A meme doing the rounds on social media shows Rahul Gandhi on the Bharat Jodo Yatra accompanied by the beloved Star Wars droid (robot), R2-D2. Standing off to the side is his companion droid, C-3P0, who is telling R2-D2 to “Get back here right now!” True to character, R2-D2 is doing nothing of the sort.
Those who are familiar with the Star Wars universe will probably chuckle. For those who may not be aware, R2-D2 and C-3P0 are droids (robots) who play important roles at crucial points in George Lucas’ epic movie series, which is basically a story of resistance and rebellion against an all-powerful evil empire.
C-3PO and R2-D2, who end up accompanying the protagonists on their various adventures, have diametrically different personalities. C-3PO, a ‘protocol droid’, is gloomy, pedantic, worry-prone, and perhaps best defined by his famous lament, “We’re doomed!”
Fussy and pessimistic, C-3PO manages to incur the wrath of the movie’s more hot-headed protagonists with his statements of the obvious and predictions of calamity in times of crisis. For example, “Sir, the possibility of successfully navigating an asteroid field is approximately 3,720 to 1.”
On the other hand, R2-D2, (or Artoo, as he is often called) never says a thing. He communicates only in beeps and whistles – ‘droidspeak’, so to say – but is always ready to take action when needed. The short, squat, cylindrical droid ends up winning the audience’s hearts with his spunky courage and cheeky responses to C-3PO’s gloom. He is handy with a screwdriver, braves laser gun battles, helps the movie’s hero Luke Skywalker come through dire situations, and is always quietly present to do what needs to be done.
As one looks at the Rahul Gandhi/Star Wars meme and sees C-3PO standing off to the side, one can’t help but compare him with what former NDTV anchor Ravish Kumar has called the “coverage class” in one of his recent YouTube videos. In other words, the liberal armchair commentariat who moan and groan about the condition of Indian democracy, and despair about the ‘inevitability’ of a Hindu rashtra, but who never actually exert themselves in any tangible way to stop the slide of democracy.
And unlike C-3PO who, unwittingly and unwillingly, manages to do some good in the movies, much of the commentariat class that Kumar talks about actually denigrates democratic initiatives like the Bharat Jodo Yatra though appearing to praise the intent behind them. “What’s the point?” they invariably end up asking. “Aayega toh Modi hee.”
The fact is, despite all the naysayers, Rahul Gandhi has managed to traverse the length of the country on foot, gather a huge amount of public support and goodwill, and wrest control of the narrative away from the BJP. As someone who has followed the Bharat Jodo yatra through Haryana, Delhi, Uttar Pradesh and then Haryana again, I cannot deny the impact it is having on the ground.
Talking to the residents of the Baghpat area in Uttar Pradesh where it passed through, I ask Sanjeev Sharma, a local sugarcane farmer, “What good will a yatra like this do at a time when the government controls everything, including the media and the enforcement agencies?”
Sharma’s answer is simple. “I’m going to go home from here and tell ten people about the Yatra. Those ten people will tell another ten people each. Then those 100 people will tell another ten people each. Word will spread. The message of the Yatra will find its way around the country.”
I ask Ankur Munakhiya, an eloquent young man carrying a Bhim Army flag, what he is doing at the Yatra. He tells me that his leader Chandrashekhar Ravan has asked him to come and lend support to Rahul bhai in Baghpat. “Change will only come if we all unite and fight,” he asserts, adding, “Mahatma Gandhi didn’t know if he would succeed or fail when he embarked on the Dandi march. We, too, have to do what we can without worrying about the result.”
Inside the camp where the yatris are resting during their midday break, I speak to Seema Pandey, a housewife who along with her husband has been walking with the Yatra from Kanyakumari even though they weren’t officially designated yatris.
Seema says, “When we asked the Yatra organisers if we could join in, they suggested we walk with them for three days. They were probably thinking we would get tired of walking, and quit, but we just kept walking with them for a month. Finally, the organisers saw we were quite serious and they gave us an interstate pass to stay and walk with them all the way to Kashmir.”
There is a calmness and quiet strength about her, as there is about so many people I have spoken with.
In Ambala I meet Jitender, a young man who has come from Mahendergarh in Haryana to volunteer at the Yatra in Ambala. His job is to help keep things running smoothly at the vishram shivir where the yatris are taking their morning break. When I ask him whether he feels the Yatra will make a difference, he says, “Have you seen how many people are coming out to support the Yatra in the freezing winter mornings? It shows people are ready for change.”
Unlike many armchair C-3P0s who seem to have decided that India is doomed, none of the yatris or Yatra supporters that I have talked to are whining or complaining. They are simply doing what they feel is their duty in a time of national crisis.
For those who remember the first Star Wars movie, Artoo plays a quiet but important supporting role from the first scene where he helps rebel Princess Leia get an important message across to the Rebellion leaders, till the last scene when he helps Luke Skywalker win the final battle.
As the ‘Dark Side’ threatens to engulf India, it is now abundantly clear that we need many many Artoos on the ground. The C-3P0s would do well to keep their despair to themselves.
This article was first published on The Wire.
Featured illustration: Pariplab Chakraborty