Dr Ram Puniyani
Indian National Cong-ress (INC), the oldest party of the country is planning a Bharat Jodo Yatra from 7th Septem-ber, from Kanyakumari to Kashmir, a distance of 3500 KM, passing through 12 states and two union territories. The yatra is being undertaken by an electoral outfit, still on 20th August nearly 200 social activists, who generally have no direct interest in electoral politics also interacted with Rahul Gandhi and it is likely that they with their organizations will actively associate with the Yatra. Yogendra Yadav, a prominent social activist and head of Swaraj India widely circulated the appeal to the social organizations to be part of the Yatra. In an appeal Yadav he very aptly sums up the need for such a Yatra, As per him:
Never before have the values of our Republic faced as heinous an assault as they have in the recent past. Never before have hate, division and exclusion unleashed on us with such impunity.
Never before have we been subjected to surveillance, propaganda and disinformation at this scale.
Never before have we seen a regime so callous to the plight of the people while the economy lies in ruins, propped up only by a few favored cronies.
Never before have had the real nation-builders — an overwhelming majority of the farmers and workers, Dalits and Adivasis — faced such effective exclusion in the shaping of the nation’s future.
Yadav is hitting the nail on the head while summarizing today’s dismal situation. Even when BJP first came to power under Vajpayee, many social activists, who had the understanding that BJP and Congress are two sides of the same coin, did realize that BJP is different. Even when BJP was not in majority and lead the NDA coalition, it displayed its being party with a difference, its being a part of RSS combine, committed to the agenda of Hindutva, Hindu Nationalism as against Indian Nationalism. Its policies in education (Saffronization of education) and the growth of RSS shakhas during this period were phenomenonal.
The overt and covert anti Minority sentiments were out in the open. The Anti Muslim violence was duly supplemented by anti Christian violence (burning of Pastor Graham Stains 1999) by Bajrang dals Dara Singh was there to frighten those longing for democratic ethos, defence of minority rights being one of them. The foundation of corporate dominance and media being bought over began in the right earnest. Gujarat Carnage set the new low in the ferocity of communal brutality.
With BJP coming back to power in 2014, with full majority NDA was reduced to a formality and the agenda of BJP-RSS came up in full flow. The institutions meant to protect Democr-acy got undermined in due course and the cleverness of RSS affiliates in winning over sections of dalits, adivasis and even section of religious minorities was v-isible. The present political scenario is very frightful f-or the poor and religious m-inorities. The value of Ind-ian Constitution, particularly fraternity has been pu-shed to the lowest rung of ladder.
The social groups committed to better India have been looking for ways to restore democratic norms and prepare the ground for struggles for rights of the marginalized sections of society, so it seems many social groups are inclined to associate with this much needed Yatra, which aims to promote fraternity and raise people’s conscience about the worsening conditions of living on daily basis.
The economic disparities are on the upswing and citizenship rights of many are becoming a mere formality. The case of Bilkis Bano shows the modulation of social thinking where the rapists and murderers are not only being released but also being garlanded, while those struggling for the weak and oppressed like Umar Khalid are behind the bars. Mercifully Teesta Stalvad did got the bail.
Yatras in India have played diverse roles, positive as well negative. One recalls the two major yatras by Mahatma Gandhi which changed the dynamics of society. The Dandi march was a major step in anti colonial struggle, it strengthened Indian’s aspiration for Independence and infused the society with values of social reform and anti colonialism. Not surprisingly the Communal organizations kept aloof from this march. It was a meticulously organized event, which also was a major step in uniting Indians with Indian identity overarching the other identities of caste and religion.
Then Gandhi responding to Ambedkar’s struggles for social justice, in the aftermath of Mahad Tank and Kalaram Mandir agitations took the issue of caste and untouchability seriously. The seriousness was to the extent that he suspended steps towards anti-colonial struggle he took out series of yatras from 1933.
These yatras aimed at eradication of untouchability and caste hierarchy. This again united as Indians to a great extent. There are many other yatrs like the one led by Jagan Mohan reddy (For electoral gains), NTR (For coming to power), by ChandraShekhar with the broader goal of Indian Unity being the major ones. The one which had divisive impact was the Rath Yatra led by Lal Krishna Advani, BJP.
This yatra got a boost in the context of affirmative action of Mandal Commission implementation. Advani’s yatra also aimed to divide the society along religious lines. The result was stepping up of the communal violence, in the aftermath of the Advani-BJP yatra and leading eventually to Babri demolition. That process of divisive politics got a big boost from last over eight years and now the deeper spirit of fraternity, national unity are in a poor shape. Though the present Yatra is being led by a political party, the logic for social organizations associating with it are for the loftier goal of national unity.
Even those groups differing with Congress politics at some points are whole heartedly associating with this exercise as they all recognise the need to combat the communal politics and its negative impact on the national unity.
One has hopes that most of the non BJP political parties, the regional parties, the social activists and groups standing for the ‘idea of India’ as it emerged from the freedom movement and are enshrined in our Constitution will look up to this yatra as the paramount need of the hour to keep aloft the India of the dreams of Gandhi and Pa-tel, Maulana Azad and Ne-hru, Bose and Ambedkar!