Christian leaders say Gandhi's march can have political implications that could help religious minorities
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi addressing people amid snowfall at Sher-e-Kashmir Stadium in Srinagar marking the culmination of his Bharat Jodo Yatra on Jan. 30. (Photo: Rahul Gandhi's Twitter)
Rahul Gandhi, a senior leader of India's main opposition Congress party, completed a 4,000-kilometer journey on foot to promote unity against what he called an atmosphere of religious intolerance and hate spread across the country.
The march named Bharat Jodo Yatra (march to unite India) concluded in northernmost Srinagar city in Kashmir on Jan. 30, five months after it began in India’s southern tip of Kanyakumari, winning the support of millions, including Christians.
“It is an important movement in the history of India,” said Jesuit Father Cedric Prakash noting that the march passed through 14 states during which the party leaders personally interacted with ordinary people, trying to understand their problems and culture.
“This is for the first time that people of India have seen such a march after the struggle for freedom” from the British colonial rulers, who left the country in 1947, the Jesuit priest, based in the western Indian state of Gujarat, said.
The march is expected to consolidate the political position of the 52-year-old Gandhi as the leader of the opposition, observers say.
Opposition leaders are expected to forge an alliance before next year’s parliament election to overthrow the ruling pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which is leading the federal government under Prime Minister Narendra Modi since 2014
“The Bharat Jodo Yatra has united people across the length and breadth of India as people from every walk of life joined it and extended support to the causes for which Gandhi took to the streets,” Father Prakash said.
He said Gandhi grew up as the son of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and grandson of former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and “could have comfortably settled in India or abroad without any difficulty.”
“But he strongly felt the pain of Indians and left all comforts in his life and walked more than 4,000 kilometers for uniting India,” the priest said.
The Yatra “has not only brought people of India together but also helped them disown the divisive elements such as hate, sectarian divide and other forces that weaken the country,” he said.
Secularists in the country accuse BJP of dividing people in the name of religion aiming to garner the majority of Hindu votes. BJP leaders are also accused of spreading hate and violence against religious minorities such as Christians and Muslims in their attempt to project themselves as champions of the Hindu religion.
Hindu groups, led by their umbrella organization Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), work to turn India into a nation of Hindu dominance and their opposition to Islamic and Christian activities often results in violence against religious minorities.
“Though the Yatra is ending today we need to build upon this spirit to ensure justice, liberty, harmony and peace,” Father Prakash said.
Gandhi said the “Yatra has received a great response in the country. We saw the resilience and strength of the people of India during this journey. We also got to hear about the issues being faced by farmers, and unemployed youth in the country.”
His march will have an impact on the Indian polity, Gandhi said.
“What it will be I can't tell right now,” the parliamentarian added.
Father Babu Joseph, based in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh, said, “the enormous popular support he [Gandhi] has received from a cross-section of the Indian society goes to show that there is a deep abiding desire in the minds of ordinary citizens to reignite our hallowed heritage of social harmony.”
“Divisive and competitive politics have over years seriously dented our social bonding and the growing social fault lines are leading us nowhere near to social cohesion without which we as a nation cannot achieve progress,” Father Joseph, a Divine Word priest told UCA News.
Gandhi's efforts “will yield some positive results not just electorally but more so on the socio-religious front so that our discerning citizens can charter a better and harmonious future for themselves,” said the priest, a former spokesperson of the Catholic Bishops Conference of India.
“Politics as Gandhi presents it has a serious onus in creating and sustaining socially and politically enabling conditions for people to actualize their best potential. And in this respect, I think he has made an earnest effort to touch the hearts and minds of people all along his yatra to send this message across,” Father Joseph said.
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