The (Re)Discovery of India: Extracts from reflections on the Bharat Jodo Yatra

Extracts from the many thoughtful reflections published in the pages of National Herald during the 3,750 km odyssey that started in Kanyakumari on 7 Sept 2022 and ends in Srinagar on 30 Jan 2023

The (Re)Discovery of India: Extracts from reflections on the Bharat Jodo Yatra

NH Digital

Why ‘Bharat Jodo’ brings to mind ‘Bharat Chhodo

YUSUF MEHERALLY was not even 40 when he wrote and circulated the booklet titled ‘Quit India’ in August 1942 after his suggested name for the proposed civil disobedience movement was accepted by Mahatma Gandhi. By then, he had already been imprisoned several times for embracing independence. He was the youngest Mayor of Bombay and immensely popular for his administrative efficiency and welfare measures.

The ‘Quit India’ cry resonated with India’s teeming millions. People translated the phrase in their own languages— Chale Jaav (literally, get lost) in Marathi and ‘Bharat Chhodo’ in Hindi. The intent was the same, the determination equally strong, whether articulated in Tamil or Asamiya or Gujarati. It gave pithy expression to what everyone felt—everyone had had enough.

Bharat Jodo rhymes well with ‘Bharat Chhodo’. But it’s more than just the rhyme or rhythm of the two, their surface resemblance, that makes the two movements alike. There are very many reasons why Bharat Jodo might revive memories of Bharat Chhodo and indeed become Bharat Chhodo 2.

As the movement unfolds, so will its possibilities. ‘Bharat Jodo’ too may eventually be translated into India’s many languages and perhaps become ‘Connect India’ in English, ‘Samparkisalu Bharata’ in Kannada, ‘Inaikka Natu’ in Tamil, ‘Desh Jodishu’ in Gujarati, and so on.

Once again, it will resonate with the feelings of millions of gagging, suffocating Indians. The spirit of the movement is the same. The same faith underpins it: that India is a ‘union of states’, and it survives if our diversities are respected and allowed to thrive; we are one because we are many.

Bharat Jodo is, therefore, a movement to remind people that we are a nation because we are founded upon our Constitution, which defines us as a union of states—both geographical and ‘mental states’—including people of widely varied cultural practices, theological affiliations and linguistic identities.

In the simplest terms, the objective of the Innaika Natu or Desh Jodishu movement is to reconnect Indians to their Constitution, to bridge the emotional gulf between the idea of India and its people whose minds have been bombarded with divisive sentiment. The Bharat Jodo movement, like Bharat Chhodo, is about all Indians, not just people who live in cities nor only those who pay taxes; not just productive agers nor just voters: it is about every last Indian, regardless of age, gender, caste, religion and economic status.

First appeared on 4 September 2022


Giving the ‘givers’ their due respect

KALAMNURI appeared in the news because Rahul Gandhi and the Bharat Jodo Yatra walked through the town and made a night halt there. In anticipation of the Yatra, poet-novelist Shrikant Deshmukh and thinker Datta Bhagat formed a group of writers named Sahitya Dindi. Dindi refers to the age-old tradition of ‘a procession of poets’ involved in the annual pilgrimage to Pandharpur, known as ‘Wari’.

They asked if I’d help set up a meeting with Rahul Gandhi as I was involved in handling the civil society interaction with the Bharat Jodo Yatra. When I reached Kalamnuri, on the eve of the Yatra’s arrival, I found the writers gathered on the premises of the Cambridge English School.

Our meeting with Rahul Gandhi was scheduled at 2 pm. We were asked to reach the tent an hour earlier. It was a surprise for all in the group, of some 25 writers and activists, that senior Congress leaders personally received the group, conversed with them and escorted them to the meeting in a makeshift tent.

Rahul arrived at the appointed hour. He had walked about 15 km that morning, but there was no sign of fatigue; he looked cheerful. After I introduced the group to him and after brief statements by three writers, he asked if he could intervene.

