India opposition leader Rahul Gandhi begins two-month trek ahead of elections

India opposition leader Rahul Gandhi begins two-month trek ahead of elections

NEW DELHI: The leader of India’s main opposition party, the Indian National Congress, will set off on a march Sunday that will see him traverse the breath of the country — from the eastern state of Manipur to Maharashtra in the west.

While the party is branding Rahul Gandhi’s 15-state trek as “non-political,” most analysts see this as the start of the Congress’s election campaign as it comes just months before national polls begin. The Bharat Jodo Nyay Yatra — roughly translated as the Join India for Justice March — could help Gandhi connect with voters and raise the party’s profile.

“We have witnessed this huge amount of energy on the ground for Bharat Jodo Yatra,” K.C. Venugopal, general secretary of the party, said at a press conference on Wednesday. He described the march as apolitical and for the benefit of Indians, adding “we are seeking justice for the people.”

The march, alongside the creation of an alliance that comprises most of India’s biggest opposition groups, is an attempt by the Congress party to stop the electoral juggernaut of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party. The BJP has dominated the past two national elections and handily won three key state elections recently.

Gandhi, scion of the Gandhi-Nehru dynasty, will travel on foot and by bus. This is the second such march he has undertaken in recent years. His previous trek, from India’s southern-most tip to the northern region of Kashmir, was widely credited for the party’s electoral success in the state of Karnataka in early 2023.

A pamphlet released by the Congress party ahead of the march states it is an attempt at listening to the economic, social, and political concerns that citizens face. The Congress accused Modi’s government of ignoring the poor and working more toward enriching India’s wealthiest.

The march intends to cover around 4,171 miles and will begin in one of India’s most volatile states, Manipur. For more than nine months, the BJP-governed state has seen intense ethnic violence which has resulted in hundreds of deaths and tens of thousands displaced. The Indian government has faced harsh criticism over its handling of the unrest.

After strategically selecting Manipur as the starting point, Gandhi will then travel through some of the most electorally important states, including West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, and Bihar, that collectively account for 162 out of the 543 seats in the lower house of parliament. The 15 states he will traverse sends 357 members to parliament.

In the previous march, Gandhi tried to shed what critics have described as an elitist and privileged image by walking much of the route while talking with people about their concerns, including on the lack of employment, income inequality and human rights.

The new trek is expected to end in late March in Mumbai, just as the country is expected to head to the polls.

Courtesy: Bloomberg