Thousands line up on road to cheer marchers on day one of ‘Bharat Jodo Yatra’

The yatra will continue in Tamil Nadu till September 10, after which it will cross over to Kerala and will then cover a distance of 511 kilometres across Karnataka in about 21 days

Thousands line up on road to cheer marchers on day one of ‘Bharat Jodo Yatra’
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Ashlin Mathew

Amidst much excitement amongst Congress workers, Congress leader and Wayanad MP Rahul Gandhi officially began his 3,570 km padayatra on Thursday, September 8, from Vivekananda Technical Institute in Kanyakumari after a flag was hoisted there early in the morning by 94-year-old Congress leader and former DCC chief Kumari Ananthan.

Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel, former Finance Minister P Chidambaram, AICC general secretary KC Venugopal, Congress MP S Jothimani walked along Gandhi, while former Madhya Pradesh CM Digvijaya Singh followed slightly behind.

Every day, the padayatra will take place in two phases – between 7 am and 10.30 am and then from 3.30 pm to 6.30 pm – and cover about 22-25 kms.

As part of the yatra, Rahul Gandhi met the family of NEET aspirant S Anitha, who died by suicide after failing to get into a medical course and walked alongside them during the first phase of the yatra.

He was greeted by people and children on the road.

All along the road stretch from the institute to the SMSM Higher Secondary School at Suchindram, where the padayatris were scheduled to take their first break, were more than 3,000 party cadre, well-wishers and civil society members. Mahatma Gandhi and C Rajagopalachari had visited this 101-year-old school in 1937.

Kanyakumari is considered to be a stronghold of the Congress with the sitting MP Vijay Vasanth and three MLAs in the constituency – JG Prince, S Vijaydharini and S Rajeshkumar – from the party. With enthusiastic party workers welcoming the padayatris along the route with percussionists playing traditional drums, Congress leader Kanhaiya Kumar said it was a learning experience.

“Just like Bihar where bhajans can be heard from temples in the morning, here too chants are heard from temples. I have come to Kanyakumari before, but this is the first time we are interacting closely with the local residents. It is not staged and there’s no VIP culture. When we walk with a group of people on the roads, adrenaline is high and we are learning the political culture here,” said Kumar.

Underscoring that he is from Bihar, Kumar pointed out that several migrants from the state had walked thousands of kilometres across the country. He said he has that spirit within him as he voluntarily set out on this padayatra.

He pointed out that with Congress being in the Opposition, a cross-country journey such as the ‘Bharat Jodo Yatra’ will help people and the party connect emotionally with each other.

“There is a need for a mass connect that is not just on social media. This yatra hopes to bring to focus the lack of accountability from the government in power,” added Kumar.

For several Seva Dal workers, being a part of the padayatra was a chance to revive the party organisation and remember the older days.

Seventy-year-old Bhagat from Nagpur decided to join the cross-country journey to see his leaders at a closer distance. “I am not one of the official padayatris, but I will follow them as much as I can. I will sleep under the open sky and hopefully some of the days in the camps they will be setting up,” he said.

For Pratibha Atal Pal from Kanpur in Uttar Pradesh, it was a historic moment to be “padayatri along with Rahul Gandhi”. The UP Congress secretary said she was confident this yatra would give the unemployed youth and those affected by the wrong economic policies of the Modi government an opportunity to highlight their concerns and voices.

“The Congress will also be able to unite people and the country through this padayatra,” she said.

Congress leader Jairam Ramesh pegged the ‘Bharat Jodo Yatra’ as a sanjivani for the party, saying that it would emerge in a new, more aggressive avatar with the rally.

The yatra will continue in Tamil Nadu till September 10, after which the yatris will walk through neighbouring Kerala and will then cover a distance of 511 kilometres across Karnataka in about 21 days.

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