As they say, seeing is believing. Rahul Gandhi’s effect on the masses, elderly men and women or small children, is pure magic. I was spellbound by how people connect with him and Rahul Gandhi with them. The way you reconnect with a long-lost family member or a dear friend. College students and homemakers on terraces and side of roads to catch a glimpse of the leader and little kids ran along shouting Rahul Gandhi. Peppy songs about Bharat Jodo Yatra played in Malayalam, though the only two things I understood were ‘Bharat Jodo Yatra’ and ‘ Rahul Gandhi’. Music was energetic and added to the mood of the participants entirely. In scorching heat and humidity at 2 pm, a crowd of 20,000 plus moved effortlessly on the streets from Aleppy to Kochi (Kerala) highway.
Yatra starts every day at 6 am. Yatris are divided into broad categories. ‘Bharat Yatris’ are 125 selected people from across India who’ll walk with Rahul Gandhi Ji for an entire stretch from Kanyakumari to Kashmir, ‘Pradesh Yatris’ are selected yatris who join the Yatra in every state and walk till the border of the next state, then leaders and Congress workers from different states who join the Yatra for one or two days, finally the locals who throng in thousands to walk along Rahul Gandhi Ji.
As I’m heading the State Control Room for the Bharat Yatra in Madhya Pradesh, I wanted first-hand experience on the management and details of the Yatra, to be prepared by the time BJY hits our state in November and December.
Arrangements for the BJY team are done in a pre-designated space where containers are stationed inside the camp with basic amenities for the ‘Bharat Yatris’. Digvijaya Singh Ji took us to see the containers from inside, which had two 8 feet by 4 feet berth like beds, a little washroom, and a moving space that barely fits two people. “So much for the five-star containers, in the media propaganda, I thought”. The daily stretch of the yatra is about 25 kms. When the yatra starts in the morning as Rahul Gandhi Ji and yatris leave the camp, the camp starts winding up, and the containers and fixtures leave for the next designated camping space for the night halt. By the time the Yatra reaches the camp at around pm, the infrastructure is ready for the yatris night halt. Meanwhile, as Bharat Yatris move to their camp the Pradesh Yatris also have parallel separate designated places in the vicinity of the base camp, for the afternoon break and the night halt. At every 25kms arrangements are made for a thousand people at every halt.
Bharat Jodo Yatra starts at 6 am with usually 3000 people along with Rahul Gandhi Ji at dawn. Next, the Yatra takes a short break at around 11 am for some tea and light refreshments. By this time the 3000 yatris swell up to a humongous crowd of 20,000 people. The Yatra continues again till 2 pm and stops for the lunch break and rest. BJY resumes at about 4 pm, then continues till the last destination, halting at around 8 pm at the camping site. All the points of break are some school or local ground or dharamshalas.
The BJY female yatris handle the tough task at hand with true grit. During breaks when the ladies take off their shoes, they have boils at the soles and the upper end of their feet, ladies walk with multiple boils about 3 inches circumference. The pain is visible in their eyes, but as the rest time gets over. They are back on their feet marching alongside their leader with the same solid determination. Out of the 24,000 thousand applications from across India, selecting about 125 yatris, who would walk along with Rahul Gandhi Ji for six months from Kanyakumari to Kashmir, was indeed a tough task for selectors. To foresee the boils on the feet of the yatris, and to foresee the ones who would be undeterred by the pain and physical discomfort, and still walk shoulder to shoulder with the leader.
When the yatra halts for the day, the Bharat Yatris prepare for the next day’s Yatra. Yatris sing patriotic songs of courage to each other. After a grilling of 25 kms, it’s amazing to the glint of light, these ladies and men have in their eyes, as if the night is a hindrance, to put their feet on the ground even before the sun rises the next morning. As the Yatra resumes the next morning, and Rahul Gandhi Ji puts his first step on the road, the crowd is an amazing mix of chaotic disciplined energy that moves along with him.
Every morning Digvijaya Singh Ji who is the convener of BJY takes an early start with a squad of Sewadal workers preceding the yatra on the roads he usually walks about 500 metres ahead in front of the Yatra.
In June, Digvijaya Singh Ji shared a draft of the Bharat Jodo Yatra with me, as I read the entire draft of the yatra structure. I said to him “Sir, in Congress party throughout India only two people can endure this yatra across the stretch of the country, Rahul Gandhi Ji and you” And during my brief stint with the Yatra at Kochi, when I saw Rahul Gandhi Ji and Digvijaya Singh Ji on the road every day at 6 am, full of energy and smile on their faces. I too smiled at myself and realized how true I was.
During the Yatra, an interesting incident happened to me. When we reached the base camp on the very first night. Digvijaya Singh Ji showed us inside the containers and other camp settings, Jairam Ramesh Ji was at a distance chatting with some team members. As Digvijaya Singh Ji saw him, he called out to him to join us, as he came Digvijaya Singh Ji said “Jairam Ji, this is Yassir I was just telling you about, show him what you showed me. In his mobile Jairamji had a snapshot of an old wedding album from the 70s. It was from the wedding album of the Late R Kumaramangalam, the first national president of National Students Union of India (NSUI). In the photo along with Kumaramangalam are seen a young Ashok Gehlot, the first NSUI President of Rajasthan and my father Late Hasnat Siddiqui, the first NSUI President of Madhya Pradesh. Digvijaya Singh Ji said, “A few moments ago I was telling Jairam Ji about your father when he showed me the photo, and see here you are standing with us, what a coincidence”. Coming across a 70s photo of my late father with Ashok Gehlot, in Kerala, that too in Jairam Ramesh Ji’s mobile was such a pleasant surprise, it made my day and my trip. Thanks to Digvijaya Singh Ji.