The 3,570 km long Congress’s Bharat Jodo Yatra Kerala leg began on September 10th from Parassala in Thiruvananthapuram. On September 14, the Yatra reached Kollam, the fourth largest city of Kerala. It arrived in Alappuzha on September 17, passing through Ernakulam on September 21 and 22, and reached Thrissur on September 23. On September 26 and 27, the Congress Yatra passed via Palakkad, and culminated it’s Kerala stretch on 28th September in Muslim dominated Malappuram. In 19 days, Rahul Gandhi travelled 450 kilometers covering as many as 7 districts in Kerala.
Given that Mr. Rahul Gandhi is an MP, who represents Kerala’s Wayanad district, the coastal state is certainly very crucial for the Congress. The grand old party keeps a formidable presence in this Southern state. Through the yatra, Congress is attempting to connect with the people of Kerala by instilling expectations that it may be a powerful force in subsequent elections. There is also a clearly defined agenda behind starting the march from southern states like Kerala and Tamil Nadu before moving towards northern territories, where the party’s mass base has shrunk over the years.
Prominent party figures such as Congress MPs Shashi Tharoor, K C Venugopal, and Digvijaya Singh, Kerala Pradesh Congress President K Sudhakaran, and V D Satheesan, the Leader of Opposition (LoP) in the state Assembly, accompanied Rahul Gandhi in the padayatra from different districts in Kerala. Rahul was projected as the face of this Yatra and he chose to appear as the “people’s politician” in Kerala, meeting people from all walks of life, tasting local food, interacting and playing with children, and so on.
However, it is interesting to note that the walkathon was not received well by the ruling party in Kerala as few student unions and other party members of the CPM publicly raised their objections against the Yatra targeting towards becoming a campaigning route for the Congress, especially by defaming other rival parties. Rajya
Sabha MP and CPI(M) member John Brittas stated that, “If Rahul continues to take guidance from the likes of Jairam Ramesh, who takes cheap shots at the Kerala CM who all his life played a pivotal role in checkmating RSS, this Yatra of his sends across a wrong message and is sure to misfire.”
Although the Yatra witnessed huge turnouts of people, including women and children from various parts of the state, the procession moved forward at the cost of the common public’s time. More than half of the roads were filled with people accompanying the Yatra while vehicles and pedestrians were struck in heavy traffic. On Tuesday, a public interest petition (PIL) was submitted to the Kerala High Court seeking to curb the “Bharat Jodo Yatra”, by allowing party members to occupy only half of the roads while leaving the other for smooth flow of traffic and public access. On September 10, the vehicles and the public were in for major traffic snarls that lasted for several hours. The protest was impeding the free movement of the common public. The 19-day-long Yatra was halted on September 15th, as the PFI called for a hartal on the same day. There have been speculations that Congress stood in solidarity with the PFI by not resuming their walk.
The Congress Party’s installation of numerous boards, banners, and flags along the National Highway as a part of its “Bharat Jodo Yatra” drew strong criticism from the Kerala high court. The court also expressed concern about how these installations would be removed and how the generated waste would be managed by local self-government organizations. The court also underlined its concern about how dangerous these huge installations are for drivers on the road.
The President of the Congress for Ernakulam constituency, Radhakrishnan Parepuram, switched to the BJP just a few hours before the Yatra visited the city. This incident further intensified the friction in Congress, where there are reportedly internal conflicts and party divisions. During the padayatra, it was also observed that a significant number of state officials were dissatisfied with Shashi Tharoor. They claimed that he was attracting much attention by putting Rahul Gandhi backstage. “The national media is more interested in Tharoor than Rahul, when the former is present.” revealed a KPCC functionary.
While the “Bharat Jodo Yatra” seems to be a start for the Congress, it is still far away from presenting defined strategies and influencing the people of Kerala at large. There are opinions among people, who still perceive Rahul Gandhi as an immature leader unfit to take up responsibilities. The rally seemed to focus more on strengthening his base in Wayanad than reaching out to people and furthering the larger cause. Former MP and Supreme Court advocate Dr. Sebastian Paul stated that, “The Congress appears like a leftover party, one abandoned by its leaders and cadre. The think-tank built by Rahul Gandhi has migrated to the BJP, including the likes of Tom Vadakkan and Jyotiraditya Scindia,”
Simply discussing national issues cannot merge cultural sensitivities with common people. There would still be a wide gap between people’s needs and the party’s aim, both centered on the Yatra. It would have made a huge impact if it had a clear narrative and strong purpose. But, a prominent political party marching while proclaiming that India is disintegrated may not be the best idea to gain back the people’s trust and support.