National

Bharat Jodo Yatra: History In The Making

Sanjay Nirupam reminisces about the week he was part of Rahul Gandhi’s ambitious yatra, while giving us blow-by-blow account of the journey he took on foot with hundreds of party members and supporters

Walking together: Rahul Gandhi and Sanjay Nirupam in Nanded
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November 7, 2022. Degloor, Nanded, Maharashtra

‘Ye Jawani Hai Qurban
Rahul Gandhi Tere Naam’

Youngers waiting for Rahul Gandhi on the streets of Degloor shout hundreds of such slogans. Degloor is a taluka centre in Maharashtra, just 10 kms from the Telangana border. In the evening at 9 o’clock, the ‘Bharat Jodo Yatra’ is scheduled to enter from Telangana to Maharashtra.

Rahul ji, along with other Congress leaders, is scheduled to reach there with mashaals (tor­ches)/batons in their hands and these were to be handed over to the leaders of Maharashtra to take the yatra forward. Near the huge statue of Shivaji, a magnificent welcome programme has been organised by former chief minister of Maharashtra, Ashok Chavan. Thousands of people have gathered there to receive the yatra. They all are eager to have a glimpse of Rahul ji.

By 9.30, Gandhi reaches there with the Telan­gana leaders. There is huge excitement among the people. Slogans in the honour of Gan­dhi and the yatra become louder and louder. The enthusiasm of the Congress workers is on ano­ther level.

After walking almost 14 km at a stretch, Gandhi is not looking tired but fresh and full of energy. He delivers a brief speech about the objective of the yatra. So, what’s next? Generally speaking, it should have been resting time for all. The end of the yatra for that day.

But hold on! It’s announced that Rahul Gandhi will continue walking with yatris up to Degloor gurudwara. Another 11 km walk in the night on the roads of Maharashtra. Guru Nanak Jayanti is being celebrated in the gurudwara at 12 o’clock (midnight). Trustees want him to take part in the celebration. He doesn’t say no to them and starts walking. An almost stampede-type situation. More than 50,000 villagers start walking with him. Jawans of CRPF and Nanded police cordon off the common walkers, create a security circle, bring Rahul Gandhi to the centre. They allow us to walk with him. And here starts the 11 kms long walk at 10 o’clock at night. Apart from the lights of cameras, it was darkness all around. But the enthusiasm of the yatris lit up the night. Till 2 am, Rahul Gandhi stayed in the gurudwara and took part in the Guru Purab celebrations.

November 8, 2022, morning

We were asked to join the yatra by 8.30 am. Rahul Gandhi was the first person to be on the road to begin the yatra on a new day. Both sides of the road were cordoned off by long ropes. Police men and women were holding ropes to keep common yatris at bay. It was a 5 km walk that morning. Seva Dal workers and Bharat yatris (120) took the lead. Behind them, a media vehicle to cover Rahul Gandhi and other leaders. Thousands of common people are walking with him along the sides and waving at him. Gandhi is waving back at them. Behind the security circle, a huge number of yatris follow him. Gandhi smiles at everyone as he walks. Children, women, senior citizens all are walking happily along with him on the sides of the road. He spots a child among the walkers, calls him and walks and talks with him. The small boy is very happy to walk with him. He answers all his queries. Finally, he gets a toffee from him and is even happier. An old farmer is trying to draw his attention. Finally, he is brought in to walk with Gandhi. It’s like a dream come true for him. He is overjoyed. Rahul ji asks him about the problems of farming. He becomes serious, almost cries. He complains to Gandhi that farming has become a loss-making proposition these days. “We are not getting actual price for our produce. Bank loans are a trap for farmers,” he says. Gandhi asks him, “What can I do for you?” The farmer says, “Please put pressure on the government to increase MSPs.” Gandhi replies, “We have been demanding the same but…” He doesn’t say anything further and smiles at him. The farmer says we want a Congress government as early as possible. Gandhi just smiles at him again. A disabled man joins him on his wheelchair and Gandhi starts talking to him, while walking slowly. Almost 5 kms into the walk and Rahul Gandhi is connecting with villagers very smoothly. It’s 9.30 am now. The yatra is stopped for a couple of hours. Rahul Gandhi proceeds towards his container.