He was curious to know if the writers could think of a single word that describes all productive and working people, a word that does not have any shade of contempt or indignity. This led to a brain-storming session about the semantic layers and sociological connotations of terms like ‘Dalit’, ‘proletariat’, ‘bahujana’, ‘loka/ log’, ‘janata’ and so on.

The discussion also went over well-worn official social categories like SC/ ST/ OBC and ‘minorities’. It touched upon historically used terms like shramana as against brahmana and praja and raja. Rahul said: “Please consider how we can think of the large majority in India who are producers, the majority that ‘gives’, so that we can give them the dignity that history and society have denied them.”

Rahul has been walking day after day, meeting these groups, talking to people, trying to understand their lives, emotions, thoughts, and sharing with them his own concerns, his dream of creating a society that can live in harmony.

The Yatra has been extremely challenging, just the super-human physical stamina required for it makes it daunting. The number of group meetings and public meetings day after day makes it even more so. Yet, one sees Rahul Gandhi and his colleagues on the Yatra exuding joy as if they have found a great spiritual strength, a certain nasha, as a Sufi would say, or brahmananda as a Hindu saint might put it.

The divine delight that Rahul Gandhi has brought to the Yatra cannot be captured by any political analysis. It cannot be understood if seen as a make-over and transformation of a persona. It can only be understood if it is seen as a pure desire to re-create Indian society as a society based on the values of respect, dignity, equality and love for all.

Rahul speaks English and Hindi but no other Indian language. He is no poet in any traditional sense. Yet, the way children are drawn to him, the utter comfort women of all ages feel walking with him, the complete absence of cliché and the power of a non-lingual message the Yatra is spreading indicate that Rahul is conducting a semiotic experiment of the kind unknown in history.

The appeal of the Yatra lies not in what it says; it is in its ability to move the minds and hearts of people without saying much. It says exactly what the age-old harmony between different religious groups in Kalamnuri says to India: ‘even if you do not acknowledge my presence, I am timeless and I am here, for as long as India is India’.

4 December 2022


The (Re)Discovery of India: Extracts from reflections on the Bharat Jodo Yatra
The (Re)Discovery of India: Extracts from reflections on the Bharat Jodo Yatra

Fissures in our society the Yatra hopes to bridge

GOING BY eyewitness accounts, the Bharat Jodo Yatra has been a phenomenal success. So much so that debating its success/ failure is now a prime-time obsession. Many of these TV debates are biased, but it’s neither right nor fair to dismiss them all as ‘manufactured’; there is an attempt to gauge the impact of the Yatra. Not even just in TV studios but in political circles too. There is also a perceptible curiosity among common folk about the Yatra, about what makes it so different.

They have heard, of course, that the Yatra is not about elections or electoral gains—and the outcome of the recently concluded assembly elections in Gujarat and Himachal lend some credence to that assertion. Nor is it about unifying the Opposition. A rather ludicrous theory doing the rounds is that the Yatra is to salvage/ burnish Rahul Gandhi’s image; this deserves no comment. But that also begs the question what the Yatra is really about, if not any of the above.

The answer is the name itself—the words ‘Bharat Jodo’ (reconnect India) declare, loud and clear, what the Yatra seeks to do. But to grasp the spirit and the urgency of this mission, it is necessary to comprehend the disconnect the RSS and BJP are cynically engineering.

The most visible disconnect is, of course, the great trust deficit between the Hindus and Muslims (also Christians) and the great gap between the super-rich and the poor. These have featured in Rahul’s speeches throughout the Yatra.

There are three other divisions the RSS has worked hard to create—think of them as mental walls, designed to divide. The first of these walls stands between the truth of things and the information circulated about them among people. Supplicant media is made the instrument to effect this divide.

Two, the massive negative propaganda about Congress leaders, both living and dead, which serves to tarnish their public image and demoralise party workers. Never before has a political party spent so much sinister energy maligning opposition leaders.

The third wall stands between Indians and their understanding of their past. It tries to divide the people of India from their real history—of diverse communities, languages, cultures and what Nehru described as India’s palimpsestic past— and concoct an alternative narrative that somehow validates the RSS’s fiction of a once-glorious Hindu India. The current government has done its damnedest to embellish and embroider this fiction.

