Somewhere among the thousands of hoardings, banners and posters lining both sides of the road in Jhalawar along the Bharat Jodo Yatra route, from where Rahul Gandhi entered Rajasthan from Madhya Pradesh Sunday evening, a quiet poster war goes on.
The posters reflect not only the mood and loyalties on the ground, but also caste loyalties cutting across factions.
Predictably, the tallest and only cut-outs are those of Rahul. The hoardings and banners put up by the Pradesh Congress Committee, the Indian Youth Congress and others feature a larger-than-life image of Rahul. One of the hoardings shows the leader hugging two elderly women. One of those by IYC, also with a large photo of Rahul, lists some yatra data — ‘150+ days, 3500 kms’ — with the hashtag unemployment.
But other hoardings betray the divisions the party has been trying hard to curb.
Former NSUI state president Meenakshi Chandrawat’s hoardings have photos of Rahul and Gehlot, with no sign of Pilot.
One hoarding by Congress leader Ramsingh Meena of Aklera has Rahul as its largest photograph, followed by Gehlot. Others in the hoarding are ministers Ramesh Meena, Parsadi Lal Meena and Murari Lal Meena; of them, Murari Lal is in Pilot’s camp but is from the same caste as Ramsingh.
On Suratram Gurjar’s hoardings, Pilot’s face is easily spotted adjacent to Rahul’s. The same goes for hoardings put up by Shailendra Yadav and corporator Mangal Gurjar.
Similarly, Suresh Gurjar, who contested on a Congress ticket from Khanpur (in Jhalawar) in 2018 but lost to BJP, has Rahul and Pilot on either end of the scores of his hoardings; only in a lone arch hoarding spanning the width of the road and set up by Suresh, is Gehlot’s image bigger than Pilot’s.
Party leader Divya Singh Gurjar has photos of Rahul and Pilot on the hoarding, apart from Women’s Commission Chairman Rehana Reyaz.
It is almost difficult to tell who figures more in the hoardings, Gehlot or Pilot, although Pilot seems to have an edge. Firmly in power, the Gehlot camp doesn’t seem insecure about its position in the hoarding game. More hoardings by Pilot supporters may indicate the restlessness among his loyalists.
Beyond the hoardings, the divisions and the undertones are on the ground too, be it factional, or between youth versus experience. Pilot covered the first day’s entire distance on foot and Gehlot joined the yatra on foot for the first few minutes in the morning, even though he was said to be unwell.
Waiting for Rahul at Piplod in Jhalawar, Ashok Kumar, 40, who lives in Ghatoli, Jhalawar, raves about Gehlot and is quick to reel off the achievements of his government: “Under Chiranjeevi you have health insurance up to Rs 10 lakh, there is Rs 5 lakh compensation to farmers if they die working in the field, there is no state which does that…”
Expressing confidence in Rahul and Gehlot, Kailash, 52, also a local, believes that the yatra will compel the Union government to check inflation. Sitting next to him, Ranjit Singh, 60, of Bhawani Mandi in Jhalawar, says: “The Gehlot government might come again due to the yatra.” But he adds: “Madam bhi badhiya hain (is also good).”
Singh’s words revealed a common phenomenon in political rallies, but perhaps more so at a Congress yatra in Jhalawar: some people who joined the march in the district seem to have Congress on their lips but former chief minister Vasundhara Raje in their hearts. Jhalawar is a Raje stronghold and her son Dushyant Singh is the Lok Sabha MP from Jhalawar-Baran.
Another local Raju Bhai, 37, echoes Ranjit. He feels that the Congress will return to power due to “bad policies of BJP such as on GST and inflation”, before turning to praise for Raje.
With BJP, Raju has a love-hate relationship: “Zameen kum patwari zyada hain BJP mein. Our preference is Ashok Gehlot or Raje. During Covid, we heard of cane charge in other states but the administration here was better. The CM provided us meals for Rs 8 and madam provided us oxygen… BJP is in Rajasthan because of her. If there’s no madam, there’s no BJP.”
Then, among the youth, Pilot seems a clear favourite.
Pradeep Gurjar, 20, a BA II student wears a fluorescent green t-shirt that says ‘Gurjar’ in front and ‘Gurjar Sultan’ at the back. “If Pilot isn’t made the CM, BJP will come to power,” he says. His friend Ajay Gurjar, 24, who runs a cloth shop, says, “Even if you make him the CM face, Congress will return.”
Why Pilot though? “He’s youth, and youth is the future.” With Pilot’s detractors sometimes claiming that he may leave the party if not made the CM, Ajay says: “Wherever he goes we’ll be with him.”
Like some Gehlot supporters, Pilot supporter Ajay also has praise for Raje; his affiliation with Pilot may stem from caste while praise for Raje may come from the former CM’s ground work: “During Covid, she had an oxygen plant imported,” he said, referring to apparatus sent by the UK and brought to Jhalawar in May 2021.
It seems that it is only if the participants rise beyond their many divisions, their vision for the yatra would align with that of Rahul Gandhi himself.
Anil Balsori, 31, is among the hundreds of supporters of Begun MLA Bidhuri Rajendra Singh who joined the yatra on day one in Jhalawar. “I expect the yatra to lead to changes. The youth are being made to fight with each other. Years ago, when I was in class 9 or 10, I felt we are all united as a society, but now there’s a strong division everywhere. Why have attacks on temples and mosques increased manifold, why have the communal riots increased? They have increased under the BJP at the Centre. What Narendra Modi and Amit Shah are doing isn’t helping the country.”
Despite the many divisions and contradictions, the Yatra started on the right foot in Rajasthan with a massive rally on day one, with tens of thousands of people joining in. Congress leader Jairam Ramesh said that the yatra “from Nahardi to Jhalrapatan in Jhalawar district was, to put it mildly, simply awesome! The crowds were huge with very large numbers of women giving a very warm and enthusiastic welcome. Very first day in Rajasthan has set a scorching pace!”