Yatras are back. They pull crowds, but what about votes? | India News

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, 53, began his Bharat Jodo Yatra from Kanyakumari on Sept 7, 2022 and ended in Srinagar on Jan 30, 2023, covering 3,970km, spanning 12 states and two UTs. His Bharat Jodo Nyay Yatra started on Jan 14 from Thoubal, Manipur, and ended in Mumbai on March 20, covering 6,700km across 15 states.
● Tamil Nadu BJP president K Annamalai’s ‘En Mann, En Makkal’ was from Rameswaram on July 28, 2023 to Palladam in Tirupur on Feb 27.He covered 234 constituencies and 10,000km. The finale was a grand show at Palladam, PM Narendra Modi in attendance.
● TDP general secretary Nara Lokesh’s Yuva Galam from Jan 27, 2023 in Chittoor to Dec 20, 2023 in Vizianagaram covered 3,132km through 29 seats. Lokesh says his yatra was not to win polls but to gauge common people’s aspirations.F rom Mahatma Gandhi’s Dandi March in 1930, Janata Party leader Chandra Shekhar’s 1983 Bharat Yatra, Rajiv Gandhi’s Sandesh Yatra in 1985, L K Advani’s Ram Rath Yatra in 1990, Murli Manohar Joshi’s ‘Ekta Yatra’ in 1991, to M K Stalin’s 2015 Namakku Naame — yatras are now firmly entrenched in the Indian political psyche.
But the long walks have not always translated to votes.
Chandra Shekhar’s 1983 Bharat Yatra gained traction, but he didn’t win the following year, with the 1984 assassination of Indira Gandhi turning the tide in favour of her son, Rajiv, who led Congress to a landslide in the Nov Lok Sabha elections. Chandra Shekhar was PM only briefly, between Nov 1990 and June 1991.
Later, in 1985, Congress undertook ‘Sandesh Yatra’ and, starting Oct 1990, Rajiv Gandhi undertook the 7km Sadbhavna (harmony) Yatra, months ahead of the 1991 LS polls and his assassination. In the 1991 elections, no party had a majority and Indian National Congress (Indira) formed a minority govt under P V Narasimha Rao, with backing from other parties.
Andhra Pradesh politics has been a lot about yatras. Former CMs N T Rama Rao, his son-in-law Chandrababu Naidu, Y S Rajasekhara Reddy, and son Y S Jagan Mohan Reddy all undertook yatras that yielded them dramatic turnarounds. For the 1983 assembly election campaign, NTR used a modified Chevrolet van, the first politician in the country to do so, and named it Chaitanya Ratham. He won 202 of 294 assembly seats.
YSR undertook a three-month-long padyatra, covering 1,500km across several districts of Andhra Pradesh. He led Congress to victory in the 2004 and 2009 assembly elections before he died in a chopper crash in 2009. His son and AP CM Jagan, who leads YSR Congress party (YSRCP), embarked on ‘Praja Sankalpa Yatra’ from Nov 2017 to Jan 2019. In May 2019, YSRCP swept the state polls and Jagan became CM.
TDP president Chandrababu Naidu led a marathon 2,340km-long padyatra, ‘Vasthunna Mee Kosam’ (I’m coming for your sake), in 2012-2013 to reach out to Andhra voters. He became CM in 2014 and served until 2019.
Murli Manohar Joshi’s Ekta Yatra over 47 days covered 15,000km and 14 states amid chants of ‘Vande Mataram’. But it took BJP and its Hindu nationalist affiliates almost six years after Advani’s Ram Rath Yatra in Oct 1990, the Babri Masjid demolition on Dec 6, 1992, and a prolonged religious-political conflict before it grabbed the hot seat in 1998 under Atal Bihari Vajpayee.
In Tamil Nadu, inspired by Mao Zedong, MDMK leader Vaiko undertook seven padyatras, including an antiPota (Prevention of Terrorism Act 2002) walk following his 19-month incarceration under Pota for alleged LTTE links.
“I did not speak politics during my yatras,” says Vaiko. “It was a humbling experience. We developed blisters on our feet. I got 1,000 pairs of shoes and distributed them among my party boys.”
Ahead of the 2024 polls, yatras have undergone a sea change since the 1990s. Politics and tech, particularly social media, have become inextricably intertwined. The increasing integration of AI is anticipated to become standard practice, although its precise implications remain uncertain.
Admittedly, yatras have changed leaders’ auras. The drones that whizz overhead now capture images of leaders from top down — humbler, wiser, with empathy for people.
As Rahul Gandhi traversed the length and breadth of the country, Annamalai — an equally zestful BJP leader, though a relatively newbie in politics — and Stanford graduate Nara Lokesh, both of whom just wound up their yatras, are testing people’s pulse in the Dravidian terrain.
In Tamil Nadu, observers say the crowds that closely followed Annamalai’s yatra were mostly BJP cadre, hence the frenzied connect. But unlike Rahul’s walkathon and roadshow, Annamalai’s journey had “a strong political narrative”, that of anti-corruption against DMK. Experts said Rahul’s show may have helped his personal image, but it lacked the narrative to leverage it against Narendra Modi.
Political analyst and social activist Yogendra Yadav, who was accompanying Rahul on his Bharat Jodo Nyay Yatra, said: “This yatra is very unlike the first by design. There is total hopelessness in the country. This yatra has created hope. It has done good for Congress.”

Source link