Controversies have dogged Congress yuvraj Rahul Gandhi’s grandly-named ‘Bharat Jodo Nyay Yatra’ ever since it started rolling from Manipur’s Thoubal district instead of state capital Imphal (as was planned earlier) on 14 January.
Right from the start of the yatra, the Congress scion has been delivering divisive speeches and failing to, literally, walk the talk.
In Manipur, Gandhi failed spectacularly to bring his own party leaders belonging to the two warring communities of the state — Meiteis and Kukis — together.
The Congress’ Meitei leaders left the yatra as soon as it entered Sekmai, a Kuki-dominated area in the outskirts of Imphal Valley, on its very first day (read this).
That, however, did not stop Gandhi from claiming that a Congress government would have been able to bridge the ethnic divide in the state in no time.
Resorting to his favourite political game of blaming Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Bharatiya Janata Party for everything, he said that had the Congress been in power at the Centre, the Meiteis and Kukis would never have clashed.
Conveniently forgetting history, he claimed that Manipur had remained peaceful as long as the Congress was in power in the state. Fact is, Manipur had witnessed deadly clashes between various ethnic groups that claimed hundreds of lives and displaced tens of thousands when his party ruled the state.
After crossing into Nagaland, Gandhi accused the Modi government of failure to solve the Naga issue. Here, too, he claimed that a Congress government would have quickly concluded talks with Naga insurgent groups and arrived at an agreement to end Naga insurgency.
What he very conveniently forgot was that after decades of fighting Indian security forces, it was the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government which facilitated the signing of a ceasefire agreement with the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN) in 1997 and the Modi government went a step further by signing a framework agreement with the insurgent outfit in 2015.
It was under successive Congress governments at the state and the Centre that Naga insurgency thrived and claimed hundreds of lives, besides impeding development of the state.
Despite his ‘chariot’ — a super-luxurious bus registered in Telangana where his party has come to power recently — sporting the much-touted ‘mohabbat ki dukan’ tagline, Gandhi criticised against the BJP, RSS and Prime Minister Modi ever since the start of his yatra.
He levelled multiple accusations against the Sangh parivaar — from ignoring and exploiting tribals to failure to develop the tribal states and depriving them of the fruits of development. Gandhi hurled all specious allegations against the BJP and Modi.
What the Gandhi scion did not, however, realise was that the accusations sounded completely hollow to the people of the region.
It is widely accepted by people of the North East that actual development of the long-neglected region started only in 2014 when Modi came to power.
Apart from a slew of infrastructure projects that are changing the face of even the remotest corners of the region, the Modi government has also initiated many schemes and projects aimed at accelerating socio-economic development.
As Meghalaya Chief Minister Conrad Sangma put it so succinctly a few weeks ago, people of the region are “daring to dream” now and hope has replaced the hopelessness of the past.
Gandhi’s speeches were not only frivolous, but also bordered on the absurd at times.
For instance, during his short run of a few hours in Meghalaya, Gandhi said that he had stopped by the roadside to have pineapples. Proclaiming that the pineapples of Meghalaya were the “best in the world”, he accused the Modi government of failing to make the fruit available to everyone across the planet.
The response to Gandhi’s yatra was only lukewarm in some pockets, and was largely ignored by people in most areas he passed through with his entourage of a hundred vehicles and a few hundred followers.
In some places in Assam, he was greeted by Jai Shri Ram and Modi, Modi chants, much to his discomfiture.
The Assam leg was particularly contentious with Gandhi attempting a game of oneupmanship and trying to break away from the rally route.
In a failed bid to score brownie points, he tried to visit the birthplace of revered Assamese saint and social reformer Srimanta Sankardev. The birthplace, called ‘Bordowa Than’, is a pilgrimage spot in Assam’s central Nagaon district.
Gandhi chose Monday (Jan 22) morning to visit the shrine despite the management there requesting him to visit only that afternoon because they would be watching the pran pratishtha ceremony at the Ram Mandir in Ayodhya that morning.
But he disregarded their request. His intention was to garner eyeballs through a visit to a holy shrine in Assam that, he hoped, would take away from the grand event at Ayodhya where Prime Minister Modi would be the centre of attraction.
That bid failed with the police preventing him from visiting the shrine that morning.
The yatra had another inglorious moment on Tuesday (January 23) with Gandhi insisting on passing through a busy arterial road that cuts through the state capital instead of the predetermined route bypassing the city.
Gandhi wanted to deviate from the predetermined route of his yatra. He knew very well that he would be prevented from doing so, and that would lead to a confrontation with the police. That, he reckoned, would make news.
It did, but a reckless speech he delivered applauding his fellow-yatris who clashed with the police and broke down barricades led to a lot of criticism and police lodging complaints against him.
Gandhi peppered his speeches in Assam with a toxicity towards Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma. But that did not go down well since everyone in Assam is aware of Gandhi’s mistreatment of Sarma that led to the latter quitting the Congress in 2014.
After an acrimonious run through the North East, Gandhi will enter Bengal on Thursday (25 January). And that’s when the stark reality of the INDI Alliance being in tatters will hit him.
Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has repeatedly asserted that she will not allocate more than two (of the 42) Lok Sabha seats in the state to the Congress because Rahul Gandhi’s party is incapable of winning any more than two seats in the state.
With state Congress president Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury rejecting the “insulting offer”, and a war of words going on between the Trinamool and Congress leaders in the state, there is no chance of any seat-sharing between the Trinamool and other constituents of the INDI Alliance.
Also, there is little chance of Trinamool leaders, including Mamata Banerjee, accepting Gandhi’s invitation to join the yatra. The CPI(M), a key ally of the Congress, had announced it will keep away from the yatra if Banerjee joins it.
Rahul Gandhi is close to many top CPI(M) leaders and his coterie comprises many leftists. As such, Rahul Gandhi is bound to care more about the sensitivities of the left rather than those of the Trinamool.
The Bengal leg of the yatra will, thus, come as a stark reality check for Gandhi.
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