Rahul Gandhi: Can long march revive India’s Congress party in digital age?

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The leader of India’s main opposition party is set to embark on a long march across the country starting Wednesday (7).

Accompanying Rahul Gandhi on the journey to “unite India” will be more than 100 members of his Congress party. It will be a five-month-long, 3,570km (2,218-mile) trek through 12 states. During his journey, Gandhi will meet people in the day and sleep in makeshift accommodation at night. The trek will be livestreamed on a website, and songs will be played relaying its message.

At its heart, the Bharat Jodo Yatra (Unite India March) is political, targeting Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s governing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). “In many ways, we are engaged in an existential struggle to defend the idea of India enshrined in the Constitution. The message [of the march] is that we are the party that can unite India and stop the process of dividing us on the basis of religion, caste and language that is being promoted by the ruling party,” Shashi Tharoor, a senior Congress leader, said.

The march is equally an attempt at reviving the flagging spirits of an exhausted party and beefing up the sagging image of its leader. “We are going out to listen to people, not to give them lectures,” Jairam Ramesh, another party leader, said.

Listening to people is always a good idea. Since 2014, when Modi swept to power in India, the Congress has been in free-fall. It has been routed by the BJP in two successive federal elections, and has lost 40 of 45 state elections. The party now rules in a paltry two states, and is stricken by dissent.

It is unclear what the Congress – which has lost most of its traditional voters to the BJP – stands for, apart from a vision of a secular India. Gandhi himself has often appeared to be a reluctant leader.

Resurrecting the Congress against a fiercely combative and resource-rich opponent like the BJP is not going to be easy. Many believe that a march like this can become the centrepiece of a countrywide movement against the government only if it is led by a popular leader.

Source: BBC