Bharat Jodo Yatra and the Urgent Need for a Second Awakening of the Spirit of India
- At a time when the country is bleeding with hate and bigotry, the march was like a preemptive band-aid. A balm of love in a country that is brimming with hatred.
India as a formal country came into being in 1947.
Much before it came into being in the form we know today, it was countless princely states, influenced culturally by its many invasions, a melting pot of many regions, languages, religions, and people very unlike each other but holding some geographical and cultural commonalities from being governed by many dynasties that glued them together into a mythical whole.
The past century roughly starting from the 1920s to the now, saw two very critical definitions of India emerge – both of which shape our lives, politics, and the conflicts even today.
One view was that the multicultural aspect of India was what made it vibrant and a melting pot. And the glue that would hold it all together would be mutual respect for all. This also stemmed from the culture of the Indian National Congress during the freedom struggle. Democracy and secularism were natural extensions of this belief, and all efforts post-independence was spent on establishing, educating, and nurturing this glue. Of course, it had its challenges, but it also brought a region that was so varied across its terrain to come together into a fresh common story. It also brought to the Indian National Congress during the Freedom struggle and to India, a new breed of youngsters from across its land, most of them educated, intellectual and ready to put their energies into the cause of the nation. They came in all types and backgrounds – restless, curious, belligerent, intense, angry, bold, and fearless. Dreamers, intellectuals, firebrands, outliers.
In the first few decades post-independence, considerable effort was made to ensure that the country stayed united as a whole. Unity in diversity and celebration of the multi-cultural aspect was a part of being an Indian. The country stood uniformly ashamed of its poverty or third-world status but in most other aspects, there was the glue of diversity that made one feel Indian. Post Partition, the view was that all those who remained in India, all those who loved India, all those who migrated, and all those who had her best interests at heart were essentially Indian. The definition of what India stood for was more expansive. Inclusive.
The other view of India was that the basic Hindu ethos of the entire region was the common glue that held and still holds the country together. Those who hold this belief preferred to see India through a Hindu lens and all its people as firstly Hindus where some have through various compulsions shifted to other religions. They see the country as essentially a Hindu nation with practicing Hindus as its natural citizens and all others as secondary citizens who have thrived under Hindu benevolence. The fundamental acceptance of a person as an Indian according to this view is the acceptance that they are currently Hindu or should admit to having Hindu origins, influence or antiquity to claim their right to Indianhood.
There was a natural othering of many communities especially centered around the partition, where the feeling was that those who chose to remain behind in India were duty-bound to accept the Hindu way of life as the basic practice of the land. People who subscribe to this glue of what holds India together take great pride in ensuring that the supremacy of the Hindus is ensured in every aspect. There was a certain wounded victimhood that was seething under the surface at the shift to Democracy and what was perceived as a western model for an Indian Hindu nation. Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated for this very reason, for insisting that India was for all and not Hindus alone.
These two essentially different views of India and what it means to be Indian have been the story of India, the Congress post-independence, and now the resurgent BJP backed by the RSS and other bodies. These two ideas of India have their followers and dissenters on both sides. Each is strongly convinced about their version of the nation. Each claiming their patriotism for the country.
A lot of India that was shaped by the Indian National Congress over decades in terms of social change or inclusive societies are systematically re-organized and re-drawn over the last eight years to ensure that Hindu majoritarianism has become the norm. This is viewed by many as restoring the natural order of things. This was a plan a long time in the making. While the Indian National Congress pitched its energies to nation-building for the bulk of the young nation’s history, the parties which had no such responsibilities and held the Hindu supremacy version of the nation had the luxury of building their parties and ensuring they build their ranks and spread their alternate vision for the country.
The Indian National Congress was not very smart at perception management, being rather complacent that all the credit for building a nation from scratch was a natural narrative known to every Indian. It focused on performance management and trying to create a more even society of inclusion, taking it for granted that the story of modern India was by default the story of the Indian National Congress and there was no reason to flaunt it or sell that success story leaving much of the credit of its work to be usurped by the parties that ruled after. Perception management is still a huge challenge for the Indian National Congress, and it is no match for the utterly savvy Bhartiya Janata Party.
Lynchings, court rulings, reframing laws, intimidation through institutions, clamping down on protests, reducing the social and political space of the minorities … a lot of change has crept into India in the last eight years. Some are driven by intent, and also aided by the changed global sensibilities. Equally so, the average Indian who earlier used to be shy and withdrawn and lacking confidence today armed with factually incorrect WhatsApp knowledge is a bolder, more vocal citizen.
