When I walked with Rahul Gandhi as part of 'Bharat Jodo Yatra'

This reporter was fortunate enough to be able to spend some time with Congress leader Rahul Gandhi while he walked through Karnataka as part of the 'Bharat Jodo Yatra'

When I walked with Rahul Gandhi as part of 'Bharat Jodo Yatra'

Naheed Ataulla

Taking a cab at 4 AM to travel 170 kilometre from Bengaluru to Kenkere in Tumakuru district of Karnataka on October 10 to join the 'Bharat Jodo Yatra' did not bother me so much as did the question swirling in my mind whether I would be able to get close to Congress leader Rahul Gandhi.  

The Congress leader had stayed overnight in Pochkatte in Tumakuru and was exiting from Kenkere, the last point. He was to enter Chitradurga district from Hiriyur and travel by car for 38 kilometre as it is a social forestry area.

On the way, I picked up my friend Asma, editor of Salar English Digital. The crux of the conversation between us as we travelled for three and a half hours was, 'Will we get a one minute moment to talk to Rahul Gandhi?'

We had requested KPCC president D K Shivakumar to this effect, who had said the best time to try to meet Rahul would be in the mornings as in the evenings, the crowd usually became unwieldy. 

Reaching one point at Huliyar in Tumakuru district, one spotted a couple of vehicles adorned with the Congress flag and the 'Bharat Jodo Yatra' symbol, but everything was quiet. Rahul Gandhi had just crossed from there and was nearing Kenkere, the exit point. The chase began as it was to be now or never.

Instead of going behind the vehicles, the cab driver was told to take a detour and head in the opposite direction, hoping for a face to face meeting with Rahul Gandhi. 

The plan worked. In the distance, we heard the police sirens and saw the Congress Seva Dal workers marching along with Rahul Gandhi in a white T-shirt and beige trousers, with Shivakumar and senior Congress MLA G Parameshwara giving him company. 

It was 9.35 AM and suddenly all our plans went for a toss. The oncoming yatris just crashed into me and at the same time, Rahul Gandhi decided he will do a sprint with Shivakumar just as he had done with former CM Siddaramaiah in Mandya last week.

Bhaago”, shouted someone, Rahul Gandhi thrust a Congress flag in Shivakumar's hand and both started running on the newly jelly laid road. As Rahul Gandhi's security personnel, the Congress workers and other yatris started running, I too made a sprint, even as I said to myself, 'Now I have lost him, cannot meet'. 

Then, suddenly, the running stopped and as each of us tried to regain our breath, Rahul Gandhi walked ahead and in front of me, I saw a wall formed of security personnel, who were not allowing anyone to get past them. I decided that the only way to catch Rahul Gandhi and Shivakumar's eye was to get out of the cordon ropes and run alongside. 

Suddenly, Shivakumar spotted me, asked the security to let me in, grabbed my hand and took me to the front and introduced me to Rahul Gandhi. For the next 3.5 kilometre, covered in seven minutes, Rahul Gandhi held my hand and spoke on why he is undertaking the yatra. 

Thrice the security personnel and a senior AICC member prompted Rahul Gandhi from behind that he should ask me to step back. He turned back and said, “I am speaking to her.”

It was 9.50 AM when I started walking with Rahul Gandhi and at 9.57 AM, the exit point had been reached. There was a shamiana put up for the security personnel to take a breath as Rahul Gandhi got into a car and left for Hiriyur.

A Mahila Congress worker, who was trying to take a selfie at every location of the yatra in Karnataka, said, “You are lucky, nobody gets more than a minute to walk with him.” 

Why he is participating in the yatra 

Rahul Gandhi said the reasons for him to take up the padayatra were both political and personal. “Politically, I have always wanted to walk across this country. To meet with the people. To know their stories, to hear from them,” he said. 

“And also, it is not easy to walk. It involves a bit of suffering. I wanted to undertake that for myself. And also make our politicians undertake this suffering. Our political class has become detached from the people. They come in their cars, spend a few moments talking to people and then go away. There is no real connection. But by walking, by reaching out to the people, by listening to their stories I am re-integrating myself (and all of us) into the people,” he added. 

Rahu Gandhi said his walk is not structured. “I am just walking, meeting with the people of my country,” he maintained, even as people called out to him for autographs and photographs and one person in Gundlupet had brought a goat to be 'blessed' and he waved to them as he walked.

“However, even this is a bit artificial,” he says, pointing to the ropes which form the security cordon around him, “but still this is better than travelling in a car, waving to the people and leaving,” he added 

Rahul also stressed that “India is a country which was built by walking. People walked together to build this nation. I am doing the same.''

On some communities being repeatedly targeted in the BJP regime, he said, “There is a lot of insecurity in the people today. Imagine if I were to blindfold you and ask you to run on this road. You will be afraid and insecure and, in that fear and insecurity, chances are that you will hit out. What I want to do is remove that insecurity and fear from the minds of the people. And also, to tell them that if they hit out blindly, they are also getting hurt in the process. I want the people to feel secure." 

His personal reasons for walking were, he said, due to his family eing indebted to India. “My family, my sister, my mother and even my father received a lot of love from the people. We owe a lot to this country and we are forever indebted to the country. I am here to return the debt,” he said. 

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