By Pawan Khera and Manish Khanduri
It was a memorable day, for the spirit and toughness that the Yatris displayed in overcoming really unfavourable weather conditions in a straight 20 kilometre walk. It was an especially memorable day because of the people, one man in particular, who decided to walk with the #BharatJodoYatra.
It also was a day of firsts – the start of the Yatra this day was postponed not once but twice. And we saw Congressman Rahul Gandhi wear a jacket in the Yatra for the first time.
Both unusual events had the same underlying cause. It was a wet winter morning, beginning as random drops of water falling from the dark skies, as the Yatris got up around 5:30 AM to prepare for the planned 7 AM start. But as time passed the drops turned into a steadier drizzle and the start was postponed first to 7:30 AM and then finally 8 AM.
Even so the rains did not let up, and hence the sight of Gandhi in a jacket over the customary half sleeved T- shirt he has worn so far – wind or rain, summer or winter.
But did the Yatris even pause once? Hardly.
Not just because by now the Yatris have become used to all sorts of adversity. But also because it was the first day’s walk in the last state in the five month long itinerary of the Yatra.
Yatri Kiran Mugabasav expresses it best. “When we started from Kanyakumari it was a was a proud moment for me. And I had the same feeling when I entered Jammu yesterday and realised as we walked, that we are reaching end point of this historic journey.”
And really you had to be there to feel the spirit and the good cheer that characterised this long (20 odd kilometres from Hatli Morh Chowk to Channi, Kathua, there being no afternoon session) freezing and wet day. Whether it were MPs Digvijay Singh and Jairam Ramesh setting a fast, unrelenting pace, or the Yatris’ good cheer as expressed in songs, or just good natured comments on the weather, it was a magnificent day to be a Yatri.
“Like Rahul Gandhi had stated recently that he had killed off the old Rahul, I felt that I too had shed my earlier self in this Yatra?” said Mugabasav, “My shoes got wet so I walked in slippers for a while, my sweater became water logged so I walked in my cotton kurta, didn’t matter.”
The rain peaked and for a while it looked as if would continue to pour down, but it soon relented and the Yatris ‘only’ had to walk through a gentle drizzle for the rest of the day. Even so there were people on the streets who still came to watch the Yatra, such as the Keralite Sisters from a nearby school. “We want to see Rahil Gandhi,” they told us, and we hope they did. For Yatri Shatrughan Sharma it was “Amazing that people were turning out in this weather to support us.”
Speaking at a press confeeence during the day, Ramesh stated that “The BJP/RSS ideology was taking the country in one direction, whereas the Congress ideology was the one that gave the nation a Constitution and helped in the building of modern India”. He went on to add that “There is a clash between these two ideologies.”
A number of prominent people walked with us today, as is the norm in the Yatra. There were I.D Khajuria and colleagues from the International Democratic Party. Amrish Jasrotia, President, People’s United Front. And a group from Dakshinayan Abhiyan, a movement launched by Padma Shri Ganesh Devy, a scholar, linguist, and an activist.
All of the above are distinguished in their own fields. But, without any disrespect to them, the individual who we want to mention in some detail is a living legend.
A man by the name of Bana Singh.
In June of 1987 the then Naib Subedar of the Indian Army, 8th Jammu and Kashmir Light Infantry was posted in the Siachen sector. And there he won the nation’s highest award for gallantry, the Param Vir Chakra, capturing an enemy outpost that was “virtually an impregnable glacier fortress with ice walls, 1500 feet high, on both sides.” This last quote is directly from his PVC citation.
In doing so Bana achieved legendary status in the armed forces. The post he captured is named after him. Today Subedar Major and Honorary Captain Bana Singh walked with us and it was a feeling of the greatest pride.
For those who would question the Yatra, or the patriotism of those who walk it, go ahead ask this man why he walked with the #BharatJodoYatra.
Because we did.
So – why the Yatra, Captain saab? “This is our country,” Singh replied, “And what issues that are there, we have to tackle. I had an amazing conversation with Rahul Gandhi and hope to meet him again in the future.” He went on to offer a metaphor for the Yatra which he said was like “Water and fertiliser to till the fields, necessary and required effort.”
Of all the descriptions that we’ve heard for the Yatra, this one is right up there.
Tomorrow is a day of rest for the Yatra and we’ll be back the day after.
Continuing with our practice of thanking those who have contributed to these diaries, today we mention Aparna Ashwarya from the research team at the INC Communications Department, and Aastha Agnihotri, Hindi Content Writer for the INC.
If you’ve ever read the very topical and interesting ‘Travel Facts’ section in this diary, it gives a brief description of the districts and large towns that the Yatra passes through. That’s all entirely because of Ashwarya’s supporting input. What was the best part of the Yatra for her? “The participation of women in the Yatra with such extraordinary numbers is very optimistic for the future of India.”
For Agnihotri, “My memorable moment was walking beside RaGa for 25kms amid the chilly winters of Punjab and not feeling the temperature or any fatigue at the end of the day. Such is the energy that has emerged all through BJY and I think there is nobody who hasn’t been touched by it.”
Currently in Jammu and Kashmir, 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: Kathua
2. Because of its close proximity to the Pakistan border, Kathua district also has had a significant Indian Army presence since independence.
3. Basohli a town of Kathua district, is widely known for its paintings.
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