Rahul Gandhi covered over 4,000 km, traversing 12 states and two Union Territories, as he walked alongside Congress leaders and workers for the Bharat Jodo Yatra. As curtains come down on the yatra, which the grand old party said was a “non-political” event, in Jammu and Kashmir on Monday, we take a look at similar foot marches and their outcomes.
In 1983, Janata Party leader Chandra Shekhar, who later went on to become the prime minister, embarked on a padyatra from Kanyakumari. Six months later, the yatra reached New Delhi and by that time his stature had risen.
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Though observers regarded the padayatra as largely a success for bring a connect between the party and citizens, dramatic political developments like Indira Gandhi’s assassination and the events that followed diluted its impact in the 1984 elections. Rajiv Gandhi swept to power riding on the sentimental wave.
In 1985, Rajiv Gandhi at an All India Congress Committee (AICC) plenary in Mumbai announced plans for Sandesh Yatra. Leaders and workers carried out the yatra simultaneously from Mumbai, Kashmir, Kanyakumari and the Northeast. The yatra concluded at Delhi’s Ramlila Maidan after over three months.
Perhaps the most noteworthy of foot marches came in 1990. Lal Krishna Advani led a Rath Yatra to give momentum to the Ram Temple movement in Ayodhya. The yatra that started in September 1990 was to cover 10,000 km and culminate in Ayodhya on October 30. It was halted in Samastipur in north Bihar and Advani was arrested.
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Observers deemed the yatra as a success as it enhanced BJP’s electoral and ideological reach. As the demand for the temple gained momentum, the BJP’s electoral fortunes also soared.
Another BJP yatra, which began with much anticipation, fizzled out as participation wasn’t encouraging. The Ekta Yatra was led by then BJP president Murli Manohar Joshi in 1991 to highlight the party’s support to national unity and its opposition to separatist movements. The yatra culminated with Joshi being airlifted to Srinagar and unfurling the national flag at Lal Chowk on January 26, 1992.
One yatra that propelled a leader to power was undertaken in 2003. Congress leader YS Rajasekhar Reddy walked 1,4000 km in sweltering heat in Andhra Pradesh. He led the Congress to a resounding victory a year later, defeating the incumbent Chandrababu Naidu-led Telugu Desam Party (TDP). YSR’s son YS Jagan Mohan Reddy is the CM of Andhra Pradesh now.
Before the 2004 Lok Sabha election, BJP’s LK Advani embarked upon the Bharat Uday Yatra to highlight India’s achievements under then prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. It was part of the India Shining campaign. It did not pay the expected electoral dividend as the BJP suffered defeat in Lok Sabha polls and Manmohan Singh began his first term as prime minister.
Taking a leaf out of his father’s political playbook, YSRCP chief YS Jagan Mohan Reddy undertook a massive Praja Sankalpa Yatra in 2017, covering over 3,500 km by foot across Andhra Pradesh before the Assembly election. The yatra helped Jagan connect with the masses and catapulted YSR Congress to power in the state.
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One yatra that brought electoral success to Congress was undertaken in 2017. Congress leader Digvijaya Singh launched the Narmada Parikrama Yatra from Barman ghat in Narsinghpur district, situated on the banks of the Narmada.
Though Singh maintained that the yatra was entirely a spiritual exercise, many observers said its political implications were evident and as it contributed to the success of the party in the 2019 assembly polls in Madhya Pradesh.
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The BJP launched a five-day Jan Ashirwad Yatra in August last year as part of which 39 Union ministers were sent to cover 22 states. The ministers undertook the Jan Ashirwad Yatras to cover 212 Lok Sabha constituencies and travel over 19,567 km to reach out to people and tell them about the government’s achievements. Pm Narendra Modi on Sunday asked his council of ministers to take the work done by their ministries for the poor and the marginalised to the middle class. The Jan Ashirwad Yatra too was part of similar outreach by the government and its impact will be evident in the upcoming 2024 general election.
Will Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Yatra pay any political dividends? That again will be tested in the 2024 polls. Although in the latest Mood of the nation poll by India Today, respondents were asked whether the 3,500-km yatra undertaken by Rahul would translate into votes for the Congress. 37 per cent said ‘no’.
(With inputs from PTI)