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Amid ‘strains of unity’, Congress begins Bharat Jodo march in Karnataka

Siddaramaiah and Shivakumar who are at loggerheads with each other play drums along with Rahul Gandhi, accompany him as he begins 21-day leg of tour.

Rahul Gandhi with DK Shivakumar (Left) and former Chief Minister Siddaramaiah on the Karnataka leg of the Congress’s Bharat Jodo Yatra. (Express photo by Jithendra M)

Each of them playing the drums, Siddaramaiah, DK Shivakumar, and Rahul Gandhi sent out a message of unity as the Karnataka leg of the Congress’s Bharat Jodo Yatra began from Gundlupet on Friday.

For months, there have been reports of a divide between former Chief Minister Siddaramaiah and Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC) chief Shivakumar. Both are said to be nursing chief ministerial ambitions and over a week ago Shivakumar pulled up some party colleagues for allegedly not stepping up to make the yatra a success. The target of his attack was the Siddaramaiah faction.

This time, it was again up to Rahul to get the two heavyweight leaders to publicly come together and project an image of bonhomie in the KPCC ahead of next year’s Assembly elections. In August, with Rahul watching, Siddaramaiah and Shivakumar hugged each other on the occasion of the 75th birthday celebrations of the former CM in Davangere.

At the event in Gundlupet, Rahul, Siddaramaiah, and Shivakumar initially played the drums placed in front of them on the stage by themselves. Then, the former Congress president handed over a drumstick each to the state heavyweights and all three played the drums together. With this, the Karnataka leg of the yatra was underway, the symbolism not lost on anyone. As Rahul began the march toward Begur, he was flanked by the two state Congress leaders and was seen holding their hands.

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The BJP was quick to poke fun at the Opposition party. “Is it Bharat Jodo Yatra or Siddu (Siddaramaiah)-DKShi (DK Shivakumar) Jodo Yatra?” the ruling party’s state unit quipped on Twitter.

Congress leaders, however, said the images from the yatra were an encouraging sign. A Congress MLA, who requested anonymity, said the emphasis on party unity was essential as fissures between the two senior state leaders had crept up often.

“Recently, Shivakumar was at loggerheads with veteran leader RS Deshpande over mobilising 5,000 people from his constituency. Deshpande, who is identified with the Siddaramaiah camp, was subsequently not included in the panels set up by the Congress to prepare for the yatra,” the MLA said.

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On Friday, both Shivakumar and Deshpande were seated next to each other. This, according to the MLA, goes on to show that the call for unity is being heeded at some level. “It is also made clear to the two camps that such bickering, if not nipped in the bud, will cost the party dear.”

According to the party, around 20,000 people are estimated to have participated on the first day of the event. KPCC working president Salim Ahmed said around 10,000 people participated in the first half of the march from Gundlupet to Panjanahalli, which is around four km from the starting point. “Both Siddaramaiah and Shivakumar walked the distance and will accompany him (Rahul) in the second half of the march towards Begur,” he said.

Most of those who walked with the former Congress president were from neighbouring constituencies. Several arrived with the sole objective of catching a glimpse of the Congress leader from up close. The much debated and controversial “PayCM” campaign also featured at the march as a group of activists from the National Students’ Union of India (NSUI), the students’ wing of the Congress, wore T-shirts with a QR code image of Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai.

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NSUI state vice-president Jayander Rajput said the campaign was part of the march as the organisation wanted to highlight “corruption” in awarding scholarships and work related to educational institutions. “Through this Bharat Jodo Yatra, we are creating awareness among the youth about rampant corruption in the state,” he said.

Yatra goals

In the Karnataka phase of the yatra — one of the longest in the itinerary at 21 days and 511 kilometres — Rahul Gandhi will look to galvanise support and build bridges for the faction-ridden state unit before the polls next year.

The route of the march also hints that the party’s objective is to revive support in the Vokkaliga heartland of the Old Mysore region where the party performed below expectations in the 2018 Assembly polls. The constituency of Gundlupet was a Congress stronghold before the BJP made inroads and won it in 2018. The yatra will then move towards Nanjangud, where the party suffered a similar fate in the last elections. Mandya, Tumakuru, and Chitradurga districts, where the grand old party aspires to revive its prospects after suffering badly in 2018, are also on the planned route.

Rahul, with his interactions and meetings, is also expected to reach out to several demographic groups, tacitly seeking their support. Prominent mutts of south Karnataka, which wield great influence among Lingayats and Vokkaligas, among the two most electorally crucial communities in Karnataka, are also on the radar during the 21-day march. While a visit to the powerful Lingayat mutt of Suttur is likely when Congress leaders take a two-day break to participate in the famous Mysuru Dasara festival, Rahul is expected to stay at the Adichunchangari mutt in Nagamangala taluk, a mutt patronised by Vokkaligas.

First published on: 30-09-2022 at 09:46:59 pm
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