“We are not getting actual price for our produce. Bank loans are a trap for farmers,” says a farmer whom Rahul Gandhi meets on the way.

November 8, 2022. 4 pm

It is 4 pm. The yatra is to begin. Rahul Gandhi is all set to lead the yatra. But bad news has arrived. Senior Seva Dal leader from Nagpur, Sri KK Pande, while carrying the tricolour, suffered a massive heart attack and died on the spot. Everybody is shocked, including Rahul Gandhi. A brief condolence meeting is convened to pay tributes to Pande ji. After paying tributes, the yatra resumes on a sad note. It is a 14 km long walk today. Thousands of national flags are waving in the yatra. It’s like a sea of tricolours flowing with yatris. Tens of thousands of youth have joined Gandhi and the yatra. After a long time, the youth has started participating in a Congress campaign. I can accept that Congress had lost connect with the youth in this decade or so. The ‘Bharat Jodo Yatra’ has provided a platform to connect youth with Gandhi and he is utilising this opportunity to interact with the youth. The yatra ends at 7 o’clock with a corner meeting in Shankar Nagar. The meeting is converted into a condolence meeting in the memory of KK Pande. At the meeting, Rahul Gandhi, after paying tributes to Pande ji, raises the issues of unemployment, inflation and spreads the idea of communal harmony. He gets a huge response from the audience.

November 9, 2022, 6 am, Shankar Nagar, Nanded

It is a new morning, a new energy and a completely fresh excitement. The architects of the ‘Bharat Jodo Yatra,’ Digvijay Singh and Jairam Ramesh, are leading the march of the Seva Dal far ahead of the main yatris. Tens of thousands of youth, women and villagers are all set to walk with Gandhi. The security circle for him is being made. Ropes on both sides of the road are tied. A couple of police vehicles reach there. That’s followed by an Innova. Rahul ji comes out of the Innova. He greets everyone. A huge round of applause for him from the audience. The yatra begins. So does his walking interaction with villagers. Two poor, old women join him. They complain about inflation. Auto union leaders from Nanded join him. He carefully listens to their complaints about traffic harassment and permit issues.

November 9, 2022, 4 pm

The evening spell of the yatra is about to begin. We all have assembled on the road to walk 15 kms from Naigaon. The security circle is ready. The ropes are tied. The number of walkers is almost thrice the number in the morning. Rahul Gandhi gets down from his car to lead the historic march. Loud slogans for him. ‘Jodo Jodo , Bharat Jodo’ and ‘Rahul ji. tum aage badho hum tumhare saath hain.’ Gandhi greets all the yatris, smiles at them, looking ekdum fresh. He randomly picks up boys, girls and different types of villagers from the crowd to walk with them one by one. People from all the surrounding villages have gathered there. The corner meeting is converted into a massive public meeting. While delivering his speech, Gandhi discusses the farm laws of the Modi government.

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Two boys were walking very fast by the ropes, to be with Gandhi. The moment he spots the boys, he starts talking to them. One of the boys tells him he wants to become a software engineer. “Have you seen a computer?” Gandhi asks him. “No,” says the boy. Shocked, Gandhi asks his assistant to bring his laptop and shows the boys how they can operate a computer. The next day, Gandhi gifts the boy a laptop.

November 10, 2022, 6 am, suburb of Nanded city

Social and communal harmony is the main theme of the yatra. The foundations of democracy in India require to be strengthened, given the damage caused by the present dispensation. The yatra passes through a huge Muslim mohalla. From both sides, local Muslims greet Rahul Gandhi.

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November 11, 2022, 6 am, Hingoli naka, Nanded

Today is the last day of the ‘Bharat Jodo Yatra’ in Nanded.After walking 10 kms in the morning, it will enter district Hingoli of Maharashtra. We join the yatra again. It feels like we are becoming part of history. I saw very closely how history is being written. I witnessed how rural India is restless to demolish the wall of hatred among fellow Indians being created in the names of caste, creed and religion. This yatra will be remembered as reuniting Indians again. After the morning spell, I take leave of Rahul Gandhi. I get one of his infectious smiles.

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(This appeared in the print edition as "History Being Walked")

(The writer is a Congress leader and former Rajya Sabha MP)

(Views expressed are personal)

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