The Congress’s Bharat Jodo Yatra that begins on Wednesday will see 119 Bharat Yatris ,including former Congress president Rahul Gandhi staying on the road, cooking food at the camp sites and getting access to laundry once in three days for the next 150 days as their yatra (foot march) criss-crosses through 12 States, covering over 3,570 km from Kanyakumari to Kashmir.
The travellers will be sleeping in 59 containers mounted on trucks. Except for Mr. Gandhi, who because of his security detail will have a container to himself, the other yatris have to bunk together. Majority of these containers will sleep 12 persons.
The average age of the participants in this walkathon is 38, the oldest participant is 58-year-old Vijendra Singh Mahlawat of Rajasthan and the youngest are 25-year-old duo Ajam Jombla and Bem Bai from Arunachal Pradesh. Only 28 of these 119 participants are women.
Majority of the yatris have already assembled at the starting point in Kanyakumari. “Age is not really a factor. I would have joined this mission that our leader Rahul Gandhi is leading, even if I was 98. And any way, I have already cautioned my fellow travellers who are much younger to me that I am going to outstrip them,” Mr. Mahlawat said over the phone. While Mr. Mahlawat has been in the party for three decades, Mr. Bai from Itanagar joined only three years ago. Mr. Bai agrees that the scope and scale of the journey is daunting and his family was not too keen on his joining. “My biggest motivation to join the yatra is to highlight the plight of many young people like myself who are struggling to find employment. This is a serious problem eating into our prime years,” Mr. Bai said.
119 core yatris
Along with 119 core yatris, security personnel, party's communication team which includes photographers, social media personnel and a medical team will travel with the yatra taking the core number of travellers to 300.
The yatris have been told to wear white to maintain uniformity and will have access to laundry only once in three days, when they are expected to reach the cities. The yatra is expected on an average to cover 22-23 km a day, walking in morning from 7 a.m. till 10 a.m. and then a break to begin again at 3.30 p.m. till 7 p.m. The containers will not trail the yatra, instead these will meet the yatra at the end of the day at the designated campsite.
“It is one of the biggest political movements in the modern history. Yes, a bit of apprehension is obvious to begin with, but as the date for the yatra is nearing, I only feel thrilled and excited, we are getting a lot of support and love from people. In fact each day, we are getting more applications from Congress cadres hoping to join the yatra, but we no longer have the space,” said Vaibhav Walia, secretary, communications wing of the party.
On Wednesday after an hour-long prayer meeting at Siriperumbudur, Mr. Gandhi will reach Kanyakumari at 3 p.m. Before the launch of the yatra, Mr. Gandhi will visit Vivekananda Rock Memorial, Thiruvalluvar Statue and Kamaraj Memorial in Kanyakumari.
Then he will move to Mahatma Gandhi Mandapam where Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M.K. Stalin, Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot and Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel will hand him over the tricolour. The actual journey will begin on Thursday. So, while the State Congress units are expected to arrange lunch for the yatris when they take a break in the afternoon, the yatris will cook their breakfast and lunch at the camping site.
The padayatra will reach Kerala on September 11 and will traverse through the State for the next 18 days, reaching Karnataka on September 30. In case there is voting in the Congress’ presidential election on October 17, all the yatris will be allowed to vote in Bengaluru Congress office as the yatra will be there.