Bharat Jodo And The Yellow Cap Model Of Political Participation

Those who have attended the Bharat Jodo Yatra are proudly sharing pictures of themselves at the rally.

<div class="paragraphs"><p>Rahul Gandhi addresses a public rally as it rains in Mysuru during the Bharat Jodo Yatra. (Photo: Indian National Congress)</p></div>
Rahul Gandhi addresses a public rally as it rains in Mysuru during the Bharat Jodo Yatra. (Photo: Indian National Congress)

On a recent Sunday, Koshy Varghese, 60, who lives in Whitefield, Bangalore, wore his canary yellow Brazil cap, purchased during the 2006 FIFA World Cup, and drove 140 km to Chiknayakanhalli to participate in Rahul Gandhi’s ongoing Bharat Jodo Yatra, a gruelling 3,500 km walk up the length of India. “I wanted to see what the fuss was about.”

Rivals have said the yatra will have no impact on forthcoming assembly elections, commentators have dismissed it as Savarna symbolism, and the country’s most powerful political party has mocked it in a parody video. The logic of its route has been debated ad nauseam. “I want to see Rahul Gandhi walk through Mangalore where minorities are scared,” one Bangalore-based reporter told me. “The Gujarat Pradesh Congress would have loved him to tour their state,” a friend said. Even within his party, there is chatter that Gandhi is doing this only to affirm his pole position in the Congress.

Bharat Jodo And The Yellow Cap Model Of Political Participation

And yet, as the yatris march on at a brisk clip, away from hostile TV studios and amid colleagues, artists, civil society groups, huffing journalists who can’t get enough of the 52-year-old’s fitness levels and a different kind of celebrity (Kavitha Lankesh, Saeed Mirza), it is becoming increasingly difficult to look away.

<div class="paragraphs"><p>Gauri Lankesh's sister  Kavitha Lankesh&nbsp;(left) and mother Indira Lankesh walk with Rahul Gandhi during the Bharat Jodo Yatra.<strong> </strong></p></div>

Gauri Lankesh's sister Kavitha Lankesh (left) and mother Indira Lankesh walk with Rahul Gandhi during the Bharat Jodo Yatra.

When Varghese found a spot on a median besides the march and called out to Gandhi, the politician reached out and shook his hand. Meanwhile, worried how Varghese, a real estate businessman with a crack in his spine and two knee surgeries would negotiate the crowds, his wife and daughter scoured YouTube and local television channels to ensure he was okay. 

Ever so often, they spotted the canary-coloured head bobbing in a sea of dark hair and cheered. They took photographs of the screen and shared it with friends and family. His yellow cap became representative of the fact that even privileged Indians (an extremely dissent-allergic group) are, once again, not afraid to show themselves. They’re standing alongside someone who is speaking against hate.

Bharat Jodo And The Yellow Cap Model Of Political Participation

Those who attended are proudly sharing pictures of themselves at the rally, and changing their WhatsApp display pictures. When I put out a call for those who joined the rally, I got more numbers than I could contact. As it enters its fourth state, Andhra Pradesh, 41 days into its launch, and with 2,445 km to go, word-of-mouth and first-person accounts like this one are drowning out the critics and the trolling. The yatra’s success in Karnataka has certainly taken everyone by surprise.

Kirtana Kumar said she went though she has no affiliation to the Congress Party and despite the fact that her mother-in-law Snehalata Reddy was falsely incarcerated during the Emergency. Asma Naseem said she doesn’t identify with the Congress “at all” but she was tracking the yatra. “And then, when someone posted on Facebook, ‘Kerala was easy, let them do Karnataka’ I reflexively responded, ‘It doesn’t matter, I’ll be there to receive them’.”

Sylvia Sharma, who was present the day Gandhi spoke in pouring rain outside Mysore and who watched the speech with a red plastic chair over her head added: “There’s a time in our lives when we have to stand up, at least alongside somebody who is trying something.” Prasanna Saligram, who works in public health said public health is also about diversity and communal harmony and so he and his colleagues went in solidarity. They presented Gandhi with a policy brief and discussed this and other issues with him for 20 minutes. They also walked 30 km in two days.

M Ramesh Ramagondanahalli, Bangalore district coordinator of the Dalit Sangharsh Samiti who walked alongside Gandhi, dismissed the criticism that the yatra was largely symbolic. “Woh bakvaas (nonsense) hai, this is a revolutionary step,” he said. 

Even Gandhi’s critics acknowledge the support for the yatra. “I think this has excited both our cadres, the non-BJP supporters and the Congress sympathisers alike,” Sandeep Dikshit, a member of the infamous G23 Congress dissenters group, told The Indian Express. “It’s like a moment that has given all of us something to believe in and be a part of. After almost 3-4 years of lying low with nothing really happening…suddenly people have found life and purpose in the Bharat Jodo Yatra.”  

Dikshit said the yatra had "just clicked" with people. “It is an expression of being sympathetic to what we are doing. It is a very big thing.” 

Mass mobilisation and personal contact was how the Congress became a popular party in the early 20th century, author Aakar Patel said. “Till the partition of Bengal and particularly before Gandhi, the INC was an upper class and urban organisation. Mass contact of the sort Rahul Gandhi has taken up is also the primary way for the Opposition to counter the structural disadvantages it faces in the media.” 

After Asma Naseem posted that she would be there to receive Gandhi, things moved fast. Soon, a group of 25 strangers, all interested in participating, came together organically. They began going for long daily walks in the run up to their trip. They made placards, posters, matching T-shirts and hired a tempo traveller. When they set off, their song playlist on the journey matched their mood: Ae Watan Mere Abaad Rahein Tu played as they headed to the yatra. Someone asked Naseem what she was going to do at the Yatra. “I’m going to dance on the streets with the Tiranga, that’s all I want to do,” she replied. And so that’s what she did.

Priya Ramani is a Bengaluru-based journalist and is on the editorial board of

The views expressed here are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views of BQ Prime or its editorial team.