Power trips

Why the political yatra endures, though SMS and Twitter provide instant outreach

They may not seem to matter much in the national imagination, but there is much activity and motion in the states right now, with several ongoing political yatras.

Yatras are journeys undertaken with a political objective in mind. They are about disseminating ideas and receiving them. They aim to make voters feel heard, even if not in full measure. In the day of the press statement, the clip, the click and the tweet, what explains this insistence on the old-fashioned way of getting to voters in their towns, street-corners and homes?

BJP contender Vasundhara Raje is leading a Suraj Sukalp Yatra in Rajasthan. The TDP’s Chandrababu Naidu, who started such a journey in Andhra Pradesh on October 2 last year, only concluded it in Srikakulam on May Day. CPM leaders criss-crossed the country earlier this year as part of a “jatha”. Lalu Prasad found it necessary to undertake a long yatra revisiting his state, before his rally this month. A Congress-led Parivartan Yatra was on in Chhatisgarh too, till tragically cut short.

Yatras, though, are often derided as perfunctory political rituals and not considered effective or smart politics. Party campaigners have tended to deploy the chopper or small aircraft much more routinely in the past decade, even to destinations covered by regular flights, trains or road. It appears that our political representatives are consumed by the need for speed. As long as they are trailed by TV cameras, they seem to think it enough to paratroop in to make a speech and rush back, tick a box and be done with it.

The idea of the political journey may have many historical echoes. But it is now well acknowledged that about a century ago, when the barrister M.K Gandhi returned from South Africa, it was the yatra that gave him his politics. His grandson Rajmohan Gandhi’s book, Mohandas: A True Story of a Man, his People and an Empire, recalls how Gandhi reached Muzaffarpur station in the middle of the night and was missed by J.B. Kriplani and his reception party despite all the “lanterns” they carried, because they did not expect Gandhi to travel third class.

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