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How the Bharat Jodo Nyay Yatra, Passing Through Odisha, Generated Interest and Enthusiasm

Bhubaneswar: The political temperature in Odisha has shot up in the wake of Congress leader Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Nyaya Yatra that passed through parts of Sundergarh and Jharsuguda districts before entering Chhattisgarh on Thursday (February 8) .

During the course of the yatra (rally) that saw Rahul holding a roadshow in Rourkela, a politically sensitive area where the Naveen Patnaik-led Biju Janata Dal (BJD) replaced Congress as the dominant political party sometime back, the Gandhi scion made scathing attacks on both BJD and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) accusing them of being hand-in-glove.

, which was a Congress bastion till 2019 when the local MLA and party strongman Naba Das switched loyalties to the BJD, Gandhi also targeted Prime Minister Narendra Modi accusing him of misleading people and fooling them about his caste status.

In Gandhi’s words, “Modi said in Parliament, ‘What is the need for OBC representation because I am from the OBC’. I want to tell you, Narendra Modi was not born an OBC. You all are being dangerously fooled.” He went on to say, “PM Modi was not born in the OBC category. He was born in a Teli caste which was a general caste and included in the OBC category by the BJP government in 2000. He will never allow a caste census to be conducted,” said Rahul who also took a dig at the Prime Minister’s penchant for costly suits.

“He never shakes hands with or hugs OBCs, Dalits, Kisans or Mazdoors. He only hugs Adaniji,” said Rahul.

The Minister for Parliamentary Affairs, Pralhad Joshi spoke on Modi’s caste and said, “[Modi’s] OBC status was recognized on Oct 27, 1999, two years before he became Gujarat’s Chief Minister.” The government issued a short note, as per news reports, saying, “The Modh Ghanchi caste (and the sub-group to which Modi belongs) stands included in the Gujarat government’s list… of socially (and) educationally backward class and OBCs.” The Telegraph

quotes the government note as saying, “After a survey in Gujarat, Mandal Commission prepared a list of OBCs under Index 91(A), which included the Modh Ghanchi caste. The Indian Government’s list (of) 105 OBC castes for Gujarat has also included Modh Ghanchi.” The note said the Gujarat government had included the Modh Ghanchi in the OBC list in 1994 and the Centre in 2000.” The Congress was in government in Gujarat in 1994 and the BJP at the centre in 2000.

Rahul Gandhi also did not spare the BJD government in the state for supporting the BJP inside the parliament. “We have seen this happening in the parliament. Both the parties are in a partnership in Odisha. They are looting the lands of tribals and farmers and handing them to industrialists,” remarked the Congress MP who was accorded a rousing reception as he arrived in Birmitrapur on February 6 to lead the Odisha leg of the yatra.

Rousing response in Rourkela

Rahul mingled freely with the people in tribal-dominated Birmitrapur inquiring about their problems and promising solutions. His roadshow in Rourkela also evoked a great response with people rushing to touch his jeep and get as close to him as possible. It was clearly an attempt by the party to revive its fortunes in Sundergarh district and its nearby areas where Congress once ruled the roost. The Sundargarh Lok Sabha seat, which is currently represented by former union minister and BJP veteran Jual Oram, was won by former chief minister Hemanda Biswal, Congress’s tribal face in the state, in 2009. The nearby Bargarh seat was also won by the Congress in 2009.

However, following a consistent decline in Congress’s fortunes the entire western Odisha is currently dominated by BJP and the BJD. While all the five Lok Sabha seats in the region belong to the BJP, majority of the assembly seats were won by BJD in 2019. The Congress, which has been out of power in the state since 2000, put up one of its worst performances in 2019 when it could win just nine seats in the state assembly and the lone Lok Sabha seat of Koraput. Plagued by internal dissensions the party has been struggling to put up a united show in the elections. The state leadership is hopeful of Rahul Gandhi’s yatra turning things in its favour ahead of the elections. “Rahulji is a charismatic leader who loves to interact with people and sincerely tries to solve their problems. We are sure that popular mood in the state will turn in favour of the party in the wake of the yatra which has generated tremendous response everywhere,” said state Congress general secretary and former MLA Dr. Lalatendu Mohaptara.

However, leaders of BJP and BJD do not share the optimism of Congress which they firmly believe is unlikely to witness a positive change in its fortunes anytime soon. “ Rahul’s Yatra touched only parts of Sundergarh district and there, too, it failed to make any significant impact on the people who are well aware of his lack of concern for the tribals. He comes from a privileged background and only pretends to be sympathetic to the common people. But this drama cannot fool people,” said BJP’s tribal face Mohan Majhi.

State BJD general secretary Bijay Nayak was even more critical of Rahul and the rest of the Congress leadership. “ Congress party was in power in Odisha for such a long time. But they did nothing for the state. Their only contribution has been institutionalisation of corruption which weakened the state’s finances. The bad policies of successive Congress governments pushed the state back by several years. How can Rahul, whose own party governments in some states have failed to inspire confidence among people, accuse the BJD of non-performance. Let him set his own house in order first,” said Nayak.

Is Yatra energy enough?

Political analyst Shashi Kant Mishra believes that despite Rahul’s yatra generating a positive response in the state it may not have much of an impact on Congress’s fortunes in Odisha. “First and most important thing is that the yatra touched only a limited area of the state in Sundergarh and Jharsuguda. It would have made an impact had it covered a larger area. In the gatherings where he addressed people he appeared to be making pre-election speeches. People take such statements with a pinch of salt. He no doubt succeeded in drawing crowds but one cannot be sure that the message he wanted to send across actually registered. If the Congress leadership really wants to take advantage of the yatra it should do some serious work on the ground to improve the party’s organisational strength,” said Mishra.

A section of the state Congress leadership agrees with this analysis even though no one from the party is willing to go on record for obvious reasons. “The results of the last elections showed that we have conceded a lot of ground to both BJP and BJD in the state. The rise of BJP in Odisha, where it is now the main opposition party, can be directly attributed to the decline in the fortunes of our party. Unless we work hard at the ground level we cannot hope to take advantage of either Rahul ji

’s yatra or that of anything else that we think can work in our favour,” said a Congress leader who did not wish to be identified.