Badrika Nath Mahapatra

Away from the political dramas being played out in newsrooms of India’s television channels and in front of cameras of reporters, one political personality is sweating it out on the road, literally. He is none other than Rahul Gandhi, regarded as the future of Indian politics by the grand old party (Indian National Congress) and considered the enfant terrible of Indian politics by his bete noire BJP, India’s ruling party. 

Notwithstanding the lofty aims of the Bharat Jodo Nyay Yatra (BJNY) parroted by Mr. Gandhi and his followers, the inspirations behind undertaking this arduous political march from the east of India (Manipur) to the west (Maharashtra) are many. But for the discerning watchers of Indian politics, the following are the main motivations behind this Yatra.

Firstly, Rahul’s Bharat Jodo Yatra (BJY), undertaken between September 2022 and January 2023, was regarded as one event that established his credentials as a serious politician. Further, many Congressmen/women and the party’s sympathizers are of the firm view that BJY was either instrumental or contributed to Congress’ election victories in Karnataka and Telangana last year. So, in view of the impending Lok Sabha elections, there was a strong demand from the rank and file of the Congress Party to undertake another yatra modelled on the earlier one to strengthen the party’s foothold in constituencies touched by the yatra as well as adjoining ones. 

Secondly, there is hard bargaining going on between constituents of the ‘INDIA’ bloc of opposition parties over seat-sharing for the coming general elections. Congress Party wants to use the success of BJNY to exert pressure on its allies in different states like UP and Maharashtra to get the maximum number of seats to contest. 

Last, but not least, since the BJY went from the southern-most point of Kanyakumari to Jammu and Kashmir, the northern-most region of the country, there was a feeling that a march between the east and west of India would give a sense of completion and establish Rahul’s pre-eminence among the opposition politicians across the length and breadth of the country. 

As per media reports, the yatra has received mixed responses on the ground as well as in the media. Many media persons who are sympathetic to the Gandhi scion and are avowed BJP-haters have questioned the timing of the yatra as they are of the opinion that this is the time to finalize seat sharing among the parties of the ‘INDIA’ alliance and not to waste precious time on this march with prospects of uncertain dividends.

Coming to BJN Yatra’s impact on Odisha’s political scenario, it’s marginal and limited to the Congress party. It’s a fact that the oldest political party in India has been losing ground in Odisha over the years. In the last assembly elections held in 2019, the party won only 9 seats in a house of 147 and secured 16.20% of the total votes polled. In the same election, BJP replaced it as the main opposition party in Odisha. The Yatra, as such, passed through only two (Sundargarh and Jharsuguda) of the thirty districts of Odisha. Both these districts are in Western Odisha which once was a Congress bastion. However, with the gradual decline of the Congress in the state, this region is presently dominated by BJD and BJP. While BJD holds the majority of assembly seats in this region, BJP won all 5 Lok Sabha seats of Western Odisha in 2019. Out of the 9 assembly seats in the two districts that Rahul’s yatra passed through, his party holds only one.  

There is no denying the fact that Rahul’s foray into Odisha on the course of this yatra, however limited, did energize the rank and file of his party to some extent. But the purpose it served was symbolic, at best. This is because of the widely held feeling that the Congress Party in Odisha has limited prospects of revival. Further, even if it improves its last Lok Sabha election tally of one out of 21 seats in Odisha, it is expected to be in the undivided Koraput District presently having two Lok Sabha seats of Koraput and Nabarangpur, but not in the two districts touched by RaGa. So, in all probability, his short (by distance as well as duration) leg of BJN Yatra in Odisha was to enthuse the Congress workers as skirting Odisha altogether would have embarrassed the state Congress unit and political opponents would have considered it as the admission of slim prospects for itself by the party in the upcoming general and assembly elections. 

To sum up, by all accounts, the response to Bharat Jodo Nyay Yatra pales before the same as its earlier Avatar (Bhart Jodo Yatra of 2022-23). Further, it is considered to be ill-timed even by the die-hard supporters of the Congress Party in the media and the civil society. This is borne out of the fact that seat-sharing talks have either failed or at a logjam in important states like UP, Maharashtra, West Bengal, Punjab etc. and Rahul’s presence in Delhi would have given some impetus to these negotiations with other INDIA-bloc parties. The way allies are deserting the ‘INDIA’ fold and important leaders of the Congress Party are jumping ship, there is an overriding feeling that Mr. Gandhi should have been dealing with these matters now rather than being on the road for such a long time. One thing is for sure, though. This Yatra might strengthen the Congress Party and Mr. Gandhi, but it has indirectly weakened the efforts to unite the opposition parties under one banner and pose a strong challenge to the BJP-led NDA in the general elections. So, the irony is that more than the Congress Party and Mr. Gandhi, the BJP is considered to have benefitted, though indirectly, from this yatra in terms of the optics of failing opposition unity.

(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are the author’s own and have nothing to do with OTV’s charter or views. OTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.)

(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are the author’s own and have nothing to do with OTV’s charter or views. OTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.)