In the Sangh schema, all that India knew of its past is made to look like a diabolic conspiracy of European scholars and post-Independence Indian historians. Also integral to this project are attempts to sanitise history of elements that expose the Sangh’s own dubious past.

Prof. Kesavan Veluthat, president of the recently held Indian History Congress in Chennai, said the Vajpayee government had started concealing documents published by the Indian Council for Historical Research, documents that apparently exposed the Sangh’s dubious deals with the British Raj.

G.N. DEVY, 8 January 2023


The re-feminisation of our politics

IT WAS Mahatma Gandhi who first ‘feminised’ politics in India. Sure, there were women in Indian politics, and in the Indian National Congress too, even before he returned to India from South Africa in 1915, but they weren’t that many, and nearly all were from the upper classes and elite families.

Not that they didn’t make a contribution. Many of them were accomplished women, who argued vigorously for women’s education and to secure for them the right to vote and contest elections. Bimala, the woman protagonist of Rabindranath Tagore’s novel Ghare Baire, published in 1916, stepped out of the confines of a conservative home to take part in the Swadeshi movement.

Women in Bengal had even taken part in armed rebellion against colonial rule but, again, you could count them on your fingertips. Nonviolent protest suited the likes of Bimala, indeed most Indian women.

Gandhi’s resolute yet non-violent brand of protest appealed to even home-bound women; it was something they could afford to do. They stepped out of their homes in their numbers for the first time for Gandhi’s satyagraha, each inspiring others of the family to follow suit.

This was a ‘feminisation’ of our politics on a scale never seen before—Gandhi had opened the floodgates. Women embraced his political idiom—of ahimsa (non-violence) and satyagraha (peaceful protest) against injustice, in search of satya (the truth)— with unstinting enthusiasm.

A century later, the Bharat Jodo Yatra replays memories of those days, as women, young and old, step out to walk with Rahul Gandhi. This is remarkable especially because women still comprise only 14 per cent of the Lok Sabha; in state legislatures, they are even fewer. It is happening at a time when politics has become—and is widely being seen as—venal, violent and a sphere still dominated by men.

For hearts and minds hardened by the cynicism our politics easily engenders, it is hard to accept this manifest transformation, but for others, the sight of a swelling multitude of women walking in step, shoulder to shoulder with the men, with a sense of renewed hope, is unmissable.

Roughly a third of the Yatris are women, the crowds still dominantly male. And yet there is a comfortable familiarity in their physical connect with Rahul Gandhi—for women, both young and old, hugging and kissing Rahul Gandhi in full public view seems like the most natural thing. Even more importantly, they seem to be sharing their experiences and ideas for a better India without any inhibition.

The photographs and videos of this ongoing Bharat Jodo Yatra are sending out a powerful signal and indicate another phase of feminisation of Indian politics. Rahul has to toil much more, of course, before he can empower these women and a lot will depend on his will to stay the course. But in the way he is engaging with them, Rahul seems to carry a sense that to transform Indian politics, it must become a safe and comfortable space for women, that they have to play an important part in nation-building.

Chayanika Shah, a Mumbai based queer rights activist and spokesperson for queer feminism, says candidly: “I have watched these videos at length, sometimes for as long as 15 minutes at a stretch and have been moved by them.”

“Women betraying their emotions in public, breaking down in tears are powerful images. Women are sensitive to touch and can differentiate between good touch and bad touch. The images say a lot about Rahul Gandhi also, who is the rare Indian politician—perhaps the only one at this time—who can be dignified, sensitive and respectful while hugging women in public. The women are also clearly comfortable and secure, which is why they do not mind him holding their hand in front of others and talking to them,” she says.

13 November 2022


The (Re)Discovery of India: Extracts from reflections on the Bharat Jodo Yatra

The pain and the pride of being on a great odyssey

FIVE DAYS and a hundred kilometres later, there are many with bruised, bleeding feet. Blisters, swollen ankles, painful knees and sundry aches and pains are common. They are visibly exhausted and surely some of them wonder if they will last. Even the prospect of walking 3,570 kilometers, all the way to Kashmir over 150 days, must be daunting.

