Can Rahul Gandhi’s 6,700-km ‘march for justice’ revive India’s grand old party?

By David Asta Alares

New Delhi, Jan 14 (EFE).- Rahul Gandhi, a scion of India’s longest-ruling political family, began a 6,700-kilometer walk on Sunday that will take him from the east to west of the country in just over two months, concluding weeks before the general elections in April–May 2024.

With a vague slogan of seeking “justice,” the 53-year-old politician from the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty hopes to underline crucial issues like unemployment and polarization in India to counter the policies of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is seeking a third consecutive term in the elections.

“We are returning to be back among our people, (to stand up) against injustice and arrogance by raising slogans for justice,” Gandhi wrote on the social network X days before the march began in the troubled northeastern state of Manipur.

“I have pledged on the path of truth. This journey will continue until we get our right to justice,” said the great-grandson, grandson, and son of former prime ministers Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi, and Rajiv Gandhi respectively.

The long march will take him through 15 states over the next 66 days, finishing Mumbai, the financial capital of India.

Gandhi began his journey in Manipur, a state ravaged by months of ethnic violence that has left more than 175 dead.

The choice is far from ordinary, amid accusations that Modi has not taken the time to visit the state and call for peace in the troubled region.

The Indian National Congress party, embroiled in the thorny task of deciding how to take power in the elections with a coalition of opposition parties, hopes that the march will reinforce the image of a leader, described as a man of few talents by Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) more than a decade.

It is also to rid himself of his status as a privileged politician who grew up isolated in a bubble after his grandmother, then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was assassinated by her bodyguards in 1984.

Seven years later, his father was blown into pieces by a suicide bomber associated with Sri Lankan ethnic Tamil guerrillas in 1991.

According to his admirers, Gandhi accomplished the mission of making India’s oldest political party relevant again to some extent during his first march between September 2022 and January 2023, covering 3,500 km from south to north.

“By walking on the road, he was trying to interact with the Indian people, listen to them, and pass on the message as the principal leader of the principal opposition party,” according to Pranav Jha from the Congress party’s communication department.

“A lot of people doubted him initially. With his commitment, his perseverance, and his ability, he managed to do it, and they realised that he is a serious guy.”

At that time, the opposition party stated that the march was not aimed at presenting Gandhi as a prime ministerial candidate, nor did it have electoral purposes.

So, what is the purpose of this one, so close to the elections?

“The Congress has, of course, not clearly stated that this has an electoral purpose…they have not made it amply clear that this (march) is about taking on Modi and dislodging him from power,”,” said Sugata Srinivasaraju, author of the recently published book, “Strange Burdens: The Politics and Predicaments of Rahul Gandhi Kindle Edition.”

During the first march, when his bushy beard and refusal to dress warmly in the cold northern region of India became the focus of media attention, Srinivasaraju expected Gandhi to receive benevolent attention from the public.

“But there is yet another problem, which is even if he creates euphoria in the states where he is walking, the Congress infrastructure, that is the organizational infrastructure, is completely broken in these states,” the author said.

The once-mighty Indian National Congress, which led the fight for independence from the British Empire, has plunged into a political wilderness after being out of power for a decade now, besides losing many key regional elections one after the other.

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