Can Rahul Gandhi’s bullock cart yatra in Gujarat bolster Congress' chances?

Denied permission for open-jeep roadshow for his campaign in the election-bound western state, the INC VP showed political innovation.

 |  14-minute read |   25-09-2017
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Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi is back from his American study tour and has kick-started a three-day Gujarat campaign, during which he’ll be seen riding a decked-up bullock cart. Denied permission for an open-jeep roadshow in the poll-bound western state, the Congress VP showed remarkable innovation and presence of mind when his team decided to turn the crisis into an opportunity, with the politician soon to appropriate the very symbol on which the BJP and the Sangh Parivar have capitalised so much – the cattle.

In his Navsarjan Yatra, Rahul Gandhi is expected to meet farmers, Patidars, Dalits, Muslims, traders and the women of Gujarat, exactly as the BJP holds its national executive in the capital. In his packed three-day tour, the Congress VP will campaign from Saurashtra – a Patidar heartland and stronghold of the ruling BJP – as a clear signal that he’ll be wooing the agitating Patidars and the disgruntled OBCs as well as the Muslims of the state. Congress seems to have found a brand new bounce, particularly after Ahmed Patel's thrilling victory in the Rajya Sabha election last month, which came despite BJP national president Amit Shah’s best efforts and open dare against the Congress president’s personal secretary, and his keen electioneering mind. Ahmed Patel won even after the much-hyped exit of Shankersinh Vaghela, a tall Gujarat leader from the Congress camp, making it evident that the Assembly elections are likely to witness a solid fight for the ruling BJP.

Social media is flooded with images of Gandhi offering puja at the famous Dwarkadhish temple in Dwarka, where he was welcomed by Patidar leader Hardik Patel. The temple photos have gone viral, with #RahulInGujarat being the top trend on Twitter, and a generally positive reception of the Congress VP on the ground.

While the INC Twitter handle is providing timely updates of Rahul’s pit-stops, the narrative focus is squarely on forgotten promises and the collapse of development in Narendra Modi’s home state, which had seen him get elected chief minister thrice and make his grand pitch for national politics. Gandhi will be meeting all those “left behind”, as it were, by the ruling BJP, which has even seen a change of guard since 2014, when Anandiben Patel was installed as the CM replacing Modi. In 2016, Patel was removed when she failed to curb the Patidar agitation and lost ground in the party and outside, and the low-key Vijay Rupani was made the chief minister.

As reported in various media outlets, Gandhi’s itinerary includes Dwarka, Jamnagar, Morbi, Rajkot and Surendranagar, all with recent history of massive Patel agitations led by Hardik. In fact, reminiscent of the last visit that Gandhi made to Gujarat, when his vehicle was attacked with stones and window panes smashed -- injuring his security detail and others -- this time, the Gujarat police has refused to allow Gandhi to hold an open-jeep roadshow, clearly showing how rattled the ruling BJP regime in the state and at the Centre is.

 

Gandhi’s “bullock cart” yatra is an interesting innovation, since this will be inverting the BJP’s cow politics on its head. The 25-km stretch from Dwarka to Hanjrapar village will see Gandhi in the bullock cart. It must be remembered that in Una, Dalits were flogged last year for skinning dead cows, which led to a massive agitation led by Jignesh Mevani. Cow is a sensitive issue which the BJP milks virtually all the time, and the sight of Rahul Gandhi on a decked-up bullock cart will certainly challenge the BJP’s hegemony on claiming the cattle as its political tour de force. In addition, the 135km yatra from Dwarka to Jamnagar would also see Rahul Gandhi touring the state in a special chartered bus, that’s equipped with CCTV cameras for live footage and updates of the Congress VP’s grand Gujarat campaign.

Gandhi will be meeting traders protesting the GST mayhem and those impacted by the demonetisation diktat of the Prime Minister in November last year. The Congress VP will make pit-stops at Bhatiya, Khambhaliya, Tankara and Wankaner on his way to Rajkot to meet the MSME entrepreneurs and businessmen hurt by GST and note-bandi -- two back-to-back high-impact decisions disrupting the Indian economy significantly.

Moreover, parodies of “vikas” in Gujarat are hogging the social media narrative, with the Congress making the most of it -- seizing the discourse on how the ruling BJP has failed the economy, the farmers, the students, Dalits and Muslims, the poor and also the women. It must be noted that Gandhi’s Gujarat campaign comes days after the grand Rajasthan kisan andolan, in which thousands of farmers gathered to protest the governmental apathy and the agricultural distress ripping apart the monsoon-dependent sector.

Rahul Gandhi at a rally on MondayRahul Gandhi at a rally on Monday. Photo: Twitter/ Congress

In addition, Gandhi’s campaign comes days after PM Narendra Modi inaugurated the Sardar Sarovar Dam as well as signed the bullet train agreement with Japan’s Shinzo Abe. The bullet train will connect Ahmedabad with Mumbai. In fact, PM Abe almost campaigned for PM Modi just three months before the Gujarat polls in a joint road show that became the talking point of the day, as well as the butt of ridicule on social media for its apparent opportunism.

There’s a palpable anti-incumbency in the air, and it needs to be seen if Rahul Gandhi can make the most of it, and turn the tide around for his party and the country. If his Berkeley speech and other interactions in the USA are anything to go by, we can be hopeful that the Congress scion might spearhead the return of polite and civil politics after three years of communally charged ideological hegemony driven by the ruling BJP, egged on by PM Narendra Modi.

If Gandhi aces Gujarat, chances are that not only would he be made the Congress president quite promptly, but his pitch to be the UPA’s prime ministerial face would also be substantiated. Much depends on whether or not Rahul Gandhi is able to topple the still invincible Modi-Shah-led BJP from their home ground Gujarat.

Also read: Why the lines between bombast Modi and dynast Rahul Gandhi have blurred

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