But the thought of dropping out has apparently not occurred to them. The Bharat Yatris (those who will walk the entire route) were warned that the first few hundred kilometres would be the hardest. They are waiting for the promised turnaround moment when body and feet have adjusted to the daily grind of walking 20-25 kilometres.

Past that inflection point, they’ve heard from seasoned padayatras like Digvijaya Singh, the long march will be a breeze. They are not there yet, but, buoyed by a willing spirit, they are determined to test their pain barriers.

They know media hyenas lurk, waiting for someone to drop out. Surely the TV channels will go berserk if that were to happen, they confide with a smile. They see 81-year-old AK Antony, who is out to walk with the Yatris, in a show of solidarity. They are also in awe of Rahul Gandhi, who walks briskly and is not showing any real signs that it takes an effort.

An infectious comradely energy envelops the Yatris. Their pain often slows them down, but they hold each other’s hands, exchange smiles, raise slogans and walk on. The words of encouragement they hear from people on the way, the bystanders who wave enthusiastically and offer them water, or flowers and garlands no doubt lift their spirit. “A little pain for a big cause,” one of them says.

Ratna Painkra from Jashpur, Chhattisgarh, is limping. She has searing pain in her knee but insists on walking the distance. Her family has been supportive of her decision to walk all the way from Kanyakumari to Kashmir. Painkra is a zila parishad member. She says: “The country is disintegrating. For people to prosper, we need unity. We cannot waste time on petty politics; we cannot allow another division of the country or a civil war.”

For Daylabeevi, a resident of Nemom in Thiruvananthapuram, it is all about Rahul Gandhi. “It is important to support politicians who work for peace and communal harmony in the country and work for the welfare of the poor,” she says. She is a ‘Pradesh Yatri’.

Anulekha Boosa from Telangana is a lawyer and national secretary of the Congress-affiliated NSUI (National Students Union of India) in-charge of Odisha. “You won’t see them on TV or hear their voices in TV studios, but there are Indians who desperately want change. They need to be heard and their concerns amplified,” she says.

Another Telangana resident, Dhanalakshmi, who is also the state president of the Sarpanch Forum, says: “I want to visit all the states and understand the issues of farmers and women. I’ve now learnt that Kerala is short of land but there is unity among its people.”

For Dhanalakshmi, the walk comes easy—she’d walked 600 kilometres from Bhoodan Pochampally in Telangana to Sevagram in Maharashtra to mark the 75th anniversary of the Bhoodan movement.

ASHLIN MATHEW in Tamil Nadu and Kerala, 18 September 2022


‘We have come a long, long way’

ON 7 SEPTEMBER, when we began our march, there were many questions: Is it feasible to do 25 kilometres a day? Who would want to come along? Would people show up in solidarity?

Today, 60 days into the Yatra, I’m happy to report that those questions have receded. Like we were taught in school, it’s not just your feet that take you along, it’s your heart, your courage that propels you forward. The success of the Bharat Jodo Yatra has exceeded all our expectations, and is bringing home to us the true import of this adage.

This is not to say it was all smooth-sailing. The past 60 days have been physically gruelling, but we’ve risen above it and are even surprised at how quickly the days have gone by. Along the way, I also picked up other things, by watching fellow Yatris; it’s been a sort of crash course in human behaviour.

There are two types of people in the Yatra: those directly associated with the (Congress) party and those who are not directly associated but have joined us. The people on their rooftops, in front of shops, at the entrance to a village, those making videos on their mobiles—their eyes and faces tell us how relevant the Yatra really is. We also read in those faces the many challenges there are to overcome, and we read the signs of a new hope.

For instance, the women Yatris who joined us— not party workers, mind you—spoke of the soaring cost of running a household. Young people spoke of dwindling jobs and a rise in job insecurity. Even those who are currently preparing to join the defence forces reiterated their concerns about unemployment.

