In a welcome change for Cong, Bharat Jodo gets wall-to-wall coverage on regional TV

The media coverage was so extensive that BJP in Karnataka carried full-page advertisements in several newspapers against the Congress.
Bharat Jodo Yatra
Bharat Jodo Yatra

The extensive media coverage that the Congress’s Bharat Jodo Yatra has been receiving in two states – Kerala and Karnataka – has surprised most, including the Congress party. The viral image of the dutiful Rahul Gandhi tying the shoelaces of his mother Sonia Gandhi, when she accompanied him for a day on the yatra, remains the most vivid image of the yatra for the Congress. While the Malayalam TV media gave wall-to-wall coverage of the yatra, the Kannada TV media, which has been hostile towards the Congress in the eight years since Prime Minister Narendra Modi came to power, has deviated from its usual editorial stand.

The party has been resolutely pushing the yatra as a movement to unify India against hate and divisive politics and countering the attempts by BJP to mock it. So heavy was the media coverage that BJP in Karnataka carried full-page advertisements in several newspapers twice. Once, it was to mock the yatra using the Congress logo and Jawaharlal Nehru references. The second set of front page advertisements were more disingenuous. Old newspaper articles against Congress and Rahul Gandhi, in particular, were published making it look as if it was front page news and a tiny mention in one corner of the page mentioning it was an advertisement.

Asianet News Editorial Advisor MG Radhakrishnan agreed that the media coverage had been extensive. “It's been quite some time since something positive appeared in the media about Congress. It's good up to that extent. But I don't think anything more tangible would accrue except some good optics. This is because nothing new or substantive is heard from him regarding policy or program except the usual homilies.”

The Congress has been maintaining that it is more about unity and hearing about the problems of the people and not about how it translates to electoral success. Every day, a press conference is held at whatever place they are at, beaming live on social media and talking about issues troubling the local population – whether it is farmer loans, unemployment, health, minimum support price for produce, etc.– and the BJP’s failure in addressing these problems.

Political analyst Sandeep Shastri said it was unclear whether the extensive media coverage would indicate any sort of ripples that would turn into a clear advantage for the Congress.

“I am not surprised at the media wave (coverage). They do keep happening. Whether these ripples result in a wave or die down is something we have to see. This is not a barometer of anything. He also said that the BJP responding to Congress to the issues being raised was very rare. Usually, it is the Congress which is always responding to BJP.  “For me there is no doubt that this yatra has caused ripples. It has galvanised the party cadres, but whether it is going to turn into electoral success is something I am not too sure about as there is no evidence as yet of it happening,”

Shastri said that there had been no mass programme by the Congress like these since 2014.  “This will boost the morale of the party and that is an important step. But one also has to look at the developments happening in Rajasthan and Goa and elections in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh. All reports suggest that competition to the BJP from the Congress is not as much as it should be in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh. I like to ask whether they want to run a 50-metre dash or a marathon. How politics makes a shift is more about how you run a marathon,” he said.

The response by the civil society and the accompanying positive media coverage has certainly made the Congress happy. Priyank Kharge, who is heading the communication wing for the yatra, termed the response “unprecedented.” He said that the issues that the Congress was raising on corruption, communalism, economy and inequities resonated with the people and youngsters were turning up to support them in large numbers. “There are people who are sceptical, but the mood on the ground is different and we have volunteers turning up in large numbers to take part,” he added.

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