To walk 3,570 kilometres all the way from Kanyakumari to Kashmir over a period of five months may be an arduous task. But the 56-year-old Congress leader Vijay Kumar Shastri is excited that he would walk along with Rahul Gandhi as part of the Congress’s Bharat Jodo Yatra beginning September 7. Shastri is the oldest of the 117 Congress leaders from across the country who will walk with Rahul in this long mass-contact march.
“I may be in my fifties but my passion for the Congress remains high,” says Shastri, the vice president of the Jammu and Kashmir Congress’s Kisan cell.
The 25-year-old Youth Congress leader from Arunachal Pradesh, Ajam Jombla, is among the youngest of Rahul’s fellow yatris. Jombla also believes that Rahul is the leader the country needs.
Besides Shastri and Jombla, the list of the 117 yatris selected by the Congress include firebrand orator Kanhaiya Kumar, Congress media department head Pawan Khera, former Punjab minister Vijay Inder Singla, ex-Bihar MLA Amit Kumar Tunna, ex-Kerala chief minister Oommen Chandy’s son Chandy Oommen, Youth Congress leaders Pratibha Raghuwanshi and Sitaram Lamba, former Youth Congress president Keshav Chand Yadav, Uttarakhand Mahila Congress president Jyoto Rautela and AICC communications department secretary Vaibhav Walia, among others.
Senior Congress leader Digvijaya Singh, one of the main coordinators of the Bharat Jodo Yatra, said the All India Congress Committee (AICC) had asked the party’s frontal organisations, departments and Pradesh Congress Committees (PCCs) to send the names of the leaders who would be interested in participating in this march. Singh and senior leaders then interviewed all those who showed interest before shortlisting 117 of them.
“Whoever showed interest, whoever came..we interviewed them. And then we chose them,” Singh told The Indian Express. “We basically asked them whether they can walk all the way…3500 odd kms….Are they free for five months? Just to assess whether they can make it or not,” he said.
Asked whether they were asked questions on the Congress’s ideology as well, Singh said “As far as the party’s ideology is concerned that should have been taken care of by the people who recommended their names. We did not delve into that.”
Most of the yatris are in their thirties or forties. Congress sources said four or five of them are from various civil society groups.
Speaking to the Express, Shastri said, “I am from a hilly region near Jammu. I have walked all my life,” He said Singh asked whether he can walk all the way. “I told him if Rahul baba wants to do it to unite the country…why won’t I walk?”
He also said, “I don’t want to become a big leader or anything like that. Rahul baba has taken such a big decision. He is not used to such hardships…He belongs to that family which has sacrificed their lives for the country. What sacrifices have we given? The country has given us everything. What have we given in return?”
Jombla said, “Only two people are going for this march from Arunachal Pradesh but every Congress worker is motivated. We all want the country to be led by a good leader. Rahul has that personality… The yatra is like a social activity. It is aimed at creating awareness among the people of the need to keep the country united.”
While maintaining that he is “mentally prepared” to embark on the yatra, Jombla said, “But whether I will be able to do it physically…that I will get to know when I start it.”
The 117-member list has as many as 34 women leaders. The largest contingent of 15 yatris is from Uttar Pradesh, followed by Madhya Pradesh (10), and Maharashtra (9).
In the course of their march, Rahul and his fellow yatris will sleep during the nights in make-shift containers, which are now on their way to Kanyakumari.