Farmers cultivating cotton, soyabean or sugarcane, from across the many places the Yatra has passed through, had various problems to report. Among the recurring themes are: women’s security; the high and rising cost of inputs and the low prices of produce; poor/ uncertain wages for labourers and unemployment among the youth.

This is all especially meaningful, given the lack of reportage on the Yatra in mainstream media. We’ve completed its first stage and each of us feels quite at home. It’s heartening to see how well the country has imbibed the spirit of the Yatra—the lack of reportage has not diminished its effect. No point complaining about it, anyway. Think of the times when we didn’t have mobile phones or social media to communicate with each other. We still found a way to spread our message and surprisingly, the same thing has happened with the Yatra. By now, everyone somehow seems to know about it.

This means that our internal communication is still alive—beyond WhatsApp forwards and what the television channels and newspapers will carry or not. At tea stalls, on buses and trains, on the farms and in the fields, in offices everywhere, in one form or another, in the morning or the evening, some day or the other, the discussion surfaces that the Bharat Jodo Yatra is taking place.

A media friend asked if this Yatra would improve Rahulji’s image. The question itself is wrong. The Yatra has not ‘improved’ his image; it has shown people the real Rahul Gandhi—a sensitive, caring, intelligent leader who spontaneously and effortlessly connects with people. He puts everyone at ease, be it women or young men, the educated or the unlettered, children or the elderly. Crores have been spent to tarnish his image, but now, finally, people are getting to see the real person. And those sceptical questions about him have stopped.

Adapted from a press interaction KANHAIYA KUMAR had in New Delhi on 13 November 2022
The (Re)Discovery of India: Extracts from reflections on the Bharat Jodo Yatra

SHAHNAWAZ ALAM from Uttar Pradesh, who has walked with the Bharat Jodo Yatra through several states, came up with an interesting, if not significant, observation: in Maharashtra, the local organisers insisted that Rahul Gandhi visit memorials of social reformers like Anna Bhau Sathe, Mahatma Phule, Babasaheb Ambedkar besides Shivaji Maharaj, but in Karnataka, there were requests that he visit temples.

Even while walking through the southern states, Rahul Gandhi visited memorials of K. Kamaraj, Thiru Valluvar, Vivekananda, Periyar and Sree Narayana Guru. The Congress that Rahul Gandhi represents made K. Kamaraj the chief minister of Tamil Nadu and also the president of the Congress. Kamaraj came from the backward ‘Nadar’ caste. Welfare schemes initiated by Kamaraj facilitated the education of children from poor, Dalit and backward families in the state. His contributions for marginalised sections are unhesitatingly recognised and recalled by even non-Congress leaders of the state. “Had Kamaraj’s mid-day meal scheme not been there, I would never have been able to study,” says CPI general secretary D. Raja.

The Congress took initiatives to usher in gradual changes in society and politics, both before and after Independence. This has been the legacy of the Congress party for long. Supporters and critics of the Bharat Jodo Yatra alike are waiting to see if the Yatra and indeed Rahul Gandhi himself are able to connect with this legacy and claim it as their own.

It is worth recalling that Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru had failed to get the Hindu Code Bill, introduced by Babasaheb Ambedkar, passed by Parliament. The bill was fiercely opposed by the rabid Hindu organisations as well as the conservative right-wing elements inside the party. He then introduced three different bills and steered them.

Ambedkar was close to Nehru within the Congress, but he also had differences with him. This was largely because Nehru carried on his shoulder all the responsibility for the successes and the failures as the leader of the government and the party. He had to reconcile conflicting interests and take leaders and the people along. That explains their relationship, which some historians see as fluctuating between adoration and exasperation. But both leaders had confidence in each other’s sincerity and ability to build an equitable India.

The success and importance of the Bharat Jodo Yatra can be explained because of the long history of the party and its front organisations which were politically active and almost always committed to an inclusive polity, equality and social change. The Bharat Jodo Yatra can, therefore, be seen as a continuation of the journey to forge and foster brotherhood. It needs, however, to take an extra stride and reclaim the legacy of the great Bahujan Dalit leaders and reformers. This will be an important step forward to make Indian society truly secular.

