Destination Unknown

The skewed vision of Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Yatra

31 January, 2023

THE VAZIRABAD CHAURASTA in Nanded, a town in central Maharashtra, echoed with the sounds of trumpets, drums, cymbals and patriotic songs in the afternoon of 10 November. Around a hundred local workers of the Indian National Congress had gathered to welcome their former party president Rahul Gandhi, who was expected to arrive before sunset and address a rally. Dozens of youngsters carrying national flags stood in one corner, while Brahmin priests chanted shlokas in unison at the centre of the crossroads.

It was the sixty-fourth day of Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Yatra—which translates to “the journey to unite India”—a march of nearly thirty-five hundred kilometres from Kanyakumari to Srinagar. “All of you would have seen that the people of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and the Bharatiya Janata Party are spreading hatred and violence in the country, pitting brother against brother,” Gandhi had told a crowd in Telangana, two weeks earlier. The objective of the yatra, he said, was to stand up against this hatred and violence, as well as against unemployment, inflation and crony capitalism.

By 4.30 pm, the crowd at the crossroads had thickened. The local police had blocked traffic from entering the road leading to the railway station, about a kilometre to the north. On both sides of the road, residents stood outside their shops and houses to see the march. The first glimpse they got was of an open-roof truck with around a dozen camera operators, all of whose lenses were pointed to the north, followed by a pickup van fitted with a camera jib that filmed the march from all angles. Behind it, Gandhi was walking along with half a dozen special invitees, including Supriya Sule, a leader of the Nationalist Congress Party; Nana Patole, the president of the Maharashtra Pradesh Congress Committee; and the Bollywood actor Sushant Singh. Mallikarjun Kharge, the newly elected Congress president, also addressed that evening’s rally.

Every now and then, Gandhi waved at the spectators flanking the road. He was walking within a perimeter formed by around a hundred police personnel holding a thick rope. I had naïvely assumed that anybody could approach him, shake his hand or give him a hug, as was being depicted in the many social-media videos about the yatra, but that was not the case. Many people shouted “Rahul!” to attract his attention. On arriving at the crossroads, he waved at the priests and party workers before turning east and continuing his journey.