National

Yatra Diary: A Ringside View Of ‘Bharat Jodo Yatra’

Film actor Sushant Singh recounts his day-long march with Rahul Gandhi in Nanded and how he was impressed by the vision and scale of the yatra in a climate of hate and bigotry

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Yatra Diary: A Ringside View Of ‘Bharat Jodo Yatra’
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The Yatra

I am not a member of any party. A party means high command. You have to follow certain orders, whereas I want to retain my individuality. If the Congress comes to power, I will raise questions before them as well. But I found the Bharat Jodo Yatra historical. The only pada­yatra I remember before this was undertaken by Sunil Dutt saahab in 1987, when he walked some 2000 kms from Bombay to Amritsar to establish harmony and brotherhood when Punjab was facing heightened militancy.

Decades later, I was impressed by the vision and scale of the Bharat Jodo Yatra in a climate of hate and bigotry.  Rahul Gandhi clearly said that it’s not a Congress yatra; it is a yatra for Bharat. True, when a political party undertakes a yatra, it will receive some gains. But I liked the image of a leader inviting everyone to join the cause. I also saw a lot of people participating in the yatra. I then thought of contributing to the yatra. I knew a few people at the Youth Congress. They arranged my trip and I joined the yatra in Nanded on November 10.

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Rahul and I

I have seen Rahul grow over the years. The BJP has been circulating video clips of him since 2014. Most of these, I later found out, were doctored. I admired his approach during the Covid-19 pandemic, as well as his visit to places like Hathras. I saw an arch of growth in him with this yatra.

I met him for the first time during the yatra.  I found him fitter than me. I am a reserved person; don’t normally speak unless prodded. But he is a good conversationalist. He initiated the conversation. His first words were: ‘Tell me something about yourself.’ When I told him that I am an actor, he smiled: “Yes, that I know. I want to know why you came here. How do you feel here?” We discussed various issues. I don’t think he had seen my movies. I told him that The Legend of Bhagat Singh is my favourite movie.

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I also noticed that he took due care of various people who came to meet him. He came across as a human who was keen to know about people. His words did not reflect any formality. He exuded genuine warmth. Increasingly, I felt comfortable with him. When I asked him about his takeaway from the yatra, he said:  “Meri sunne ki kshamta bahut badh gayi hain.” (My capacity to listen to people has increased immensely).” I realised that most people have basic problems and want to be heard.

He also said that walking the stretch is not an issue. The challenge was to listen to people, understand their lives and energies. Since he was always surrounded by a thick security cordon, it was not easy to reach him. But Rahul was concerned that people should not be in trouble.

We walked together for 5 kms. I wanted to walk a longer stretch, but the yatra was slightly shortened for a gathering in the evening.

The Memories

When I returned, I found plenty of messages on my phone that I had left at home. One was by my filmmaker friend, Nidhi Tuli: ‘It was good to see you at the yatra,”’ it said. I then learnt that along with some 15 people, she had boarded a train to Nanded to join the yatra. It was such a big crowd that I couldn’t even spot my friend. She also saw immense hope in the yatra.

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The yatra was also homecoming, of sorts. I bumped into Pranav Jha, my hostelmate at Kirori Mal College, Delhi University. We first bonded over a cigarette decades ago and then became dear friends. We gradually lost touch after college. He now works with the Congress’ Communication Department. It was also a pleasant surprise to meet Supriya Sule ji. I told her that I am a fan of her speeches in the Parliament. Another heart-warming moment was finally meeting the ‘Oxygen Man,’ Srinivas BV. During the pandemic, I had tagged him on Twitter on numerous occasions and sought help. The two-month-old daughter of my wife’s Odissi dance guru was down with Covid-19 and they couldn’t find a hospital bed in Bhubaneswar. In tears, I called Srinivas at 2 am, and he immediately arranged for a bed.

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After the yatra, there was a public rally of senior Congress leaders, including Mallikarjun Kharge and Jairam Ramesh. I was also called to the stage. I was hesitant at first. I eventually delivered a short speech and recited verses by Hindi poet Kunwar Narain.

It was my first political rally. And a pleasant one.

As told to Ashutosh Bhardwaj

(This appeared in the print edition as "Yatra Diary")

Sushant Singh is an actor best known for his roles in The Legend of Bhagat Singh, Ye Saali Zindagi and Raktha Charitra I and II

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