Reviving Yatra on October 2 bad idea: Soufflé Rises Only Once

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EDITORIAL: By Saeed Naqvi, Edited By Adam Rizvi, The India Observer, TIO, NJ: There is a certain poetic power in politics of renunciation. As an immediate example just look at New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Arden: how elegantly she stepped out of the Prime Minister’s office into something possibly more permanent like a life of love and family.

It is difficult to apply the Jacinda model on Rahul Gandhi for two reasons: there is no Prime Ministership to renounce and no one has yet spotted an interest in marital love in his eyes. And yet a renunciation of “conventional” politics becomes Rahul more than a simulated aspiration for an elusive Prime Ministership.

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In fact he may have found his vocation in leading the Bharat Jodo Yatra which has softened the national mood. It would be problematic to invoke in this context the movement inaugurated by Jayaprakash Narayan in the mid 70s.

JP was in political retirement when global and internal interests coalesced to search for a power centre other than Indira Gandhi. Détente was going badly for the West. Portuguese decolonization had brought communists directly into power in Angola, Mozambique and even Ethiopia. Euro communism was bubbling over. Nearer home, Sri Lanka sought Indian military help to quell the JVP (left) revolt in 1971.

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A fact less noticed in Indian journalism is that communists were already in power in Kerala in 1957 and crawling towards a three decade long rule in Bengal and Tripura since the late 60s.

Indira Gandhi had become dangerous for the West after she split the Congress in 1969 and clasped the hand of communists like S.A. Dange, Secretary General of the CPI. The Times, London’s correspondent Peter Hazlehurst hit the nail on the head: “Indira Gandhi is slightly left of self interest.”

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The JP movement targeted Indira Gandhi as the centerpiece in the growing pattern of leftism. While the JP movement targeted the left tendencies in the Congress, Bharat Jodo Yatra is creating an atmosphere in which the Congress can politically challenge the right – the obscurantist, divisive core of BJP’s politics. As far as economic policies are concerned, I doubt if much change has come in the thinking of the two major parties from the days of P. Chidambaram as Manmohan Singh’s Finance Minister. At a congregation of economists at the Nehru library, Chidambaram addressing his BJP counterpart, Arun Jetley seated in the front row said: “there is hardly any difference in our economic policies.” Whatever there is can be easily sandpapered.

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The core Congress interests liaising with the Yatra probably had this in mind when they choreographed former Reserve Bank Governor, Raghuram Rajan seated by the roadside with Rahul even as the Yatra flowed by. Rajan spoke acceptable Hindi too for wider play. He has backers who have long insisted on some sort of second innings for him. I have seen Prannoy Roy of NDTV implore him in Davos: “Please, Sir, come back to India.”

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Rahul’s Yatra is now in its final phase, dedicated to fly the national flag at Srinagar’s Lal Chowk. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has bitter memories of another flag hoisting in Srinagar by the then BJP President Murli Manohar Joshi in 1992, when militancy was at its peak in the valley. Joshi’s Rath was stalled in Udhampur. Eventually he had to be flown to Srinagar for the flag hoisting. P.V. Narasimha Rao as Prime Minister was softer on the BJP then the BJP is likely to be on Rahul. Modi was an RSS volunteer accompanying Joshi. Will he concede a point to Rahul?

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After completing the Kashmir leg of the Yatra, Rahul will come under inexorable pressure from those in the Yatra and those waiting in the tent with Congress President, Mallikarjun Kharge. In the run upto the 2024 General Elections, there are nine state elections which, by the narrative of Congressmen, will demand Rahul’s attention.

Recently, asked how the Yatra has affected him. Rahul gave an astonishing response. “I have killed Rahul Gandhi, he doesn’t exist anymore. The person you are looking at is not Rahul Gandhi – read Hindu scriptures – read about Lord Shiva, you will understand. Don’t be shocked. Rahul Gandhi is in your head, not mine. He is in the BJP’s head, not mine….” Is this not dangerous transformation?

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The sheer momentum of walking thousands of miles with adoring crowds will be difficult to terminate. Congressmen aching to extract electoral advantage from a mood altering event will end up spilling whatever gains Bharat Jodo Yatra has bestowed on the party. Renunciation will begin to look like greed.

Rasping Congressmen will ask, “What then was this Yatra for?” Well, to combat the all pervasive politics of divisiveness and hate. Rahul puts it quite effectively. “I have seen people across caste and communal lines reach out to each other, embrace, converse, share – throughout these miles I have seen no hatred.” He contrasts this mood along the entire stretch of the Yatra to what he watches on the national TV. “24X7 Hindu-Muslim, Hindu-Muslim.” Some more effort is required for the capitalist controlling the media to note Rahul’s lament?

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The widespread Congress party structure has clearly been enervated by the march. It should be able to extract advantage from an improved national mood without impeding the Yatra’s momentum.

And yet, Rahul, after all, is only human, his rapid pushups, incredible stamina notwithstanding. He can’t be expected to walk endlessly although at 52, he should keep past stalwarts in mind. Janata Party’s Chandrashekhar undertook a similar journey in chappals at the age of 63. Indira Gandhi’s assassination in 1984 forced him to terminate his yatra. Some transport including the old Congress symbol of yoked bullocks can be brought into play in subsequent laps. In reasonable time the air will be cleansed to accommodate politics of issues not for two parties alone but for a federal India.

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There is a suggestion that an East to West stretch of the march should be launched from Gandhiji’s birthday on October 2. Those who have bought this idea do not know that the soufflé rises only once, that a bhatura does not inflate twice.

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Curated and Compiled by Humra Kidwai

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Saeed Naqvi

Saeed Naqvi

Saeed Naqvi is a senior Indian journalist, television commentator, interviewer. He has interviewed world leaders and personalities in India and abroad, which appear in newspapers, magazines and on national television, remained editor of the World Report, a syndication service on foreign affairs, and has written for several publications, both global and Indian, including the BBC News, The Sunday Observer, The Sunday Times, The Guardian, Washington Post, The Indian Express, The Citizen and Outlook magazine. At the Indian Express, he started in 1977 as a Special Correspondent and eventually becoming, editor, Indian Express, Madras, (1979–1984), and Foreign Editor, The Indian Express, Delhi in 1984, and continues to writes columns and features for the paper.

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