The chemistry of Bharat Jodo Yatra

Success begets success but also envy and insecurity

Noori Khan walking with Rahul Gandhi (Photos: Twitter/@INC)
Noori Khan walking with Rahul Gandhi (Photos: Twitter/@INC)

Deepak Aseem

We’d met just once earlier during the Bharat Jodo Yatra. I am from Indore and she, I learnt, is from Ujjain. We'd exchange smiles when our paths crossed. This time, soon as she spotted me, Noori Khan broke into tears.

To my surprise, my eyes moistened too. Maybe she saw in me a brother, a comrade, with whom she could share her thoughts and her pain. She is a Bharat Yatri while I’m only covering the Yatra. Strain and exhaustion were writ large on her face, and she had a bandaged toe.

When she spoke, it was plain that she was homesick. But she said she’d keep walking and resist the temptation to steal a quick visit home when the Yatra passes through Ujjain. Her children, Sofia and Raihan, will no doubt want her to spend some time at home, but she can’t afford it, she says; it’ll weaken her resolve to walk all the way up to Kashmir.

The body aches in the evening and often it is painful to even shift the legs, she confides. Some nails on the feet have come off. But it all seems like a dream, she says, as if she were taking part in history as it unfolds. ‘I feel like I’m on Gandhi’s Dandi march’.

It was exhilarating, she admits, to be greeted by thousands of people, smiling and waving at the Yatris. ‘We do not speak each other’s language but their eyes convey so much affection that we don’t seem to need words.’ The political tide is turning, she gushes. Kamal Nath will again become chief minister in Madhya Pradesh and the Congress will return to power at the Centre.

Predictable perhaps, coming from a Congress worker and a Bharat Yatri. But the autorickshaw driver in Kollam too echoes her faith. When he learnt that I was covering the Bharat Yatra, he said in his broken Hindi: “Sir, Modi jayega aur ab Rahulji aayega.”

People in the north often talk about the far-fetched possibility that Muslims might overtake the Hindu population in India. They even worry about forced conversion, if that really happened. These people need to spend some time in Kerala.

Muslims comprise 30 per cent of the population of Kerala and Christians 16 per cent; the remaining 54 per cent are Hindus. But nobody in Kerala feels threatened by the 46 per cent minority population.

Beer bars are everywhere. Beef is sold everywhere but Hindus have not launched any movement against beef-eating. Ninety per cent of the Hindus, who happen to be non-vegetarians, have no problem consuming beef. Restaurants, whether owned by Hindus or Muslims, invariably sell beef biryani. Christians constitute only 16 per cent of the population but one sees more churches than temples and mosques. There are no loudspeakers either and even during Onam, loudspeakers at temples were conspicuously absent.

No community here can be recognised by their clothes. Most men are seen in a white shirt and white veshti (dhoti) or lungi. Their names often do not reveal their communal identify. I met someone who gave his name as Anoop; I later learnt he is Anoop Qasim.

Many of the bus conductors are women and unlike in the northern cities, they are never short of change. If the ticket costs Rs 16, you can reliably expect Rs 4 back. Food and liquor too are much cheaper than in the north.

There is no communal talk, none of the ‘80-20’ bile that flows freely in UP. The ratio of 54:46 does not disturb anyone here. These numbers are just numbers.

The Bharat Jodo Yatra has been an eye-opener for both the Congress leaders and their political rivals. The surge of people, the warm welcome Yatris are getting everywhere, people’s willingness to share their thoughts and ideas with Rahul Gandhi are all quite overwhelming and frankly unexpected.

At the end of the day’s walk, a raised platform is set up for Rahul to address the people. When the Yatra started, he kept it short, often ending the address in a couple of minutes. But now he speaks much longer and is connecting with people better. In addition, he is talking to people on the way, at pit stops, in small groups, addressing press conferences.

He seems to be enjoying it too; no doubt the love and affection he is getting from people on the way is a tonic. He is often the first to get ready for the day. While talking to the Bharat Yatris, he exudes a confidence that is infectious. He speaks freely of the need for younger and fitter people in the party.

The national media has either ignored the Yatra so far or tried to give it a bad name. The ‘blackout’ is not working, though, because of the extensive coverage the Yatra is getting in local and regional media. Even the defection of Congress MLAs in Goa, expected to rattle the party and Rahul Gandhi, was overshadowed by the overwhelming response to the Yatra.

This is still just the beginning. In days to come, there’ll no doubt be attempts to malign and sabotage the Yatra. If success begets success, it also breeds envy and ill will.

(Deepak Aseem is an Indore-based journalist)

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