Rahul Gandhi, the senior chief of India’s predominant opposition Congress Occasion, has launched a cross-country “unity” march, echoing iconic protests by India’s independence hero Mahatma Gandhi, as he goals to revive the occasion’s sagging electoral fortunes forward of the 2024 common elections.
Gandhi, a scion of the influential Gandhi household, flagged off the march, named “Bharat Jodo Yatra” or “Unite India Rally” within the southern coastal city of Kanyakumari on Wednesday to counter the growing non secular divide, rising unemployment, escalating costs and the weakening of democratic establishments.
The Congress chief accompanied by supporters will cowl greater than 3,500km (2,175 miles) to achieve Srinagar metropolis within the northernmost Himalayan area of Kashmir in about 150 days.
Gandhi attacked the ruling Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Occasion (BJP) and its ideological mentor – the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a Hindu supremacist organisation – for dividing India, formally a secular nation, on the strains of faith and language.
The BJP has been accused of working anti-Muslim agenda, with growing assaults towards Muslims since Narendra Modi grew to become prime minister in 2014. Dozens of Muslims have been lynched prior to now eight years amid rising Islamophobia. The occasion has denied the costs.
“The Indian flag doesn’t belong to any specific neighborhood or occasion, it belongs to all of us. Tens of millions and hundreds of thousands of individuals really feel there’s have to take motion that brings India collectively,” Gandhi stated on the rally.
“Our tricolour ensures the fitting to apply any faith of selection, however immediately this flag is below assault,” he stated.
Hindutva vs secularism
The Congress Occasion or “Grand Previous Occasion”, which ruled for many years after India’s 1947 independence from Britain, is a shadow of its former self, discredited and crushed below the electoral juggernaut of Modi’s BJP, which thrashed the Congress Occasion within the final two common elections.
Modi has derided Gandhi – descended from India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru – as an out-of-touch pampered princeling and playboy.
The Congress Occasion has struggled to counter the BJP’s politics of “Hindutva” – an ideology that believes in making India an solely Hindu state.
New Delhi-based political skilled Manoj Joshi, a fellow on the Observer Analysis Basis, advised Al Jazeera that the rally won’t make a lot impression on the bottom, however “at finest it might breathe some life into an already moribund organisation”.
“Although, given the divisive politics of the BJP, Rahul had picked a very good theme of uniting the individuals. However I doubt if [Gandhi] has the political abilities to capitalise on them. He’s too informal in his strategy to politics,” Joshi stated.
Earlier than setting off on the trek, Gandhi prayed at a monument in Sriperumbudur within the southern state of Tamil Nadu, the place in 1991 his father Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated – like his grandmother Indira Gandhi seven years earlier.
“I misplaced my father to the politics of hate and division,” Rahul Gandhi wrote on Twitter on Wednesday after visiting the location the place his father, a former prime minister, was killed by an ethnic Tamil suicide bomber.
“I cannot lose my beloved nation to it too,” he stated.
The BJP below Modi has consolidated its management since 2014, when it got here to energy in nationwide elections, by profitable many states nonetheless dominated by Congress. The occasion has been driving a Hindu-nationalist wave, whereas the 137-year-old Congress has usually promoted secular politics.
“Hate has brewed within the nation within the identify of caste and faith. If we don’t management this now, there is usually a civil battle,” Ashok Gehlot, a Congress chief and chief minister of western Rajasthan state, advised reporters forward of the march on Wednesday.
‘Weakening the nation’
The march comes forward of elections within the western state of Gujarat – Modi’s house state – this yr and the central state of Madhya Pradesh subsequent yr. Each states are at present dominated by the BJP.
“This can be a landmark event for our nice occasion with such a wonderful legacy – the Indian Nationwide Congress. I’m assured that our organisation might be rejuvenated,” Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi’s mom and Congress Occasion chief, stated in a press release.
The purpose of the march, Rahul stated, is to focus on rampant unemployment, hovering inflation and growing polarisation between majority Hindus and non secular minorities like Muslims below Modi, age 71.
“I need to ask you whether or not worth rises or hatred strengthens the nation… Narendra Modi and the BJP are weakening the nation,” Rahul told a rally in New Delhi on Sunday forward of the mega march.
“The Congress Occasion, alternatively, unites the nation. We erase hatred and when hatred is erased, the nation strikes sooner.”
A ‘family-saving marketing campaign’
The BJP stated the march was organised by the Gandhi household to maintain management over the Congress Occasion.
“Primarily, it’s a family-saving marketing campaign. The household’s and the occasion’s political expanse has been shrinking whereas they face corruption costs,” BJP chief and former union minister Ravi Shankar Prasad was quoted as saying by the PTI information company.
“This isn’t about unifying the nation however attempting to ascertain him [Rahul] once more as a pacesetter. I want to know what number of occasions he might be launched and relaunched?”
Ajay Gudavarthy, who teaches on the Middle for Political Research at Jawaharlal Nehru College in New Delhi, advised Al Jazeera that “BJP has managed to chop all avenues of expression of what individuals are feeling on the bottom”.
“There may be discontent however no avenues to specific it,” Gudavarthy stated. “Bharat Jodo Yatra will, to start with, give individuals area to specific their rapid considerations. It’s then left to the Congress as to how they will translate it right into a concrete programme.”
“Rahul Gandhi is the one chief who has taken a powerful place towards the RSS,” he famous.
Gudavarthy stated that Rahul Gandhi “has articulated [yatra] as an ideological battle, not like Aam Aadmi Occasion (AAP) and different regional events”.
“However Congress has to discover a manner of breaching the consolidated Hindu vote that helps the BJP on non secular grounds however not on problems with growth and governance,” he stated. “Congress has not been in a position to try this thus far.”
Rifat Fareed contributed to this report