He logged about 3,500 kilometres and traversed 48 districts and 141 assembly segments in 26 days. As Rahul Gandhi winds up his ‘kisan yatra ín what was once a Congress citadel, Uttar Pradesh, his first such yatra after the humiliating 2014 Lok Sabha defeat, both his campaign managers and party chieftains are busy calculating and analysing what he and the party have achieved.
Has his voyage to UP altered the political narrative in the heartland state, where the Congress has been out of power since the advent of ‘mandal and kamandal’ politics? Has he managed to shed the perception that his style of politics is essentially ‘shoot and scoot’ and that he has neither the temperament nor the patience for lengthy exposures? Or has he succeeded in projecting the Congress as a serious contender in the UP sweepstakes?
Perhaps even more critically with elections around the corner, has he entered the mind space of the average UP voter? And will the Congress get the first move advantage? Election strategist Prashant Kishor believes in early bird advantage in politics.
The yatra, in fact, was not just to win the hearts and minds of the people of Uttar Pradesh but to change the political fortunes of the Congress altogether. And to establish Rahul as the rightful heir of Sonia Gandhi who had held a series of similar road shows and brought the Congress to power, dislodging the A B Vajpayee government in 2004.
It may be too early to arrive at a conclusion or indulge in a prediction given the fickle nature of Indian voters and the fact the election dates are still months away and the other parties are yet to roll out their campaign. People’s preferences crystallize closer to elections and new issues emerge.
Firstly, a piece of bad luck for Rahul: the second half of the yatra, at least in the media space, was overshadowed by the terror attack in Uri and its aftermath.
So, the analysis in his party vary. The old guard in the grand old party remain uncertain and diffident, his campaign managers confident and optimistic seeing the impressive turnouts at his meetings and the younger lot in the Congress see a glimmer of hope. Everyone is cautious and, of course, but optimistic that the Nehru-Gandhi scion will be able to turn the tide. However, cutting across age, seniority, caste and camps, all leaders feel that “party main current aa gaya.”
So, the party is charged up. It is to be seen whether the average voter will feel the same towards the Congress, ousted from power in the state 27 years ago. At the same time, it is a fact that his road shows drew large crowds. Those close to him never tire of arguing that the kisan mangpatras – demand letters for loan waiver – that the party is asking farmers to fill up elicited a massive response. Party leaders said around 75 lakh forms have already been collected.
Rahul tried to strike the right chords – visiting houses of farmers, sipping tea and having snacks with ‘commoners’ at road side shops and visiting temples, mosques and dargahs. He visited 14 temples, three mosques, six dargahs, three gurdwaras and one church, indulging in religion-laced politics to woo voters.
Personally, Rahul Gandhi has shown a stomach to fight and brought a semblance of unity in the faction-ridden and caste-riven UP unit of the party. And he exhibited a crucial leadership skill of leading from the front.
Congressmen have always given him credit for the victories and shielded him from defeats. Although the party has announced Sheila Dikshit as the chief ministerial face, Rahul, for once, has chosen to lead from the front, knowing well that it is a gamble.