervous. A daily dose of diversion and disinformation is handed out to undermine the yatra. We remain undeterred. We will overcome these dirty tricks of the BJP,” the Rajya Sabha MP said.
Operation Kichad of BJP in Goa has been fast tracked because of the visible success of the #BharatJodoYatra. BJP is… https://t.co/TdLbVr1rUb
— Jairam Ramesh (@Jairam_Ramesh) 1663141417000
Amarinder Singh joins BJP
Former Punjab chief minister Amarinder Singh merged his Punjab Lok Congress with the BJP on September 19. He had quit the Congress last year after being replaced with Charanjit Singh Channi by the party in September 2021.
The Congress even viewed Amarinder joining the BJP as part of the ruling party’s design to hog limelight and divert focus from the Bharat Jodo Yatra.
Mohan Bhagwat visits mosque
In a major outreach towards minorities, Mohan Bhagwat, the chief of BJP’s ideological compass Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), visited a mosque in central Delhi on September 22. He met Umer Ahmed Ilyasi, the chief cleric of the All India Imam Organisation (AIIO), behind closed doors in the mosque for about an hour.
Ilyasi called Bhagwat “rashtra pita” and reportedly said, “Our DNA is same, only our method of worshipping god is different.”
The RSS chief also visited a madrassa and mingled with students.
The Congress mocked Bhagwat’s visit to the mosque and claimed it was the result of the Bharat Jodo Yatra.
Talking to reporters in Kerala on September 24, Ramesh said, “Both the BJP and RSS are nervous ever since Congress’ Bharat Jodo Yatra commenced. Bhagwat is also meeting people from different walks of life. This is the effect of our initiative… Bhagwat’s visit was nothing but a publicity stunt. Though he visited the mosque, his intentions were not good. This was just a pretence, because he remains silent on real issues.”
The Congress has been issuing repartees to the BJP’s moves linking them with the Bharat Jodo Yatra. However, failing to blame the BJP for the Rajasthan political crisis has left it dumbfounded and speechless for the first time since the yatra began.