Leading a Yatra with emotional and idealistic talks and steering a party to the polls are two entirely different ball games. Ultimately, all that matters is the vote-winning ability. Has Rahul Gandhi finally arrived and will the Congress rise up to be the fulcrum of the Opposition?
The Bharat Jodo Yatra was conceived by the Congress to do just this. But mere rhetoric cannot get the magic numbers to lead Parliament or any Assembly. What is needed is a plan, rather a vision that can put an alternative before the people.
The Bharat Jodo Yatra had moments of eloquence, photo-ops, juicy quotes, but ended up more as a marathon than a political rally with a message and a part of a larger vision. The rally was more about anti-Modism than providing an alternative plan to the BJP.
This has continued after the Yatra also and become all the more direct, as was seen during the motion of thanks to the President's Address in Parliament.
Making a monster out of Modi may be lauded by his close supporters and coterie, but this is not the strategy to win over people. Perhaps the Congress can take the cue from Arvind Kejriwal, who no longer makes personal attacks against PM Modi, but has successfully demolished the BJP in Delhi and has crept up in Gujarat too.
What the nation needs is a working plan to address the issues. Growing unemployment and inflation are the two major problems affecting the people directly. Raising the issues is important for the opposition, but what is the working plan to address the issues?
Almost all the neighbouring countries are failing and in a bad state. Even the European countries, the US and others are under immense economic strain and so is China also. In this scenario, how can India be insured? The opposition, and especially the Congress has to make a blueprint. Similar is the case with issues like security, law and order, health, etc.
If the Congress and the rest of the Opposition want to take Modi head on, then they need a matching charismatic leadership and a vision for overall growth and peace. The grand old party needs to unveil the vision to address people's issues and take the country forward. It needs to come out with a credible long-term plan and not hang out with the rhetoric-laden short strategies.
There is still a long way to go after the 4,000 km Bharat Jodo Yatra for the Congress, which sought to rekindle itself and tried to prove that it is the principal opposition to the BJP.
The party claims that the Yatra has done the necessary work -- to unite the country, which it says has been divided by the BJP's religious polarisation, and given a new image to Rahul Gandhi. His tagline "opening the shop of love in the market of hatred", was propagated by the party and his supporters in the hope of sweeping the people off their feet. But did people fall?
The effect on people can be judged only by the EVM result, but the yatra has failed to get the Congress house in order. Dissensions continue and leaders are resigning and leaving.
Severe differences cropped up in the Maharashtra Congress where Balasaheb Thorat, the party's legislative party leader, resigned from his position. All he had to say was "internal politics distressed me".
Just before him, Congress loyalist A.K. Antony's son Anil Antony quit the party, blaming the intolerance within the party. Hitting out at his former party, BJP spokesperson Shehzad Poonawalla said nothing has changed in the Congress since he was 'forced out' of the party for 'speaking against dynasty'.
In Rajasthan, the Gehlot vs Pilot saga continues, and similar internal tussles are prevalent in almost every state.
The party's aim to rejuvenate the cadre and unify the party has not yielded the results. But the message that the Yatra has ended up with is that Rahul Gandhi is very much there and this time with the salt-and-pepper look. He even tweeted (January 29), "Bharat Jodo Yatra has been one of the most beautiful and profound experiences of my life. It's not the end, it's the first step, it's the beginning!"
The yatra may have been his first step, but what is the follow up?
Five months of the yatra may not produce immediate results, but the only question from the marathon that has emerged is -- where does Rahul Gandhi go from here?
His coterie may want him to be at the helm of Indian politics and grab power in 2024, but nothing comes without a plan. A strategy to outdo Modi is the challenge and even more difficult is to lay a credible and meaningful vision that can convince the people.
Also, the Congress and Rahul Gandhi seriously need to rethink its 'anti and hate Modi attack policy'.
A lot is at stake for the Congress and the Gandhi scion. They need to work on their strategies thoughtfully and not rhetorically.
The Assembly polls in nine states will be the first test of Rahul Gandhi in his new bearded avatar. If the Congress is able to do well, then the opposition regional parties can drop their reluctance to accept it as the fulcrum of an anti-BJP alliance in the crucial 2024 Lok Sabha polls.
(Deepika Bhan can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)