There is a new confidence and belligerence to being Indian. Both in India and outside. All social media spaces, all boycotts, and discussions are dominated by Indians. Most of the fortune 500 Companies are headed by Indians or those of Indian origin. The current political establishment is digitally savvy and extremely good and successful at perception management. If the Congress party laid its claim to the telecom, white, green revolution and liberalization, the digitalization story of India rests largely with the BJP. Along with building a narrative of a loud India and proud India.
The shrinking political voice of opposition, reduced footprint of regional political parties except in few states, lesser representation and allocation of funds and resources for states that were not favorable to the ruling party, the refusal to answer queries or the unwillingness to be held accountable, the steady reduction of checks and balances, the closure of many institutions, crony-capitalism, the weakened media and other pillars of democracy … the list is rather long regarding the changed landscape.
Equally so is the high digitization, complete control of media, stringent laws to crack down dissent and other measures ensuring that only a new ‘positive image’ of India or its ruling party leaders is allowed. Any criticism is perceived as against the nation’s interest. The majoritarian Hindu voice has to be the loudest, drowning all other voices in the country to whispers. Every day the idea of a Hindu nation was sneaked into the narrative everywhere until it has now become the new normal. Hate has become a reasonable new social behavior and is perfectly acceptable.
During this same period, the funds, and resources available with the ruling party and its allies, its increasing global footprint and influence, the immense public relations and image building underway, the brilliant strategy for capitalizing on gaps and also the growing political clout outside India has finally brought things to a head – the huge need to reclaim India, the people, the parts that still believe in multiculturalism. In democracy. In the constitution. In the federal structure. There was a need to revive the legacy of the spirit of India and also the Indians that made freedom possible in 1947. There was an urgent need to reclaim the fast-erasing memory of that spirit of a simpler India, a more united India and an India bound more by love than hate. An India for all.
There was an urgent need for a second awakening of the spirit of India.
The Bharat Jodo almost appears to strengthen this pledge and pass the test.
History can be rewritten or attempted to be rewritten in many ways. Sometimes by convenient erasure. And a few times by going back to our roots.
We always go back to our roots when we need to seek answers that have a soul. And find that buried deep within is the basic undying truths that need to be reimagined. A large part of the structure of the Bharat Jodo is the reimagining of old eternal truths that once fueled the Indian National Congress during its formative years of the freedom struggle to frame the structure and resilience of the yatra and its simplicity.
The Bharat Jodo was a humble attempt to recapture the truth from our roots. Some of the Gandhian Principles and values were an integral part of the Bharat Jodo.
- Inclusivity – That there should be no discrimination based on color, caste, creed, gender, religion, or region.
- Truth – Answers must be sought after deep thought within, and the simplest most humble mode of protest or connection sought.
- All efforts must have the seed of love and connection toward all.
- It must induce dialogues that are mutually respectful.
- There must be some physical pain or hardship involved. Gandhiji usually took up fasting or called for long walks either in protest or harmony.
- Dialogues, conversations, press meets, and other activities were part of the original Congress sessions during the freedom movement. They were an integral part of the Bharat Jodo.
- It must have the spirit of forgiveness so that communities that felt alienated could feel a part of the collective.
- It must be done with awareness and dedication. There were no shortcuts, and one went all the way.
- It had to be fearless, Abhaya was at the core of the Gandhian Principle.
- Asprishyata nivarana – Removal of untouchability. This was reimagined as hugging and interacting with people across communities, economic strata, and backgrounds without any discrimination.
- The core belief of Gandhi was that change began with you. That every one of us irrespective of our position in life was part of the change and could play a part in it however small or large. It was how so many ordinary Indians could become such an integral part of the struggle.
- Gandhiji believed the true India was in its villages. It was mostly through villages and smaller towns that the Bharat Jodo traversed.
- Gandhiji always believed in order to lead, one must know the land and the landless deeply. One must travel across the country to know its people. Gandhi had insisted that Nehru travel across India to learn about her many nuances before throwing himself into the service of the country. There was a need for a leader to bring such a humble initiative again.
- The immense learning it offered to all those who were part of the Bharat Jodo Yatra in learning about the various cultures, people, languages, food and region
- Gandhi’s slogan was DO or die so there was to be no stopping a mission once started and it is indeed a great achievement that the entire Bharat Jodo yatra could take place without any untoward experience.