SANJEEV CHANDAN 15 January 2023

‘Humour does have a bleeding edge’

THE TV ANCHORS would surely ask: what is Kunal Kamra doing at the Bharat Jodo Yatra—is he perhaps contemplating a plunge into politics or planning to join the Congress? Is Kunal Kamra out of gainful work, jokes Yogendra Yadav, at a little têteà-tête with the stand-up comic on the sidelines of the Yatra in Rajasthan.

Oh, there’s no dearth of gainful work, comes the swift repartee—his “Dollar Jodo Yatra” is doing fine, thank you! But the stand-up comic concedes it’s hard to perform in India, where police permissions are hard to come by—except maybe in Maharashtra, which has a different ethos, he says.

He’d been watching the Yatra from the sidelines, he said, for a week since December 8, trying to understand why people were joining it in such large numbers. After tuning in to those voices for over a week, he was ready to join it himself. “I couldn’t chicken out and take refuge in ‘neutrality’ anymore.”

He has poked fun at Rahul and the Congress too, Kamra reminds Yadav. And humour does have a bleeding edge. Even the BJP has used comedy to great effect to lampoon the Congress and Rahul Gandhi, but the BJP does not have a stomach for jokes when it is at the receiving end.

Dictators everywhere are scared of comedy, says Yadav. “They are not afraid of reasoned arguments or logic or facts and figures. Tell them about fake news, dodgy data, the devastation wrought by demonetisation… they will simply ignore it. But crack a joke at the dictator and he will see red.”

KUNAL KAMRA in conversation with YOGENDRA YADAV 25 December 2022

The diversity lesson in a cup of tea

IN KANYAKUMARI, where the Bharat Jodo Yatra got under way, the first language of the people is Tamil. Many of us from India’s Hindi belt were all at sea—even asking for a cup of tea was a challenge. The locals were warm and hospitable, but had neither Hindi nor English. Negotiating that language barrier was a good way to remind ourselves why we were on the road.

That aside, the food made up for the inconvenience. We discovered that even simple street food was very different from our idea of ‘South Indian’ in the north. I was overwhelmed by those big thali meals and the mildly flavoured curries when I was expecting a chilli-hot assault—it was nothing of the sort.

Luckily the six-day Onam festival was still on when we entered the state. Another fellow traveller from a Hindi-speaking state joked that he could breathe again— in Kerala, it did somehow seem easy to forget that you were Hindu or Muslim. Maybe it was the free spirit in which Onam was being celebrated: Muslims and Christians were not just in token attendance, they were performing, participating. There were many women in burqas and they didn’t look out of place.

In his brief speech on reaching Thiruvananthapuram, Rahul Gandhi said something similar. Kerala, he said, was an oasis that produced the best doctors, nurses, teachers and administrators because people lived in harmony. The country needed to learn from this ‘Kerala Model’, he said.

They know there’ll be attempts to disrupt and discredit the Yatra. The smallest lapse, the tiniest detail that offers any badpress purchase will be amplified by lapdog media, at the behest of the ruling party. Nobody here is surprised that Rahul Gandhi’s T-shirt is deemed a worthy topic for prime-time TV discussions—it takes a combative reminder, about a certain suit Narendra Modi wore, for them to back off. More proof of similar trolling came from TV actress-turned-politician Smriti Irani’s charge that Rahul had “failed to visit” the Rock Memorial at Kanyakumari to pay homage to Vivekananda. Expect worse when the Yatra enters BJP-ruled Karnataka on October 1.

DEEPAK ASEEM in Tamil Nadu and Kerala, 25 September 2022

Bringing them together again

AS DALITS and the forward Lingayat community leaders sat together for a sahabhojana (common lunch) at Badanavalu village in Mysuru district in Karnataka, history was created. It was after 29 long years that the two communities in the village had come together—the parting of ways had been bitter after three Dalits were brutally killed in March 1993.

