Reporter’s diary: At Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Yatra, echoes of the Mahatma’s political grammar

By Shoaib Daniyal

The 25th day of the Bharat Jodo Yatra was also Gandhi Jayanti – the birth anniversary of the father of the nation. One outcome of this was that a Congressman dressed as the Mahatma, with silver paint on his skin, was in high demand for photos and selfies during the march.

After a while, tired of the attention, he stormed off, refusing any more demands for photo ops.

Credit: Shoaib Daniyal

The incident was easy to see as a parable: Gandhi reduced to a caricature in 2022. However, even if the Mahatma’s ideas of a village-run republic were killed by Nehru and his concept of Indian secularism was killed of by the rise of Modi in 2014, Rahul Gandhi’s India-wide march makes it clear that in one area, Gandhi is more than alive: the Mahatma still defines the idiom of Indian politics.

Yatra participants spent the morning of Gandhi Jayanti visiting a khadi centre in a village close to Mysore founded by the Mahatma 1927. This involved a Gandhian prayer meeting, tree planting as well as building a road closed since 1993 due to inter-caste tensions.

“After Mahatma Gandhi, India now has Rahul Gandhi,” said Noorie Khan, a yatri from Ujjain, with a smile. “He is carrying the message of Bapu.”

The Badanavalu Khadi Centre, close to Mysore in Karnataka.

Homage to the Mahatma

Khan’s comparison might be excused as the enthusiasm of a committed party worker for her leader. However, there is very little doubt that Rahul Gandhi is trying rather hard to cast his politics in t the Mahatma’s mould. A video put out by the Congress on Sunday is ostensibly a tribute to the Mahatma but with language cleverly chosen so that it could also refer to Rahul Gandhi’s Kanyakumari-to-Kashmir march.

“Just as Gandhiji fought the British Raj, we are today embarked on a battle with the very ideology that killed Gandhi,” a statement by Rahul Gandhi read.

In fact, Gandhi’s entire persona during the march – a mixture of high-minded ideals and personal sacrifice (in the form of a punishing 3,500-km march) – seems to have borrowed lock, stock and barrel from the Mahatma, who almost single-handedly invented this political language. Even if many of the Mahatma’s economic and political ideas have faded, the grammar of politics that he crafted has, quite remarkably, endured in India even a century later.

Much of this peaked on Sunday evening as Rahul Gandhi’s speech to end the day was drenched by a downpour. He turned it into an opportunity, continuing to speak even as the Bharat Jodo Yatra team quickly put out powerful visuals of their leader critiquing the Bharatiya Janata Party in the driving rain.

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