Congress ‘Bharat Jodo Yatra’, which many see as Rahul Gandhi’s last-ditch attempt to revive the party ahead of the 2024 general elections, appears to be receiving an enthusiastic response from the party supporters in Karnataka, a BJP-ruled state.
As leaders and workers scurry to keep pace with Rahul’s speed and energy, the party hopes that the mega exercise would galvanise its cadre and generate a strong pro-Congress wave in the state ahead of the 2023 Assembly polls.
One has to wait till early next year to see if the yatra will have any impact on the political battlefield when BJP’s well-oiled election fighting machinery launches its ‘carpet-bombing’ style of campaigning.
For now, Rahul’s show is kicking up a lot of dust and raising political decibel levels as it traverses through Old Mysore to the Kalyana-Karnataka region. Like in any Congress event or programme attended by Nehru-Gandhi family members, in this padayatra, too, state leaders look fully charged.
The party workers from different parts of the state are trying to follow in their leader’s footsteps. The yatra has also created an opportunity for potential candidates to put their abilities to the test to mobilise the workers and start campaigning in their constituencies much before the elections are declared and candidates formally announced.
The state leaders seem to be getting plenty of time to interact with the top leadership to put across their views on organisational issues as Rahul Gandhi walks with them through the state for nearly 20 days.
The central leadership, too, will get to understand the pulse of the people and the party’s strengths and weaknesses at the grassroots level. That would help them make amends in strategies well ahead of the polls.
On the flip side, Congress may run the risk of over-exposing it's star campaigner just before the game gets into the crucial phase. The novelty factor may not be there when the party’s state leadership will look at Delhi to take on the BJP’s big guns.
But, that’s the risk the party has to take when you don’t have too many central leaders to depend on like in the case of the BJP.
However, the big challenge is to sustain that momentum and energy generated by the padayatra for the next six to seven months, and the entire state unit has to work as a cohesive unit. Fighting for the CM’s post even before the party wins the elections could impede its electoral prospects.
That apart, the party needs to get support from at least one of the dominant communities: Lingayats, who backed BJP in the last few elections or the Vokkaliga community that is backing Janata Dal (Secular) in Old Mysuru.
Well, Rahul Gandhi’s body language on the first day of the yatra in the state and during former CM Siddaramaiah’s birthday celebrations in Davanagere on August 3 clearly suggests that the central leadership is well aware of the single-biggest challenge and has taken it upon itself to forge unity among its top state leaders.
In Davanagere, Rahul nudged Siddaramaiah and state Congress president DK Shivakumar to send a message of unity by hugging each other on the stage, while in Gundlupet, he pulled them together to beat the drums to start the Karnataka leg of the yatra -- merging ‘Congress Jodo’ with ‘Bharat Jodo’.
The party’s performance in the state is crucial for its revival plans at the national level. Congress is no longer considered an inevitable force in the anti-BJP alliance.
All these years, the Congress used to be the pole around which regional parties revolved, but now the situation has changed drastically and it has to depend on the regional parties. Now, as state after state slips out of its control -- the latest being the fiasco in Rajasthan -- the party would be looking at Karnataka as the only state where it can hope to come back to power on its own strength.
While putting Congress back into that anti-BJP front would be among the top priorities for the next Congress president, as far as Karnataka is considered. Veteran leader Mallikarjun Kharge’s imminent elevation to the top post would add heft to its 2023 campaign.
Given his vast experience, and ability to win elections as well as take all sections of leaders together, the party will stand to gain immensely in the Karnataka elections.
If he asserts his authority, he can make state leaders bury their differences, or else the party may end up with one more power centre. The ruling BJP may try to dismiss the padayatra as a spectacle without any real impact, but it will certainly take note of Kharge’s imminent elevation and rework its Karnataka strategy.
The BJP too has hit the ground running with a very aggressive tone. However, the focus is more on countering serious allegations of corruption and not much on negating those charges to win the perception battle as it prepares for the big fight in early 2023.