Bharat Jodo Nyay Yatra: A springboard for the Indian National Congress's path back to power?

A flag displaying the text in Hindi - Bharat Jodo Nyay Yatra (India Unity and Justice March). Image via Wikipedia. Public Domain.

A flag displaying the text in Hindi “Bharat Jodo Nyay Yatra” (India Unity and Justice March). Image via Wikipedia. Public Domain.

India's next general election is on the horizon, and, with only a few months remaining, political parties are gearing up for the race to be elected to form the next government. The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has already unofficially initiated its campaign, leveraging the consecration ceremony of a controversial temple to the Hindu deity Ram in the city of Ayodhya, aiming to gain an advantage in the upcoming election. The primary opposition, the Indian National Congress (INC), has formed an alliance named the Indian National Development Inclusive Alliance, widely known as “INDIA,” to counter the BJP. Moreover, The INC has laid out a campaign roadmap to enhance the party's popularity among the people in preparation for the election.

On December 27, 2023, the INC announced the Bharat Jodo Nyay Yatra (India Unity and Justice March). This socio-economic justice rally is spearheaded by the former president of the INC, Rahul Gandhi, the great-grandson of India's first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru, whose family has always headed the INC. The march, a sequel to the preceding Bharat Jodo Yatra (Unite India March), is designed to traverse various Indian states, particularly those not covered in the earlier journey. Focusing on the eastern to southern regions of India, the march aims to foster the grassroot-level involvement of people and create political awareness in preparation for the elections in April 2024.

The rally spans 15 Indian states over 66 days, covering more than 6,700 kilometers. Unlike the previous Bharat Jodo Yatra, this tour will combine bus journeys with pedestrian sections. The rally primarily focuses on three nyays (principles of justice) for the people of India: social justice, economic justice, and political justice.

The march is also politically crucial as it covers 355 constituencies of the Lok Sabha (the lower house of parliament) out of a total of 545, accounting for 65 percent of the seats. The BJP won in 236 out of the 355 seats during the 2019 general elections.

Bharat Jodo Nyay Yatra commences in Manipur

The march commenced on January 14 from Thoubal district in the northeast Indian state of Manipur. The state has been racked by inter-community violence since May 2023. Originally scheduled to start from the state's capital, Imphal, the march was denied permission by the BJP-led state government.

During the rally in Manipur, Gandhi passed through many areas that experienced recent violence and appealed for unity and peace. In May 2023, ethnic tensions erupted in Manipur between the predominant Hindu Meitei community and the minority Christian Kuki community. The conflict has resulted in the displacement of up to 60,000 people and hundreds of ongoing fatalities in the state.

Gandhi engaged with numerous human rights activists and other stakeholders in Manipur, listening to their grievances. He also criticized India's prime minister, Narendra Modi, for not visiting the state since the violence began, and accused him of allowing people to suffer instead of pacifying the stakeholders.

Later, he posted a video on YouTube of his engagement with human rights activists of Manipur:

The rally enters Nagaland

On January 15, the march entered the state of Nagaland, covering 257 kilometers in the span of two days. In Nagaland, Gandhi addressed issues related to infrastructure development, focusing on improving living standards and providing essential facilities such as high-quality education, hospitals, and electrification in hill villages.

Gandhi also criticized the BJP-led central government and Prime Minister Narendra Modi for their failure to implement the Naga Peace Accord. The accord constitutes a peace agreement between the Government of India and the National Socialist Council of Nagaland, a militant separatist organization, with the aim of ending the insurgency in the state. Despite the passage of years, the Indian government has yet to fulfill the commitments made to the people of Nagaland as per the accord. The implementation of this agreement holds significance for the people of Nagaland, offering the potential to establish enduring peace in the state after years of insurgency.

Resistance in Assam

On January 18, the rally entered Assam, the state where Gandhi spent the longest duration of his visit, covering a distance of 833 kilometers over 8 days.

In Assam, the march consistently faced obstacles as the BJP-led state government imposed restrictions on several proposed routes. In the state capital Guwahati, the INC aimed to facilitate the rally's entry through the city, but this was denied, citing reasons such as traffic and emergencies at hospitals.

Assam’s chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma taunted the march by labeling it “miyan yatra.” The term “miyan” is used as a derogatory label targeting Muslims of the state, who are usually classified as Bangladeshi migrants origin living in the state of Assam. The chief minister thus conjectured that the rally would predominantly attract Muslim voters only.

On January 19, the night before the scheduled rally in the Lakhimpur district of Assam, many members of Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha (BJYM), the youth wing of the BJP attacked and tore apart the march's banners and posters. The INC also claimed that members of the BJP had attacked many of their members and their vehicles. The Assam Pradesh Youth Congress (the INC's state youth wing) shared a video on Facebook of the Lakhimpur incident.

Similarly, on January 21, Assam Pradesh Congress President Bhupen Borah was injured in a scuffle with BJP supporters.

Indian academic Ashok Swain posted on X:

On January 22, Rahul Gandhi was on his way to visit Batradev Temple in the Nagaon district. However, the temple administration denied him entry to the temple before 3 p.m., claiming that ongoing celebrations for the consecration of the Ram Temple in Ayodhya could create chaos between the supporters of both parties.

On January 23, the INC and Rahul Gandhi were on their way to enter Guwahati for the rally, but they were stopped by barricades placed by the Assam Police. A major scuffle happened between the police and INC workers, who destroyed some barricades.

Later that day, the Assam chief minister instructed Assam Police to register a case against Gandhi and threatened to arrest him.

However, the march peacefully concluded after Guwahati, with tremendous support. Gandhi addressed a massive rally in Dhubri, near the India-Bangladesh border in Assam, on January 24. Throughout the journey, Gandhi also claimed that the Assam chief minister is the most corrupt chief minister in India and appealed to the people to bring justice for Assam.

The rally in West Bengal

The rally entered West Bengal on January 25 but was given a break for two days, resuming on January 28. It is now in West Bengal en route to Bihar. The march will spend the highest number of days (11) in the politically crucial state of Uttar Pradesh, where the newly consecrated Ram Temple is located, and will end in Maharashtra.

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