By Pawan Khera and Manish Khanduri
For once the Bharat Yatris had some small relief as the Yatra got off to a later start, in fact a much later start than their usual 6AM time. “It felt like luxury” says Yatri Vaibhav Walia of the 8 AM start that was announced the night before.
Luxury start, yes. But, as the Yatris commenced their approximately 10 kilometre journey from bypass Sanoli Panipat road to the midday break on the GT Road near Panipat, the walking conditions remained as ever freezing. “It was two degrees out there,” says Yatri Zeeshan Ahmed, “I checked!”
Of the many who walked in the bitter cold, there were two people out there who didn’t apparently seem to feel the cold. One of course is Congress MP Rahul Gandhi who seems to be impervious to conditions in his by now trademark slacks and half sleeved T- Shirt. And the other was Abhimanyu Sharma, 5, who came dressed as iconic freedom fighter Bhagat Singh and who went one up on Gandhi by walking bare chested. The picture speaks for itself.
The weather conditions may have been unfavourable but that did not deter the Yatris who arrived at their destination undeterred and with the same enthusiasm as before. “It doesn’t matter” says Ahmed, “When you get walking on the open road, you keep going.”
The Yatris were accompanied this day by a diverse cross section of individuals and groups. These included Gandhians from Khadi Ashram, environmentalist Leo Saldanha, eminent academician Sheila Jasanoff at the Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. After the tea break they were joined by a group of handloom exporters.
The day started late but also ended comparatively early with a large public meeting at the HUDA ground in Panipat. It was at this venue that Gandhi delivered a powerful speech.
Speaking to the large crowd, Gandhi said that “This is the reality of Narendra Modi’s India… that there are two India’s. One is the India of small business people, farmers, labourers and unemployed youth. Crores of people live in this India. The other India is occupied by two or three hundred people who hold all of India’s wealth, while the rest hold nothing.”
He also spoke emotively of the BJP government’s controversial recruitment scheme Agniveer. “Explain the patriotism of the BJP to me,” he said, “Lakhs of youth dream of protecting the national flag. They don’t say that they want to enter the army – they say they want to defend the nation. In return the army promises these youth that they will be given the world’s best training, 15 years employment; and the honour of being called ex-servicemen post retirement”.
“The BJP,” Gandhi went on to say “Has broken every one of those promises.”
It was a formidable, inspiring address.
And as for those Yatris who were hoping that the late start would be a habit, Gandhi poured cold water over their hopes in front of the thousands of people at the rally. “I won’t let the Yatra start at any other time but 6am!” he said.
Well, that’s the end of that.
Currently in Haryana, the Bharat Jodo Yatra is a five month, 3500 kilometre long Padyatra from Kanyakumari in the South of India to Kashmir up in the North. It is part of the party’s national mass outreach program aimed at highlighting social polarisation, economic inequalities and political centralisation.
Ground research: Aparna Ashwarya (INC Communications Department research team)
1. District name: Panipat
2. The district and city are renowned for the three battles of Panipat that changed the course of Indian history.
3. The district of Panipat is home to the holy place of the Muslim saint Shaikh Sharafuddeen Bu Ali Qalander.
4. Panipat is the birthplace of the famous Urdu Shayar Maulana Hali and Khawaja Ghulam Saiyidain, an eminent Indian educationist and winner of Sahitya Academy.
5. The district of Panipat is mentioned in the historical epic, Mahabharata. Panipat was one of the five cities founded by the Pandava brothers and was known as Panduprastha.
6. Textiles, carpets are important industries of the areas.
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