Congress leader Rahul Gandhi and his party are preparing for the 3,500-km ‘Bharat Jodo Yatra’, one of the grand old party’s massive community outreach programs in recent decades. Through this 150-day yatra beginning September 7, the Congress party hopes to regain the lost ground ahead of upcoming Assembly elections and also drum up support for 2024 Lok Sabha polls.
Congress is not the only party that has planned to leverage the power of yatras. Taking lessons from Mahatma Gandhi’s successful 240-km ‘Dandi March’, which aimed at mass mobilisation, several political leaders in the country, including LK Advani, Narendra Modi, and Mamata Banerjee, undertook political yatras to connect with voters and establish themselves as leaders of the people.
Here’s a look at some political leaders who have embarked on such yatras, which later gave them and their parties electoral success:
N T Rama Rao’s Chaitanya Ratham Yatra
NTR, the founder of the Telugu Desam Party (TDP), is considered the pioneer of ‘Rath Yatra’ in Indian politics post-independence. Covering 40,000 km and touring Andhra Pradesh four times in nine months, the ‘Chaitanya Ratham Yatra’ catapulted NTR to power in 1983. Throughout the yatra, the actor-turned-politician ate at roadside hotels, slept in his rath and returned to Hyderabad only after the announcement of Assembly elections.
L K Advani’s Rath Yatra
Months ahead of the 1991 Lok Sabha elections, BJP’s L K Advani started his Rath Yatra from Gujarat’s Somnath Temple in September 1990 to Ayodhya in Uttar Pradesh to further strengthen the Ramjanmabhoomi movement. However, then Bihar CM Lalu Prasad Yadav refused to allow it in the state. Though the yatra did not reach Ayodhya, it changed the BJP’s fortunes as the party improved its tally to 120 in 1991 polls from 85 seats in the 1989 Lok Sabha elections. In 1997, Advani also took part in Swarna Jayanti Rath Yatra, covering 15,000 km.
Narendra Modi’s Gujarat Gaurav Yatra 2002
After resigning from his post and recommending dissolution of Gujarat Assembly nine months before its term was scheduled to end, Narendra Modi launched Gujarat Gaurav Yatra in September 2002 to appeal to the “pride of the people of Gujarat”. The yatra proved to be a great success with the BJP coming to power with an absolute majority in the 2002 Assembly elections and Modi sworn in for a second term as chief minister. The elections took place in December, months after communal riots in the state. The BJP kicked off a similar yatra in Gujarat ahead of the 2017 Assembly elections and the party emerged victorious.
Y S Rajasekhara Reddy’s 1,500-km Long Padyatra
Y S Rajasekhara Reddy was leading the Congress in united Andhra Pradesh when he undertook a 1,500-km padyatra in 2003. During the yatra that lasted for two months, YSR highlighted people’s problems and the TDP regime’s ignorance towards farmers’ issues. YSR managed to build a connection with the masses, resulting in Congress sweeping power in Andhra Pradesh and ousting the TDP in the 2004 Assembly elections.
Mamata Banerjee’s Padyatras
Taking a leaf out of Mahatma Gandhi’s book, Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee took out several massive padyatras across West Bengal in the run-up to the 2011 state Assembly elections to connect with the masses. It was one of the factors that helped the TMC to defeat the Left Front, which enjoyed 33 years of power in West Bengal. Over the years, she also earned the sobriquet ‘street-fighter’.
Jagan Reddy’s Praja Sankalp Yatra (Padayatra)
After a defeat in the 2014 Assembly elections, YSR Congress Party (YSRCP) supremo YS Jagan Mohan Reddy embarked on a 3,648 km foot march (Praja Sankalp Yatra) on November 6, 2017. During the yatra that covered almost all districts of Andhra Pradesh in 341 days, the YSRCP chief addressed over 100 public meetings in which he targeted the “failures” of Chandrababu Naidu’s Telugu Desam Party (TDP) regime. Reddy travelled around 15-30 kilometres every day. Months later, the YSRCP registered a landslide victory in the 2019 Assembly elections winning 151 out of 175 seats. Reddy’s party also swept 22 seats out of the state’s 25 in the Lok Sabha polls.