The credit for bringing together the two communities and for opening up movement between the two hamlets goes to the ongoing Bharat Jodo Yatra. It was not just sharing a lunch together. A 180 metre long stretch of road was also laid in the village to connect the two estranged communities. The pathway had remained closed since 1993.

Rahul Gandhi, along with children from all communities in the village, laid the last stretch of the road with multi-coloured blocks of brick and aptly named it ‘Bharat Jodo Road’.

Communication between the Dalits and the Lingayats in the village had broken off following a dispute over the Dalits’ entry into the Siddeshwara temple in the village. Dalits, who were debarred from entering the temple by the upper castes, had taken up the issue with the authorities concerned, who eventually facilitated their entry.

Angered by this, three Dalits were hacked to death on 25 March 1993, while they were returning from the temple. Of the 23 accused in the killings, 20 were convicted following a CBI inquiry and the court sentenced them to life imprisonment.

The Bharat Jodo Yatra, which has moved through the Old Mysuru areas of Chamarajanagar, Mysuru and Mandya and is inching towards north Karnataka districts of Ballari and Raichur, has been living up to its spirit of cementing relations.

NAHEED ATAULLAH in Mysuru, Karnataka, 6 October 2022

The diversity lesson in another tongue

THE BHARAT JODO YATRA was delayed by over three hours as it entered Maharashtra on Monday, November 7, the 60th day of the long march. But the enthusiasm of people at Deglur did not flag. There had gathered in their thousands, and when the Yatris finally entered the state around 9.45 p.m., the welcome was tumultuous.

The people who were waiting at Deglur, on Maharashtra’s border with Telangana, were not all from the small town, which has a population of just 60,000. Deglur is a tehsil in Nanded, a district once part of the Nizam’s State of Hyderabad. They seemed to have come from far-off places.

Deglur was an apt place, culturally and symbolically, to begin the Bharat Jodo Yatra in Maharashtra. It has geographical, linguistic, religious and social plurality. On one side of the town is Telangana (formerly Andhra Pradesh), on another Karnataka. Although it is part of Maharashtra, since its integration in 1960 with the state’s Marathi speaking populace, as part of the linguistic reorganisation of states, the town has people who speak Telugu, Kannada, Urdu and Marathi, who live in apparent harmony and happiness.

It has its share of poor people, but you don’t see the kind of grinding poverty all too common in India. It has a middle class that is not necessarily upwardly mobile, not always on the make. It is a trading centre without the “trader mentality” of, say, Ahmedabad. To a large extent, it owes its cultural pluralism, its religiously accommodative character to the Hyderabad liberation struggle and saintly fighters like Ramanand Tirtha.

The political leadership and legacy have been sustained by the dynasty of Shankarrao Chavan. Last year, Nanded celebrated the birth centenary of Shankarrao, whose son Ashok is the ‘captain’ of the Bharat Jodo Yatra in the state. His meticulous planning and effort to bring in civil society groups to make the Yatra a truly representative one was the talk of the town.

Rahul could at once connect with Deglur’s multi-lingual, multi-faith ethos. After a huge and glittering welcome, he garlanded the statue of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj, the man who led the Indian subcontinent’s first ‘swaraj’ movement, in the 17th century. In his brief speech, he urged people to respect and promote the values of Shivaji, and then, immediately after the speech, walked to the gurudwara, 10 kilometres away. Nearly 3,000 joined him on this ‘Mashal Yatra’. The day had been a long haul, but there was still no visible sign of fatigue or exhaustion. He finally called it a day around midnight. His stamina, and the ability to keep smiling through likely exhaustion are a feature of conversation among onlookers and activists.

The next day, November 8, the Yatra was to start from the same gurudwara he had visited the previous evening on the eve of Gurpurab (Guru Nanak’s birth anniversary). Once again, the same frenzy to get close to him, to walk with him, to have a few minutes of conversation…. And they were not just children or giddy teenagers—the crush of people included students, writers, social activists, hapless people oppressed by local thugs, farmers, small and medium entrepreneurs, women of all ages, artists…

It was impossible to humour all, but he listened to anyone who met him, without any pretension or airs, tuning in to their ‘Mann ki Baat’, so to speak. This wasn’t for the cameras.

