NEW DELHI, Jan 4: Though it will mainly be a Congress show, the Grand Old Party is trying to make it a mega event of the entire INDIA bloc by inviting leaders of all the opposition parties to flag off the second leg of the “Bharat Jodo Yatra,” this time from east to west, to be led by its former president Rahul Gandhi.
The 66-day 6,700-km march will begin on January 14 from Imphal, the state capital of Manipur, and will cover 15 states and over 100 Lok Sabha constituencies, before culminating at Gujarat’s Porbandar, the birthplace of Mahatma Gandhi, on March 20. The second leg of the Yatra would be called “Bharat Jodo Nyaya Yatra” with “Nyaya” added to the first leg of the Yatra which was led by Mr Gandhi from Kanyakumari to Srinagar last year.
Senior Congress leader Jairam Ramesh said they decided to add the word “Nyaya” to recreate the impact generated by last year’s Bharat Jodo Yatra. “The idea of Rahul Gandhi’s Yatra is Justice. The objective is to ensure political, economic and social justice for people of India,” Mr Ramesh said. The decision to begin the Yatra from Manipur, instead of Arunachal Pradesh as was the party’s plan earlier, also signified a nod to the north-eastern state that’s still struggling to overcome months of unabated ethnic violence.
The details of the Yatra was finalised at a meeting party general secretaries, State in-charges, State unit chiefs and Congress Legislature Party leaders at the party headquarters in New Delhi held on Thursday convened by the Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge. Senior Congress leaders from across the country attended the meeting which besides finalising the Yatra also discussed the strategy for seat-sharing among the opposition INDIA bloc in the coming Lok Sabha elections. Mr Gandhi was also present at the meeting.
The Congress leaders had claimed that the Bharat Jodo first leg Kanyakumari-Srinagar Yatra, which traversed India from south to north between September 2022 and January 2023, had generated much goodwill and had also changed the perspective of many towards Mr Gandhi as a serious political leader with a warmth towards people. The Bharat Jodo Nyaya Yatra will begin from Imphal at 12.30 pm. It will pass through Manipur, Nagaland, Assam, Arunanchal Pradesh, Meghalaya and West Bengal before reaching central India.
Unlike the last time though, the Yatra will not be entirely on foot. For parts of the journey, the party will use buses, Jairam Ramesh told reporters this afternoon. The change is as much due to time constraint imposed by the general election as the health concerns of the party’s elderly leaders. More than one leader had suffered last year due to the exertion they faced in keeping up pace with the superbly fit Rahul Gandhi.
“We are inviting leaders of all the parties of INDIA alliance, their supporters, the general public and NGOs to participate in the Yatra,” Mr Ramesh said. All Chief Ministers belonging to the opposition bloc would be present at Imphal to flag off the Yatra, the Congress said. Asked if Arvind Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party – which has not pulled punches where the Congress is concerned – will be invited, Mr Ramesh said all parties that are part of the INDIA bloc have been invited. “And AAP and Arvind Kejriwal are part of INDIA,” he pointed out.
Thursday’s Congress meeting was the first of the newly appointed party officials after Mr Kharge carried out a reshuffle in December. Ahead of the meeting, former Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot said two meetings of the internal Congress committee were held to deliberate on seat sharing with other parties. “The committee will now present its report to party president Mallikarjun Kharge and Rahul Gandhi. We will be meeting again to discuss strategies to strengthen the INDIA alliance and address seat-sharing issues,” Mr Gehlot said.
The Congress has been out of power for 10 years and is now banking on the INDIA bloc to unitedly take on the BJP and oust it from power. The Congress leadership has held separate meetings with State leaders and discussed the poll preparedness in their respective States in the past few months.
Meanwhile, the founder of YSR Telangana Party Y.S. Sharmila, the daughter of former Andhra Pradesh chief minister Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy and sister of incumbent A.P. Chief Minister Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy, on Thursday formally joined the Congress. She joined the party at the Delhi meeting in the presence of Mr Kharge, Mr Gandhi and other senior leaders. She also announced the merger of her YSR Telangana Congress with the Congress, and said she would fulfil any responsibility given to her.
Ms Sharmila has joined the Congress after months of speculation in the run up to the Telangana assembly elections and it is widely expected that she will be given an important role in the party. She has had long standing feud with her brother the AP chief minister who leads the YSR Congress. “Today, I am very happy to be merging YSR Telangana party into the Congress party. It gives me immense joy that the YSR Telangana Party is going to be a part of the Indian National Congress from today onwards,” she said addressing the media.
“Congress party,” she added remains the “largest secular party of our country” and “it has always upheld the true culture of India and built foundations of our nation.” Ahead of the assembly elections Ms Sharmila had declared that her party would contest on all the 119 seats. But later she backed out, supporting the Congress instead and helped the party to capture power in the state ousting the Bharat Rashtra Samithi of the former Telangana chief minister KC Rao.