Kirtana Kumar said she went though she has no affiliation to the Congress Party and despite the fact that her mother-in-law Snehalata Reddy was falsely incarcerated during the Emergency. Asma Naseem said she doesn’t identify with the Congress “at all” but she was tracking the yatra. “And then, when someone posted on Facebook, ‘Kerala was easy, let them do Karnataka’ I reflexively responded, ‘It doesn’t matter, I’ll be there to receive them’.”
Sylvia Sharma, who was present the day Gandhi spoke in pouring rain outside Mysore and who watched the speech with a red plastic chair over her head added: “There’s a time in our lives when we have to stand up, at least alongside somebody who is trying something.” Prasanna Saligram, who works in public health said public health is also about diversity and communal harmony and so he and his colleagues went in solidarity. They presented Gandhi with a policy brief and discussed this and other issues with him for 20 minutes. They also walked 30 km in two days.
M Ramesh Ramagondanahalli, Bangalore district coordinator of the Dalit Sangharsh Samiti who walked alongside Gandhi, dismissed the criticism that the yatra was largely symbolic. “Woh bakvaas (nonsense) hai, this is a revolutionary step,” he said.
Even Gandhi’s critics acknowledge the support for the yatra. “I think this has excited both our cadres, the non-BJP supporters and the Congress sympathisers alike,” Sandeep Dikshit, a member of the infamous G23 Congress dissenters group, told The Indian Express. “It’s like a moment that has given all of us something to believe in and be a part of. After almost 3-4 years of lying low with nothing really happening…suddenly people have found life and purpose in the Bharat Jodo Yatra.”
Dikshit said the yatra had “just clicked” with people. “It is an expression of being sympathetic to what we are doing. It is a very big thing.”
Mass mobilisation and personal contact was how the Congress became a popular party in the early 20th century, author Aakar Patel said. “Till the partition of Bengal and particularly before Gandhi, the INC was an upper class and urban organisation. Mass contact of the sort Rahul Gandhi has taken up is also the primary way for the Opposition to counter the structural disadvantages it faces in the media.”
After Asma Naseem posted that she would be there to receive Gandhi, things moved fast. Soon, a group of 25 strangers, all interested in participating, came together organically. They began going for long daily walks in the run up to their trip. They made placards, posters, matching T-shirts and hired a tempo traveller. When they set off, their song playlist on the journey matched their mood: Ae Watan Mere Abaad Rahein Tu played as they headed to the yatra. Someone asked Naseem what she was going to do at the Yatra. “I’m going to dance on the streets with the Tiranga, that’s all I want to do,” she replied. And so that’s what she did.
Priya Ramani is a Bengaluru-based journalist and is on the editorial board of Article-14.com.
The views expressed here are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views of BQ Prime or its editorial team.