Rahul Gandhi begins long march from Kanniyakumari

On a mission to bridge divisions, Bharat Jodo Yatra could also be Congress’s route to political revival

September 08, 2022 06:00 pm | Updated September 09, 2022 01:33 am IST - Kanniyakumari

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi with Chhattisgarh CM Bhupesh Baghel and party workers during the ‘Bharat Jodo Yatra’, in Kanniyakumari on September 8, 2022.

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi with Chhattisgarh CM Bhupesh Baghel and party workers during the ‘Bharat Jodo Yatra’, in Kanniyakumari on September 8, 2022. | Photo Credit: PTI

Former Congress chief Rahul Gandhi started his 3,570 km padayatra on Thursday after hoisting the national flag at a makeshift camp on the grounds of Vivekananda technical institute, close to the Kanniyakumari beach.

For the next five months or so, Mr Gandhi and his 118 fellow travellers of Bharat Jodo Yatra (BJY), designated as Bharat yatris, would be on a mission to bridge social divisions, highlight issues like unemployment and inflation and start a dialogue with different sections of the society.

Described as the biggest mass mobilization exercise by the Congress in the post independent India, the principal Opposition party is also hoping that the padayatra is its route to political revival.

"Why do you look everything in terms of political benefits. Is it not a fact that the society is more polarised now than ever before,"retorted Digvijaya Singh, national coordinator of the yatra, when asked about his party's political calculation of the yatra.

Every day, the padayatra will take place in two phases — between 7am and 10:30am and again from 3:30 pm to 6:30 pm — and cover about 22-25 kms on an average.

Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel, former Finance Minister P Chidambaram, general secretary K C Venugopal were among leaders who walked along Mr Gandhi on dya one while many others including Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot gave him company for some distance.

The padayatra comes in the middle of a churn and the upcoming polls for the Congress president.

The party has made arrangements for the padayatris to vote in Bengaluru on October 17 in case the need arises.

But what would happen if Mr Gandhi needs to campaign in poll bound States like Gujarat and Himachal in the next couple. "The yatra will take a break,"says Mr Singh.

On day one, however, the mood is only of excitement among those who have embarked on the yatra. And each person with his or her own reason for undertaking what promises to be a gruelling schedule.

Shatrughan Sharma, a 45-year-old Seva Dal worker from Jaipur who was selected to be a Bharat yatri, says he had a tough time convincing his family to allow him to take part.

"My sons asked me what have I got from the party in the past 30 years that I agreed to do this. I told them that it's not about me but about our country," Mr Sharma said, recalling his three-decade old association.

"I want the people of the country to know that our leader takes up their causes," he adds as he struggles to keep pace with Mr Gandhi on the Kanniyakumari-Thiruvananthapuram highway.

Enthusiastic supporters lining up sections of the highway and performers playing traditional drums welcomed the yatra as it walked past them.

In a listening mode, Mr Gandhi interacted with different people including T Shanmugham, father of Anitha, who died by suicide after failing to get into a medical course because NEET despite scoring very high in her 12 exam. It's an issue that echoes with youngsters as most political parties in Tamil Nadu want the National Eligibility Entrance Test (NEET) scrapped.

After walking over three hours, Mr Gandhi visited the S M S M Higher Secondary School at Suchindrum, a school that was visited by Mahatma Gandhi and C Rajagopalachari in 1937.

".@RahulGandhi had 3 interactions with civil society after the 13 kms padayatra this morning. First with women activists, second with Dalit groups and third with environmentalists. Representations were handed over. This pattern will continue everyday on the #BharatJodoYatra," tweeted Congress communication chief Jairam Ramesh.

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