By Pawan Khera and Manish Khanduri
It was a biting cold winter morning – perhaps a precursor to what’s to come a few days later in Jammu and Kashmir- that greeted the Yatris as they began their morning session at Jhingar Khurd, Tanda and ended at Ganuspur, Hoshiarpur around 14 kilometres away.
The Yatra started at 7 AM, as it has these past few days. Those who have been following this diary can realise the significance of that previous statement – that it was a full hour later than the usual 6am start that the #BharatJodoYatra has followed for months! In turn that meant that the Yatris can now get a precious extra hour of sleep – something they have been desiring for months. A request that – and this is a matter of record – rejected repeatedly by one Rahul Gandhi for the longest time. But in the end popular sentiment prevailed, as is fair in a democracy!
As always the people of Punjab turned out in large number to support the Yatris. Along the way we met little Ismail, 4, who was waving at the Yatris who passed by. We’re not sure whether he understood much about the Yatra but he was clearly having a great time.
More aware of what was going on were Nirmala Devi and her family, including the family pup named Chabbi. They’d been waiting to see the Yatra “for a couple of hours”. Likewise, Paramajeet Kaur was waiting patiently with her four year old son to see the #BharatJodoYatra pass. Meanwhile Kulwinder Kaur, Jaswinder Kaur and her friends had been “waiting since 5AM to see Rahul.”
Along the route the Yatris were accompanied by Sudhakar Sundaravel, Managing Director, Turbo Engineers and CII, MSME South India Head; a group of truck drivers affected by Attari border closure, and Ex-servicemen discussing issues of enlisted & JCO ranks. Also, in a separate ceremony, handicapped and visually challenged children presented Gandhi with a copy of the Constitution.
In the afternoon Congress MP Rahul Gandhi held a press interaction. Speaking on the the media’s role he said that the Congress would like “A media that puts pressure on the government on key issues. For a Congress Government, you are a feedback channel. We want you to give us pressure on important things, in things like Income inequality, on things like hatred, on things like anger, on things like farmers, on things like unemployed youngsters.” A complete reversal, we’d like to say, from how the current BJP dispensation sees the media – as a subservient and complacent tool.
On a question about the culmination of Bharat Jodo Yatra, Gandhi said that “The Yatra is about to arrive at its culmination at one level, yes; that its going to arrive in Srinagar; but, for me, the Yatra is a way of thinking. It is a way of acting. So, for me personally, it will carry on. For me, walking across this country has been an extremely humbling experience.”
In the evening the Yatris walked around 10 kilometres from Ganuspur, Hoshiarpur to their evening break at Mukerian. During this stretch they were accompanied by a group comprising of academics and historians of Punjab, a group of farmers and singer Rabbi Shergill. At the beginning of the walk, in a striking scene, Gandhi pushed a Paralympic athlete in his wheelchair.
All along the way the Yatris were met by a strong supportive crowd that cheered on the walkers all the way. “A few times we were stopped” says Yatri Lalit Farswan “By people who wanted to know where we were from. This has happened more times than previously.”
Later in the evening, after they got to their rest camp, the Yatris were entertained by Bir Khalsa, an internationally recognised Sikh martial arts group, which featured in Channel Seven’s reality television show Australia’s Got Talent, season 10. It was an incredible performance that had the crowd rocking.
As this diary winds down we wish to thank the people who have directly helped to make it happen. First off the block is Amitabh Dubey, Incharge, Research and Monitoring, AICC Communications. Amitabh and his team have been invaluable in providing the background research for this diary.
“The best part of the Yatra for me,” he says “Has been to walk and talk with individual Yatris over extended periods, whether debating Gandhi vs Ambedkar, explaining the unique features and charms of the varied constituencies from which they come, or even the best way to grow organic strawberries and to make delicious squashes. It has been amazing to meet people from completely different backgrounds and life experiences who share the same political values and have similar concerns about where the country is headed.”
Then there’s Ajay Thakur who has been responsible multiple times for on ground reporting, collecting stories of people who came to see the Yatra and even helped with taking pictures. “I met friends” he says simply “From across states, cultures and languages. I don’t know if I’ll ever feel the same happiness that I am feeling as we near the end of this journey. I shall tell my grandchildren that I participated in this Yatra.”
Currently in Punjab, 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. Districts names: Hoshiarpur
2. Hoshiarpur is mentioned in a number of Sanskritic and Vedic literature as well as in Puranas, Ramayana and Mahabharata.
3. Hoshiarpur is home to the Kamahi temple, one the oldest Hindu temples, believed to be built by the Pandavas.
4. Hoshiarpur district is the birthplace of Mangu Ram Mugowalia, freedom fighter with the Ghadar Party of India, and Piara Singh Gill, prominent nuclear physicist and first director of India’s Scientific Instruments Organisation.
5. Hoshiarpur finds mention in the works of famous Chinese traveller, Hieun Tsang.
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