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Bharat Jodo Yatra — Will the concluding part set the stage for a 2024 coalition?

Bharat Jodo Yatra — Will the concluding part set the stage for a 2024 coalition?

Bharat Jodo Yatra — Will the concluding part set the stage for a 2024 coalition?
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By KV Prasad  Jan 17, 2023 4:33:21 PM IST (Updated)

Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Yatra is scheduled to conclude on January 30 at Srinagar after a 3,500-kilometre journey from the southern tip of Kanyakumari. While it infused fresh life into the moribund Congress, can the Grand Old Party sew up a coalition before 2024 general elections? These are early days since regional parties play to strength and those opposed to the BJP will continue to assessing the ground.

By the end of the third week of January, the Bharat Jodo Yatra of Rahul Gandhi enters the last stage. The 3,500-km plus walkathon which began on September 7 should enter the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir and end on January 30.

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Over the past few months, the ‘padayatra’ occupied space among political parties,  citizens and cynical sections of the society with each analysing from its perspective the possible impact of the initiative on the political landscape of the country.
Since he embarked on the journey, Rahul Gandhi’s yatra created a buzz that certainly grew from a low-key hum to something louder, not in terms  acoustics but in attracting attention of people towards the event. A grudging acknowledgement about the mission that seemed ambitious to one accomplished with dedication and discipline.
Yet, political parties opposed to the Bharatiya Janata Party, which remains in a predominant pole position in the country, have been less than enthusiastic in either being part of the entourage or even symbolically associate with it, during any part of the journey.
After the DMK Chief and Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Stalin handed over the Tricolour to Rahul Gandhi at Kanyakumari, when  the Yatra started his sister Kanimozhi walked with the former Congress president during the Haryana stretch. However, other prominent parties in southern states like the Janata Dal (Secular) in Karnataka, the Bharat Rashtra Samiti (erstwhile Telangana Rashtra Samiti) or the Telugu Desam Party in the two-Telugu speaking states kept away.
When the journey entered northern part of the country especially Uttar Pradesh, observers trained sights to notice that two prominent  regional outfits the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party were conspicuous by their absence while the Rashtriya Lok Dal encouraged its workers to march with Rahul Gandhi when he traversed through the western part of the state.
Of the allies or like-minded parties, besides the DMK, the Nationalist Congress Party and the Shiv Sena sent prominent members in Baramati MP Supriya Sule and young Sena leader Aditya Thackrey while the Left could not afford to join hands since the coalition heads the government in Kerala, where the Congress-led United Democratic Front is the principal opponent.
The mixed signals emanating from heterogenous parties which occupy the opposition space or consider the BJP as the principal opponent, leads to a surmise that it will be difficult for these parties to sink differences and sew up a grand national coalition ahead of the 2024 general elections.
These are early days to arrive at a definite conclusion. In India a coalition arrangement is worked out by parties from positions of strength. Which party leader can sell the idea within the organisation to enter into an electoral tie-up with another political party that brings less or nothing to the table (or adds to the electoral kitty)?  For instance, the  last experiment of the Samajwadi Party and the Congress in 2017 U.P. Assembly elections could not stop the BJP juggernaut from decimating the opposition. The slogan of ‘UP ke do Ladke’ (two youth of UP represented by Akhilesh Yadav and Rahul Gandhi) just did not find resonance among voters.
This time there are other emerging strands. The Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrasekhara Rao has set his sights on Delhi and hopes to carve out a major role through the Bharat Rashtra Samiti while in neighbouring Andhra Pradesh, TDP Chief N. Chandrababu Naidu is working to claw his way back into the BJP camp to take on the YSR Congress and Jagan Mohan Reddy.
In the East, Trinamool under West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee continues to play difficult and loathes the idea of the Congress sharing electoral space with the Communist Party of India (Marxist), whose two-decade plus uninterrupted government the TMC ended. Odisha remains a stronghold of Biju Janata Dal and the Congress matters little while in Bihar, the Janata Dal (United) and Rashtriya Janata Dal are back in business together.
Contradictions exist in states where regional parties are in a strong position to challenge the BJP. These outfits will not concede space to the Congress whose presence has shrunk or receded. 
Leaders of parties opposed to the BJP would evaluate the impression the Yatra  created on people and interpret the signals from the ground. While the Congress asserted Rahul Gandhi's journey was not to project him as a political alternative, in the same breath it asserted that the party will not give up its leadership role in national  politics. 
Then politics is the art of the possible. It may be pertinent to recall the sagely advice of veteran Marxist late Harkishan Surjeet to then Congress president Sonia Gandhi in January 2004 when she reached out to him as she began exploring alliances to take on the Atal Behari Vajpayee-led BJP government
Turning down any prospect of a pre-election understanding/pact, the wily leader instead suggested that each party should work to maximise presence in Parliament on the basis of its strength and  revisit the subject post the elections. The eventual result led to the formation of the United Progressive Alliance Government with the Left extending support from the outside.
As the Yatra moves towards Jammu and Kashmir, the Congress extended an invitation to 20-odd parties to join the concluding part in Srinagar and lend their support to the central message of “harmony and equality”.  What remained unsaid was the convergence of interest  - to take on the BJP. As the adage goes: “This is quite a game, politics, There are no permanent enemies , and no permanent friends,  only permanent interest”.
The author KV Prasad is a senior journalist and has earlier worked with The Hindu and The Tribune. Views expressed are personal.
Read his previous articles here
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