Srinagar, Jan 29 (PTI) While the spotlight has firmly been on Rahul Gandhi during the Bharat Jodo Yatra, a band of "Bharat Yatris" walking along with him have quietly gone about their job. Clocking kilometre after kilometre, they moved towards their goal of reaching here and several of them say they would be the first ones to sign up for another such foot march.
Initially, there were about 120-odd designated "Bharat Yatris", part of a core group that was supposed to accompany Rahul Gandhi in the foot march, but as the yatra entered Kashmir that number stands at 204, bringing to life the Urdu couplet -- "Main akela hi chala tha janib-e-manzil magar log saath aate gaye aur karwaan banta gaya (I began my journey alone, people joined in and the caravan kept on growing)." The yatra, which was launched on September 7 in Kanyakumari, has traversed 12 states and two Union Territories. It will culminate with Rahul Gandhi hoisting the national flag at the Congress office here on January 30.
Several people who had nothing to do with the party joined the march at various points and continued to walk week after week with their own arrangements and were finally included as "Bharat Yatris", considering their determination to walk till Srinagar, said Vaibhav Walia, a "Bharat Yatri" and secretary in the AICC communications department.
"It has been a life transforming experience for us. When we started, we could not have imagined an experience of this kind in any political programme whatsoever," he told PTI while walking in the Bharat Jodo Yatra in Awantipora in Kashmir.
This journey made "us realise why we are into politics and our motivation has been strengthened", Walia said.
"We have learnt so much about our country, about our people, their problems, our strengths such as our unity. The core thing the BJP is targeting is this unity which is the most dangerous thing. Our resolve has strengthened and we are going to continue this fight for this cause," he said.
Walia said 100 per cent of the 204 "Bharat Yatris" would again sign up for another such yatra whenever it happens.
"In every meeting with Rahul Gandhi, we have been asking, 'tell us what are we supposed to do after this', we don't want to sit at home. And this is one of the biggest takeaways from this yatra," he said.
In an interview with PTI, Congress general secretary Jairam Ramesh has said he would certainly put his weight behind doing another yatra from Gujarat's Porbandar to Arunachal Pradesh's Parshuram Kund this year but the party has to take a call on it eventually.
"I certainly have been giving thought to it. Now whether the party will or not (undertake such a yatra), I cannot say. But ideally when the Bharat Jodo Yatra was thought of in Udaipur, there was also a thinking of moving West to East," Ramesh said.
Rakesh Pandey, who hails from Madhya Pradesh, has been walking with his wife in the yatra continuously from Kanyakumari and was included in the band of "Bharat Yatris" later in view of their determination to complete the march.
"We support the Congress but we are not politically active and do not want any post or anything from the party but we will do everything for it as it is the only principled party in the country," he told PTI while walking.
Pandey's wife pointed out that the yatra has shown the way to the country by walking across the length of the country without any discrimination in the ranks of the yatris.
"We have the capacity and strength for another yatra. If there is another one, we intend to undertake that also," said Pandey who was earlier in a job but now has a business.
He said his father was a freedom fighter and he has prepared a booklet on the writings of Mahatma Gandhi focusing on different facets of his personality. Pandey said he has been distributing this pamphlet since 2013.
Chandy Oommen, a "Bharat Yatri" and former Kerala chief minister Oommen Chandy's son, said it was a "life-changing" experience for him to undertake this yatra.
"Before the yatra I was worried how will I complete this yatra, but on day one itself I realised that I will complete it and here I am," he told PTI.
"My only question is, whether there will be a second yatra that I could do again. If there is another Yatra, I will 100 per cent register for it," he said.
Lhinkim Haokip Shingnaisui of Manipur, the only woman from the northeast in the Congress' cross-country march, had suffered a ligament tear in the early days of the yatra but she returned to walking within five days and was determined to complete the yatra.
Shingnaisui said a lot of things have changed in her life due to the experience gained from the yatra and she is much more patient now than before.
She credited her family for being a great support system which helped her complete the march.
Shingnaisui, popularly called Kim by her Congress colleagues, said she would definitely go for another yatra if the party undertakes it.
Whether there would be another such yatra or not, whether they would undertake a similar journey or not, only time will tell, but 'Bharat Yatris' have left a mark on history by completing what many have hailed as an unprecedented journey from the southern most tip of the country to here.
The yatra has traversed Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Haryana, Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Himachal Pradesh, and Jammu and Kashmir. PTI ASK ANB ANB