Senior Congress leader Jairam Ramesh on December 18 said the Bharat Jodo Yatra has ensured that the Congress is now setting the political narrative in the country and the BJP has been made to play on a pitch prepared by his party.
In an interview with PTI on the yatra completing 100 days, Mr. Ramesh also said that Rahul Gandhi is trying to sharpen the ideological basis of the Congress and is working along with the party’s elected president, Mallikarjun Kharge, as a ‘jugalbandi’ (together).
Asked whether the party could undertake another such yatra next year, Mr. Ramesh said, “I would certainly love to participate in a Porbandar (Gujarat) to Parshuram Kund (Arunachal Pradesh) Yatra but whether we can do it next year and how we can do it next year, it has to be discussed and debated in appropriate party forums.” The Congress general secretary in-charge communications asserted that through the Bharat Jodo Yatra, Mr. Gandhi has given a new direction to the political discourse and the Congress has set the narrative for the last 100 days.
“The Congress has been applauded, criticised, praised, reviled. What it means is that we were on the defensive, we were always reacting to what the BJP was saying or what it was doing but through the Bharat Jodo Yatra I think we have succeeded to a very large extent in being able to set the terms of debate and the narrative in the political discourse,” Mr. Ramesh said.
He said the yatra has had an “electrifying internal effect” on the organisation as well as on the external world of Indian politics.
Mr. Ramesh claimed that due to the yatra, the BJP is on the “back foot, disturbed and nervous”.
“I think we have succeeded in changing the terms of the debate. The narrative is on our pitch now. We are playing cricket against the BJP on a pitch that is prepared by us, we are not playing cricket against the BJP on a pitch prepared by them, that is the difference,” he said.
Asked if Rahul Gandhi was now the conscience-keeper of the party, Mr. Ramesh said that’s a strong word and one does not emerge as a conscience keeper through just one yatra.
“He (Gandhi) is raising issues which should be of deep concern to the Indian citizens. He is certainly seen as the ideological compass for the Congress party. We have a full-time elected Congress president and in Rahul Gandhi we have somebody who is trying to sharpen the ideological basis of the Congress,” he said.
“He and Kharge ji are working as a jugalbandi. To that extent he (Gandhi) has certainly succeeded in energising the party organisation, Congress workers, supporters and giving them a new hope that the Congress party will re-establish itself as the pre-eminent political force in the country,” he said.
Asked if the yatra would have an electoral impact in the states of Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Karnataka that go to polls next year, Mr. Ramesh reiterated that it is not an electoral yatra but an ideological one.
“It is a yatra to capture the battlefield of ideas, battlefield of ideologies. Yes we are not an NGO, we are not a ‘sanyasi’ battalion, we are a political party and we exist to fight elections and fight elections to win but whether this Bharat Jodo yatra will have a positive electoral impact, it depends entirely on the Congress organisation,” he said.
“If we have unity, if we have discipline, if we have a sense of collective purpose, then I think we will be able to take forward the message of the Bharat jodo Yatra and gain electoral success,” he added.
“The yatra was not started to win Vidhan Sabha and Lok Sabha, but to strengthen the ideological moorings of the Congress, re-establish the connect with the people, reinforce a sense of collective purpose to combat the three big challenges of economic inequality, increasing social polarisation and established political authoritarianism.”
Asked about the tussle between Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot and Sachin Pilot, Mr. Ramesh reiterated Mr. Gandhi’s earlier statement that both leaders are assets for the party.
“Whatever way forward is found by the Congress party and the high command, the principle is very clear, the organisation is supreme. Individuals come and individuals go but it is the organisational interests that are paramount,” he said.
“I would stress on the supremacy of organisational interest and I am sure that is what is on the minds of the Congress president and others who are working to find a solution,” he said.
Mr. Ramesh also contended that because of the Bharat Jodo Yatra Mr. Gandhi has been able to re-establish in the public eye who he really is—caring, compassionate and sensitive.
“I have said earlier and I would like to repeat this is not a new Rahul Gandhi, this is the real Rahul Gandhi which the country is seeing through the Bharat Jodo Yatra,” he said.
Mr. Ramesh also slammed those who criticise the Congress unnecessarily, saying the Congress bashing is a favourite pastime of not only the right-wing but also of the liberal commentariat.
“I think that needs to stop. To a large extent because of the Bharat Jodo Yatra this Congress bashing has moderated in tone. I don’t think it has vanished but it has moderated in tone,” he said.
Mr. Ramesh said the large liberal constituency in our country must recognise the only way to defeat the “polarising and poisonous” agenda of the RSS-BJP is by strengthening and reinvigorating the Congress party, its values and its ideology.
The yatra, which was launched on September 7 in Kanyakumari, has completed 102 days and traversed eight States—Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and now, Rajasthan.