- Gandhiji always aimed for a higher moral ground and tried to push himself and others to level up to it.
- Women Emancipation – A large part of the success of the Bharat Jodo Yatra was due to the participation and support of women both Congress workers and the general public. The Indian Freedom struggle had immense participation from women who formed a large part of the Indian National Congress then.
There are two camps …
One sees the Bharat Jodo Yatra as a powerful way to bring people together and as a needed initiative at this point. Another is waiting to count how many seats will be won by Congress after this in the coming elections. Yet much will be debated upon. The political impact it would have on the fortunes of the Congress party or its leaders.
It is equally fascinating that the entire yatra went through without a mishap. By allowing it to proceed without any interruption, it became an excellent way for the ruling party to take count of the work yet to be done and gauge the extent of the country’s people yet to be won over.
Mutual respect for diversity is the unifying language of India. Not English or Hindi or any other vernacular language. So many, in person or virtually were part of the Bharat Jodo Yatra in their desire to come together in love for this country. What the Yatra has revealed is indeed astonishing. It has revealed that the glue that holds this vast country together is still intact in parts and that the camp that believes in multicultural India is still reasonably strong as the one that believes in a Hindu Rashtra alone.
At a time when the country is bleeding with hate and bigotry, the Bharat Jodo Yatra is like a preemptive band-aid. A balm of love in a country where hatred is on the rise.
The Bharat Jodo Yatra brought a lot of people to its journey. Party die-hards. General public. Students. Public figures. People from all walks of life. Dreamers. Idealists. A lot of the alternative media in search of a story.
This should be a start. More walks like this are needed to reclaim scientific India, industrial India, startup India, innovation India, artistic India, culinary India, religious India, the rationalist India so that they become many smaller movements that celebrate the multi-cultural aspect of this vast nation. Unless the fire lit by the Bharat Jodo is kept warm, it would merely end up being a flash in the pan.
When a large part of India is today in a belligerent and assertive mood wanting to claim a world leader status, seeing a Hindu or Indian insult everywhere in everything, fiercely wanting to project only a positive story or image of a winning modern image of India to the world, will the Bharat Jodo fade away from the public memory soon as being too idealistic? Too old-fashioned to have relevance beyond proving a stubborn political point? Will it change the fortunes of the Congress Party or the image of Rahul Gandhi as a leader? Will it bring dialogue and decency in public engagement back? Is there an opportunity to again show the way to the world, a new way of rethinking where communities and countries are headed? Can love actually change people?
Gandhiji was determined and brooked no argument. While he engaged with everyone including those who were against his way of thinking, he was also someone who was very stubborn about his standpoint to the point of being immovable. He wore people down with his tenacity and refusal to budge. There was in that sense, a sort of dictator in Gandhi. Rahul Gandhi has his own style of tenacity, but he is still instinctively too polite. And, unlike Gandhiji whose tenacity caught the imagination of the nation and the world, Rahul Gandhi’s brand of tenacity is only now slowly finding its takers, being much ridiculed earlier. It is still a huge task for Rahul considering the amount of opposition against him and the money spent in creating that opposition.
The question however remains that despite all the toughness that Rahul exudes in terms of his physical fitness, and all his persistence in raising fearlessly critical questions, is he too nice beneath his tenacity? Are we ready for leaders who are too nice? Rahul’s niceness could be his winning strategy or his Achilles heel. It will all depend on which way the story of India will tilt and which way the cookie will crumble.
As a keen observer of the Yatra, while I saw many kinds of people be a part of it, what I did not see was any person of eminence who has an active skin in the game or benefitting from the current political scenario, shift openly to be a part of the Yatra. That for me is rather telling. The tide is yet to turn.
Srividya Srinivasan is an entrepreneur, author, poet, filmmaker and social worker. She runs Rasters Media Integrated, a creative, strategy and communication boutique firm and is also the founder of Jackpala Foods she hopes to focus on sustainable foods for an uncertain future. She brings 27 years of entrepreneurial journey catering to diverse industries across India through the course of her work. She used to run a home for underprivileged children called Kumara Nilaya, as a personal initiative. She is a published author of three books, two of which are novels. Her book of poetry showcasing the resilience of staying human is slated for release at the end of this year. She is based in Bangalore, India.