One of the most important initiatives to be taken by any political parties in recent times, the 3570 km. Bharat Jodo Yatra from Kanyakumari to Kashmir, passing through 12 states and 2 union territories and spread over around 5 months, covering on average 22 km. in 6.5 hours every day, has raised high hopes at a time of increasing problems. This march of 118 Congress leaders including Rahul Gandhi ( and others who will join at various points) has been discussed in media as being important for strengthening grassroots connectivity of the Congress Party, but its wider importance extends beyond this to strengthening communal harmony and national integration, one of the most important requirements for India to be great, for the ‘idea that is India’, yet something that has been increasing neglected in the recent years of majoritarian agenda of NDA/BJP regime.
The minorities, particularly the Muslim community, have been feeling increasingly insecure and apprehensive during the last 8 years or so. Among all weaker sections there is increasing economic distress and marginalization as the informal, unorganized sector workers and small entrepreneurs have taken one hit after another in the form of demonetization (an unmitigated disaster), flawed GST, lockdowns which were more stringent and prolonged than what was needed and arbitrary cuts in budgetary allocations for many programs meant for weaker sections (even as corporate taxes were reduced). Some of the highest recorded unemployment rates have been seen in these times. This has happened within a regime of extremely high and increasing inequalities—the ever growing fortunes of a select group of billionaires together with the increasing difficulties of the struggle for survival of millions. According to the latest World Inequality Report, the inequality level in India has increase rapidly in recent years to come close to colonial times, one aspect of the 75th anniversaty of independence which is never mentioned on official statements.
What is no less worrying is that the ongoing BJP/NDA agenda of privatization, crony capitalism and prioritization of big business interests appears set to further add to economic inequalities and marginalization of weaker sections. True, the government has in place several welfare schemes for weaker sections and keeps announcing new ones too, but the real benefits of these schemes are actually much less than what is publicized, and these cannot offset the reverses inflicted on the common people by the big business orientation of government policies.
As has been seen repeatedly in many countries and times, regimes which follow such economic policies in turn tend to follow a majoritarian agenda in which the problems arising from their policies can be blamed on sections of people, mainly religious or other minorities, and the anger or frustration of people can be diverted. Hence economic policies of inequality and exclusion are related to and are complemented by policies of social exclusion and victimization. Those who challenge this agenda must not just understand these linkages, they must be able to expose this.
This can only be done on the basis of continuing close contacts with the reality at grassroots. In this context a big effort such as the Bharat Jodo Yatra can be very helpful for Congress as well as the various other groups and individuals with broadly similar objectives who are cooperating in this yatra and its mobilization efforts.
To be able to realize the full potential of this yatra, it would be very useful to take care to give foremost attention to understanding the real needs of people, while spending only the minimal effort and time in the formal aspects. The country really needs to understand and evolve the program which can bring the most immediate relief as well as longer-term sustainable development to people, which can increase inclusiveness and equality in significant ways, and the Bharat Jodo Yatra can be helpful to this.
Communal discord has been one of the biggest causes of human distress in South Asia and the efforts to reduce this distress must be ever-continuing, not confined just to crisis situations. In this context Bharat Jodo Yatra should be seen as a big opportunity for promoting communal harmony. It is not just what is communicated in the course of the yatra that is important, but what these close consultations and dialogues achieve in terms of follow-up actions as well as constructive, creative ideas for work with continuity in future.
Several independent groups are very involved with issues like communal harmony but they may not have not had any opportunity to work with any wider, national level force.This yatra can provide an opportunity for linkages to be made among various groups to take further the cause of communal harmony and national integration, much more than what can be achieved without such linkages.