By Pawan Khera and Manish Khanduri
We are traveling from Kanyakumari to Kashmir, the longest Padyatra undertaken by the world’s second oldest political party. But the #BharatJodoYatra is not solely a procession moving from point A to B. It is, to reference writer Ernest Hemingway – a ‘moveable feast’ of people, cultural shows, dances, songs, street plays – in short a slice of life richly lived while on the road. Today we will attempt to record a very small part of it.
Early in the morning we came across Mohit. He shuns any limelight, prefers to keep to himself and mostly walks alone. He isn’t a member of the Congress party, but inspired by the Yatra he’s been walking with us, every step of the approximately 1700 kilometres we’ve covered from Kanyakumari.
The Yatra attracts a number of individuals who come long distances on their own. For example, a little later, we met Sumitra Ganesh Taire sitting by the roadside, distributing a local seed, Bhilawa. Bhilawa is closely related to cashew. Taire was there to tell whoever came by that about Bhilawa farming and that it needed more government support.
Meanwhile up ahead, also patiently waiting for the Yatra to arrive were Sheetal, Pooja and Saniksha. Children and youth waiting by the road have been a persistent theme of this Yatra. Why were they there so early this morning? “Rahul Gandhi!” was the chorused response. Their response is a common one as well, especially among their age group.
A special shout-out to the Lokayat team from Pune whom we’ve been seeing on the road in Maharashtra. They’re a self funded volunteer group from Pune, who ahead of the Yatra, have been distributing pamphlets and enthusiastically engaging with crowds through conversations and slogan chanting; and even cultural events. “A lot of people come to see Rahul Gandhi” says Rushal Anand Heena a school teacher who’s with the group, “We try to take the opportunity to educate and inform them about key issues.” There’s 29 or 30 of them present at all times during this Yatra, a formidable presence.
Meanwhile all along the walk are the ever present street artists and performers. Today we met with Mukesh and Arun, dressed up as a bull and a peacock respectively, and sandwiched between the duo was Kishore with a bow and arrow. “Colourful scene” would be an understatement.
Along the way, with the Yatris, and the daily crowd of Congress cadre and supporters, there came to walk with Rahul Gandhi, an expert on ground drought/ ground-water depletion, some farmers, and four environmentalists. In the afternoon there is a planned interaction with civil society leaders and representatives from across Maharashtra.
Such is life on the road. We haven’t even described the cheering crowds, the volunteers distributing water, snacks and even tasty upma by the roadside for the grateful walkers. A full description would take more pages than are the lot of this diary.
Finally, as a matter of record – the Padyatra resumed from Jambrun Phata, Near Sankat Mochan Hanuman Temple, in Washim to culminate around 15 kilometres later for the midday break at the Nathuram Narayandas Mundada Secondary and higher secondary Highschool, Malegaon Jahangir, Dist. Washim.
Currently in the state of Maharashtra, 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)
Midday Travel Facts:
1. Current District – Washim
2. Washim Taluka is the largest cotton-producing area in Maharashtra and is also the largest producer of sorghum along with the Malegaon and Mangrulpir areas.
3. Washim district is well known for its famous pilgrimage sites, including the Venkateswara Balaji Temple.