Bharat Jodo Yatra: Controversies, sparring and barbs kept spotlight on Rahul-led march

The cross-country foot march stayed in the news almost right through, mostly for the barbs between the BJP and the Congress and occasionally for other reasons, including infighting in the opposition.
A huge cut-out of Congress leader Rahul Gandhi for the Bharat Jodo Yatra in Banihal, J & K, Friday, Jan. 27, 2023. (Photo | PTI)
A huge cut-out of Congress leader Rahul Gandhi for the Bharat Jodo Yatra in Banihal, J & K, Friday, Jan. 27, 2023. (Photo | PTI)

SRINAGAR: Rahul Gandhi's Burberry T-shirt and his scraggly beard, V D Savarkar and north India's chilling winters, the Kathua rape and Covid. As the curtains fall, the Bharat Jodo Yatra replays in a patchwork of issues personal and overtly political with controversies aplenty to ensure the spotlight seldom wavered.

The Kanyakumari to Kashmir yatra started from the southern tip of the country on September 7 and ends on January 30 in Srinagar, some 145 days and 3,500 km later.

The cross-country foot march stayed in the news almost right through, mostly for the barbs between the BJP and the Congress and occasionally for other reasons, including infighting in the opposition party.

It started during the first leg in Tamil Nadu with the BJP attacking Gandhi for wearing a Burberry T-shirt allegedly worth Rs 41,000. The Congress hit back with a "Rs 10 lakh suit" and "Rs 1.5 lakh glasses" barb directed at Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

It was just the beginning.

As the Gandhi-led yatra continued so did the sparring on social media platforms, TV debates and on the streets.

During the early days of the yatra, the grand old party, for instance, tweeted a picture of khaki shorts, often associated with members of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, on fire. This triggered a backlash from the BJP, which accused the Congress of instigating violence.

And the BJP, in Tamil Nadu, accused the Congress of being anti-Hindu over Gandhi's meeting with a controversial Christian priest.

In Kerala, the Congress was left red-faced when a photo of Hindutva ideologue V D Savarkar appeared on a campaign poster near Kochi. The Ernakulam District Congress Committee, which arranged a massive preparation for welcoming the yatra, resorted to a fire-fighting exercise by immediately suspending the Congress worker responsible for it.

Gandhi's grey beard was at the centre of a war of words between the two parties with Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma claiming at a poll rally in Gujarat that the former Congress chief had started looking like the late Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.

This drew a rebuke from the Congress which said he sounded like a "troll."

There were also times when dissensions within the party and its allies came to the fore.

The Maharashtra leg saw fissures surface between the Congress and its ideologically incompatible ally Shiv Sena after Gandhi attacked Savarkar over his mercy petitions to the British.

In Madhya Pradesh, a crisis erupted in the party in Rajasthan, the yatra's next destination, when Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot slammed his former deputy Sachin Pilot and called him a 'gaddar' in an interview.

The matter was resolved in the nick of time and a show of unity was put up by Gehlot and Pilot with party general secretary, organisation, K C Venugopal brokering an uneasy truce just ahead of the yatra entering the desert state.

As the yatra entered Rajasthan, the spectre of Covid loomed large.

Union Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya wrote to Gandhi and Gehlot, asking them to consider suspending the march if Covid protocols could not be followed.

Gandhi hit back saying the BJP was getting nervous and using Covid as an excuse to stop his march.

The Congress and the BJP sparred when former RBI governor Raghuram Rajan joined the march and then later when former army chief Gen (retd) Deepak Kapoor participated in the yatra in Haryana.

The two parties were at loggerheads again when Union minister Pralhad Joshi alleged that Gandhi was going on a holiday and that is why his Bharat Jodo Yatra had taken a long break at December-end. Congress general secretary Jairam Ramesh has repeatedly demanded an apology from Joshi for his remarks that Gandhi was going on a holiday.

Gandhi spent the break in Delhi during the December-end break.

Gandhi's white T-shirt, no sweater look in north India's famed winter was also the subject of much attention. He said he decided to wear only T-shirts during the march after meeting three poor girls "shivering in torn clothes" in Madhya Pradesh.

That's when he decided that until he shivers, he won't wear a sweater, the Congress leader said.

Earlier this month, Gandhi sparked a row when he said the Congress believes in 'tapasya', while the BJP is an organisation of 'pooja'. India is a country of 'tapasvis' (ascetics) and not 'pujaris' (priests), he said.

The BJP slammed Gandhi, saying the Congress has a "DNA of divide and rule".

"Respect Tapasya but why denigrate Pujaris," a BJP spokesperson asked on Twitter.

Another controversy to hit the Congress was over Dongra Swabhiman Sangthan Sangathan Party (DSSP) leader Choudhary Lal Singh's decision to join the Bharat Jodo Yatra, leading to objections from a section of the Congress and other parties.

Congress spokesperson Deepika Pushkar Nath resigned from the party on January 17 over the party agreeing to Singh's support to the yatra, alleging that he was responsible for sabotaging the 2018 Kathua rape case by "brazenly defending" the rapists of the eight-year-old girl.

National Conference vice president Omar Abdullah also opposed the participation of Singh.

In the latest row, senior Congress leader Digvijaya Singh questioned the government's claims on surgical strikes and accused it of peddling lies.

This drew a furious reaction from the BJP, which said the opposition party was blinded by its "hate" for Prime Minister Modi and had "insulted" the armed forces.

There have also been casualties during the yatra.

Congress MP Santokh Singh Chaudhary died following a cardiac arrest during the Punjab leg.

A Congress Seva Dal functionary died after collapsing in Nanded in Maharashtra.

Besides, a 62-year-old man from Tamil Nadu died and another person from that state was injured after being hit by a truck in Nanded when they were participating in the Congress' foot march.

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