Ahead of the launch of its 'Bharat Jodo Yatra' on Wednesday, the Congress said it is a turning point in Indian politics and marks a "new beginning". Former Congress president Rahul Gandhi took part in a prayer meeting at Rajiv Gandhi memorial in Sriperumbudur Wednesday morning.
He will attend an event at 4:30PM in Kanyakumari where Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M K Stalin, Rajasthan's Ashok Gehlot and Chhattisgarh's Bhupesh Baghel will be present. Stalin will present a national flag made of khadi to Gandhi who will hand it over to Seva Dal workers who will manage the Yatra throughout.
"September 7 2022. A day when India's oldest political party will launch the longest padyatra ever undertaken. It is a sombre day, a day for quiet reflection and renewed resolve," Congress general secretary Jairam Ramesh said in a tweet."This is a turning point in Indian politics. It marks a new beginning," he said.
With the launch of the 3,570 km Yatra at a mega rally here, the Congress is seeking to flag economic disparities, social polarisation and political centralisation, while attempting to make gains in what it often described as battle of ideologies.
After the event at the Mahatma Gandhi Mandapam where Stalin will be present, Rahul Gandhi and other Congress leaders will walk to the seaside venue of the rally where the yatra will be formally launched.
Sources said a message from the Congress president could be read or a video message from her be shown at the event. Sonia Gandhi's mother passed away recently in Italy. Both she and party general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra are abroad.
Rahul Gandhi arrived in Chennai Tuesday night. Ramesh had said Tuesday that the Yatra is a "transformational moment for Indian politics and it is a decisive moment for the rejuvenation of the party".
A final check on the preparations at the venue near the 'Mahatma Gandhi Mandapam' was done by general secretaries K C Venugopal and Ramesh along with senior leader and Yatra organisation panel in-charge Digvijaya Singh on Tuesdat.
"There is a lot of enthusiasm and excitement among the Congress workers across India," Ramesh had told PTI.
"Even in states where the Yatra is not passing through, people are excited. In each state the Congress will organise similar Yatras on a smaller scale, may be of 50 km or 100 km on the main theme of uniting India, an India being torn apart by economic inequalities, social polarisation and over-centralisation," he had said.
"The party is focused on making Bharat Jodo Yatra successful because it is the largest mass mobilisation programme it has undertaken in Independent India," he said.
In a video message, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra had urged people to join the Yatra wherever possible. She asserted the Yatra was needed as "negative politics was being practised in the country and real issues were not being discussed". It aims to put focus on people's issues such as price rise and unemployment, she has said.
Though the march, covering 12 states and two Union Territories in about five months, will be formally launched at the rally, it will actually begin at 7 am on Thursday when Gandhi and other Congress leaders will embark on the march. Before the launch, Rahul Gandhi will also visit Vivekananda Rock Memorial, Thiruvalluvar statue and Kamaraj Memorial in Kanyakumari.
The march will move in two batches from 7 am to 10:30 am and from 3:30 pm to 6:30 pm. While the morning session will include fewer participants, the evening session will see mass mobilisation. The participants plan to walk around 22 to 23 km daily. The Congress has asserted its Yatra is not a 'Mann Ki Baat', but to ensure people's concerns reach Delhi.
It has classified 119 leaders, including Rahul Gandhi, as 'Bharat Yatris' who will walk the entire route. About 30 per cent of 'Bharat Yatris' are women. The average age of Bharat Yatris is 38.
About 50,000 citizens have also registered to participate in the Yatra. To coincide with the launch of the Yatra on Wednesday, 'Prarthana Sabhas' will be held by the Congress' state units at 5 pm, a leader said. At 7 am Thursday, 10 km foot marches will be held at block level.
After reaching Kerala on September 11, the Yatra will traverse through the state for the next 18 days, reaching Karnataka on September 30. It will be in Karnataka for 21 days before moving north.
It will pass through Thiruvananthapuram, Kochi, Nilambur, Mysuru, Bellary, Raichur, Vikarabad, Nanded, Jalgaon, Indore, Kota, Dausa, Alwar, Bulandshahr, Delhi, Ambala, Pathankot, Jammu, and end in Srinagar.
(With PTI Inputs)