KUMAR KETKAR in Deglur, Maharashtra, 13 November 2022

‘This is a small step, we have to take bigger ones’

I JOINED the Bharat Jodo Yatra for a bit when it entered Delhi. "Congratulations, Rahulji, for this big step,” I said to him. “It’s a small step; we have to take bigger ones,” he promptly replied. You can quibble with that statement (the yatra is certainly not “a small step”), but Rahul Gandhi’s response indicates his enthusiasm and commitment.

Rahul has belaboured the point that the Yatra is not motivated by political considerations but by the desire to “spread love”.

How does one spread love, say, in a situation like Gujarat, where the forces that welcome convicted rapists like heroes win an overwhelming popular mandate? How does one administer an antidote to the poison being spread by mass media without making people conscious of its devastating effects?

Some political pundits have dismissed the Yatra as a journey without a manzil. To them, I’d simply say: the ‘manzil’ of this Yatra is to reiterate the idea of an inclusive, pluralist, democratic Indian polity and a compassionate society that cares for its most disadvantaged members. Rahul Gandhi is right in pointing out that any meaningful opposition unity, capable of challenging the BJP, can only be built around an alternative political vision, not the aura of a leader.

Beyond the media-manufactured aura of Prime Minister Modi, the BJP has been successful in projecting itself as a party dedicated to the dream of a proud, assertive India. Modi has been built up as a mascot of this dream project and the Congress presented as indifferent, if not hostile, to this dream. This construct forms the scaffolding of the BJP’s ‘Congress-mukt Bharat’ fantasy.

The vision needed to arrest the spread of hatred in our society, and to reverse the process of regression into medievalism and bigotry, can be articulated only in the political framework of an inclusive Indian nationalism that seeks to empower the poor and powerless. The Bharat Jodo Yatra is a much-needed step in this direction; after all, the ‘nation’ is its people, not just hollow rhetoric or outbursts directed against made-up ‘internal enemies’.

The moral underpinning of the Bharat Jodo Yatra is crucial, but its political fallout is no less important.

The rattled response of the BJP—not just its troll army but also its leaders—is another measure of the Yatra’s political potential. The light-hearted ease and confidence with which Rahul and his Yatra team have been taking on the BJP and other political adversaries, including some sections of lapdog media, suggests a heartening rejuvenation of the Congress.

PURUSHOTTAM AGRAWAL in New Delhi, 8 January 2023

The Message and the Messenger

THE BJP, as a political party, is many bad things in one, but it is not stupid. The party’s discomfiture and subdued sense of alarm has been evident in the desperate attempts to reduce the padayatra to T-shirts, containers, shoes, and to mock it as ‘Bharat Todo’ or ‘Congress Jodo’ yatra. But the mockery and lampooning are not working this time. This is what is confounding the BJP and explains its desperation.

The BJP has invested a lot of time and hundreds of crores over the past eight years to caricature Rahul Gandhi as a fumbling idiot, an entitled dynast and a part-time politician, given to gaffes and incapable of the 24x7 exertion required in politics. It has been getting votes from this deliberately created falsehood, whereas the real fiction lies in the hyped-up persona of none other than Mr. Modi himself; the attack was used to hide the fact that the emperor had no clothes.

Rahul Gandhi had no way to counter or dispel this viciously manufactured image of himself because the BJP had also bought over practically the entire print and television media. A lesser man would have given up… but Rahul Gandhi has decided instead to leapfrog into the past and draw on one of India’s most potent weapons of resistance—the padayatra.

What is the message, people ask, some derisively. I think it was best answered by Rahul Gandhi himself when a journalist asked him this question: “The message of the Bharat Jodo Yatra is humility, compassion and respect for people. We are not abusing anybody, not threatening anybody. We are walking with humility.”

I feel that was very well put. More than anything else, India needs a healing touch. It needs a compassionate leader, not an Ozymandias. This, I believe, is the message of the long walk. Rahul Gandhi is the messenger and the message.

AVAY SHUKLA, 2 October 2022

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