BJNY in Bengal: Locks on freedoms, a dearth of Achhe Din—and a dua to Allah

When the Bharat Jodo Nyay Yatra entered Bakshirhat in Cooch Behar, West Bengal, on the eve of Republic Day, it was Rahul Gandhi’s first trip into the state since the April–May 2021 assembly polls. Leading his welcome was state Congress president Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury.

As the tricolour was symbolically handed over from one state Congress leader to another, to be carried with the Nyay Yoddhas into Bengal, Gandhi was greeted with a carving of Durga (pictured below). It made for a fitting image, for surely the goddess is the best-known patron of justice in Bengal.

RaGa with Durga: Rahul Gandhi was greeted with a carving of arguably Bengal’s most iconic goddess as he entered the state on 25 January 2024, his first visit in 3 years (photo courtesy @bharatjodo/X)

Addressing reporters in Cooch Behar, Gandhi said, “The word ‘nyay‘ (justice) has been attached to the yatra because injustice is prevailing across the country.” Touching on the ways the BJP and the RSS spreading hatred and violence across the country, he added, “The INDIA formation will fight against such injustice (anyay) across the country.”

Thanking supporters and Seva Dal workers for facilitating and the welcome gift, Gandhi signed off with a cheeky “love you”.

The Bharat Jodo Nyay Yatra’s X handle uploaded a Bengali version of the ‘Nyay anthem’ this evening, that sang of the injustice of unfreedoms and trampled rights, unemployment and hate.

The start of the Bengali anthem video is provocative. It translates to: ‘We will speak up, even if we are not free’, while ‘baak-saadhinauta (freedom of speech)’ flashes across the image. It goes on to speak of the lack of good times (‘sudin’)—a word the Bengali listener would surely recognise as a nod to the BJP and prime minister Narendra Modi’s vaunted Achhe Din—and goes on to question what all the pride is about in its lyrics, even as a question flashes by on-screen: ‘Tell us, who closed the the locks?’

The video focuses on the pillars of Paanch Nyay that Gandhi had spoken of on 23 January—efforts to ensure justice for youth, women, farmers and labourers and justice in participative governance. (This Congress campaign also uses a visual metaphor of the five strains of justice being the five fingers of a hand—the party’s distinctive symbol—which are together coming together in a mighty fist against Anyay.)

Women and children remained prominent amongst the supporters who lined up to speak to Gandhi, their proportions in the crowd seemingly swelling as the Yatra continued into this, its twelfth day, and several sought to be featured in photos with the Congress leader.

One older lady popped into the bus accord him a warm welcome to West Bengal, with her ashirbaad (blessing), adding her dua that Allah keep him well.

Earlier in the day, speaking in Cooch Behar, Gandhi amplified the story of a small group of youth he met in Assam that morning—they related to him how, after preparing for five years and finally being accepted into the Army, they were shocked when the government suddenly got rid of 1.5 lakh recruits (for just the Army alone, the Navy and Air Force not being included in this).

One young man wiped away tears as he spoke of his despair at being rejected after having exulted over his admission, which meant not just the glory of an uniform for him, but finally a stable income for his family while he dedicated himself to the service of the nation. He felt like a zombie, dead inside, he said—zinda laash.

A second youth spoke ruefully of other career opportunities he’d set aside. Another spoke of never having considered a second option—fighting for the country had been all his dreams in one.

From across India, 33 lakh students had applied just like them; in Assam alone, 10,000 admissions (bharti) were cancelled, they said, showing Gandhi the slips they were handed as successful candidates following their medical examination and other stages of recruitment. It fell apart just as they were about to join duty.

Amongst the supporters who lined up to catch a glimpse of Gandhi were two youth who had come on foot all the way from Champaran in Bihar—apparently they could not wait for the Nyay Yatra to get to them, so they came apace to meet it sooner!

They tried to meet Gandhi at Jorhat, they said, but the crowds were too large. They had a similar story to share with him of how their rights had been denied. One of them had also hoped for a career in the Army, and said he was ‘now in depression’ after having been pushed out just as he thought the realisation of his dream was at hand.

Both sets of youth were speaking, of course, of the Agnipath Scheme; both were would-be Agniveers.

Some of the youth had met the minister of defence, Rajnath Singh, in UP they said, and claimed he gave them a letter with the promise they would be recruited after all. When they went to Delhi as discussed, though, it was to no avail. They felt cheated, one man said.

Ghabrao mat! (Don’t lose heart) We’ll figure something out,” Gandhi said.

There are plans for a Jai Jawan campaign to be initiated in the next leg of the yatra, starting from Bihar.

However, after listening to the youth, Gandhi wanted to add another initiative: to place a demand before the government for some compensation at least for the 1.5 lakh youth whose place was denied after a commitment of bharti.

Unfortunately, while the Yatra continued towards its overnight halt at Falakata in Alipurduar, Rahul Gandhi had to cut his padyatra plans short and leave in haste.

While the Congress has not issued any statement on the matter, news agency IANS reports he took a special flight to Delhi following an urgent call from his mother, Sonia Gandhi. The agency also reported rumours of her ill health, but such reports remain unconfirmed.

An All India Congress Committee (AICC) spokesman confirmed that Rahul Gandhi will be back with the team on Sunday morning to resume his Nyay Yatra.

The day Rahul Gandhi surprised mother Sonia Gandhi with a Jack Russell puppy, named Noorie (photo courtesy @DebashishHiTs/X)

Small adjustments to the yatra schedule have already been made for 28 January, when the Nyay Yoddhas had planned to arrive early in Jalpaiguri. However, acknowledging a district police communication that there was a police recruitment examination that morning, the BJNY team have confirmed they will only arrive after 2 p.m. so as not to be disruptive.

Gandhi and his retinue will need to make new lunch plans for that day though.

In the evening, Gandhi took out time to amplify some news from Assam, where 100 intellectuals and other prominent figures, in a statement, denounced the chief minister of the BJP-led government there, Himanta Biswas Sarma.

They spoke of his harassment of the BJNY members, including repeated attempts to thwart their progress, pressurise them to change their itinerary, deny them access to key spaces and disrupt plans, as well as press-gang the state’s police force into obstructing the Yatra.

The signed statement from the civil society group in Assam read:

Once Gandhi returns to Bengal. following its two-day break to celebrate Republic Day on 26–27 January, the Nyay Yatra will navigate through Jalpaiguri, Alipurduar, Uttar Dinajpur and Darjeeling districts—covering a total of 523 km, across six districts and six Lok Sabha constituencies—before entering Bihar on 29 January.

The yatra is scheduled to re-enter West Bengal on 31 January 31 via Malda, and then it will pass through Murshidabad—both districts are Congress strongholds—before departing the state on 1 February.

The Bharat Jodo Nyay Yatra, which started in Manipur on 14 January, aims to cover 6,713 km in 67 days while passing through 110 districts in 15 states, culminating in Mumbai on 20 March.

With IANS and PTI inputs

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