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A day of hiking with Rahul Gandhi

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150 days, 3,500 kilometers and 12 states. As Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo yatra enters its third leg in Karnataka, the first BJP-ruled state on the journey from Kanyakumari to Kashmir, News18 follows along to decipher what is feeding the congress leader and dozens of others during the grueling march. In this series, we speak with Rahul Gandhi’s fellow yatris and locals to gauge the mood and analyze the padyatra’s political and electoral impact.
Imagine waking up at 5 a.m. for 150 days, traveling across the country on foot while living out of a mobile container, and meeting dozens of people during the 3,500 km journey. Rahul Gandhi needn’t imagine it, as the congressional leader and more than 100 others marching with him have lived so austerely for the past few weeks and will continue to do so in the coming weeks.

News18 spent a day walking with Rahul Gandhi during the Karnataka leg of his Bharat Jodo yatra.

Early start

The day starts at 5 o’clock. After a quick morning routine, including physical therapy for his overworked knees, Rahul is one of the first yatris gather and participate in the daily flag hoisting ceremony at 6 am.

Punctual and determined, Rahul prepares for the first leg of the day’s walkathon. The padyatra usually starts at the campsite where the team has rested for the night. Once the senior leaders who joined Rahul on the padyatra assembly, the caravan begins a quick walk. Many leaders can match the Wayanad MP’s pace at first, but soon some 60+ fall back to a more comfortable, slower pace.

“He is very observant and slows down instinctively for us. He is very fit as you can see. He runs 18 to 20 km every day. It is not just his fitness that drives him. He says that the people and a very special force drive him every day to go out and walk,” said a senior congressional leader who has been part of the yatra since Kanyakumari.

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi walks with local youth during his Bharat Jodo yatra. (Rohini Swamy/News18)

The people around it look at the quick-but-smiling congressional leader in the hope that they can walk with him too. It is not easy to get close as the security coverage for Rahul Gandhi is high. His special security holds on to a long rope that helps control the crowd around the leader.

Even as the day wears on and the sunlight gets harder, people gather along the route to wave to and hopefully meet Rahul Gandhi. Smiling and waving to the crowd, he discreetly calls for some visitors to meet them. With his hand on their shoulders, he walks as he asks them questions about what they do and what their problems are. Sometimes he just walks with them, especially if the chosen ones are enthusiastic children.

“Walking with Rahul Gandhi is not easy. At the end of the day it is just as fresh as in the morning. Maybe I will acquire it if I continue with this padyatra. The enthusiasm is there and the people give him and all of us a lot of energy. What’s important is that Rahul Gandhi really listens to people, while some others are just pretending,” said senior congressional leader Pawan Khera.

Empathy and emotional connection

So how does he identify people from the crowd? Senior Congress Leader KC Venugopal, one of Rahul Gandhi’s constant walking partners, says he has a special connection and magic.

“It’s magical how he can identify a person he wants to meet. He knows who to call and every time whoever he has called has been a creditable person. He says that a person who understands pain can always see it in others and that is how he is drawn to a particular person who needs help,” Venugopal tells News18.

“An 80-year-old woman came to meet him in Thiruvananthapuram. She had run 2 km, and in that crowd he saw her and called her. He gave her water, otherwise she would have passed out. There are so many such incidents, that is his attraction to the people,” he adds.

Locals chart the route of Congress leader Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo yatra. (Rohini Swamy/News18)

“He is doing this for the people of the country, to listen to them, find solutions, and in the end I am sure he will come out with a vision for India that is connected to the real India where no other leader has. can boast of. from. By the end of this yatra he would have learned so much more.”

The yatra has been a huge learning curve for Rahul Gandhi, not to mention a great sacrifice, Venugopal continues.

“I know how close Rahul you is for his mother. He cannot go long without seeing her and this yatra is long. He is very attached to her. That may be why Sonia Gandhi also decided to come here to be with him and support him. This is independent of the fact that she is the president of Congress and participates in the padyatra”, adds Venugopal.

Walking more than 600km has taken its toll on the knees of Rahul Gandhi, who had already been injured from football sessions.

“My knees hurt, but then a young girl came and gave me a letter. I carry it in my pocket. It’s very inspiring and suddenly all the pain was gone,” he is said in a video after finishing the Kerala leg of the tour.

Two girls pose with chocolates given to them by Rahul Gandhi during the Bharat Jodo yatra. (Rohini Swamy/News18)

The first break for tea and snacks will take place a few hours after the padyatra resumed for the day. It is here that Rahul Gandhi meets people in tea stalls or roadside hotels and interacts with the locals.

He strikes up a conversation, asks their names, what they do and soon many join in to discuss issues like unemployment and inflation and sometimes share their personal experiences.

When language becomes a barrier, local convention leaders help with translations. Notes are taken on issues to be highlighted and Rahul is also seen with advice.

From about 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., the yatris break for lunch and rest.

After a quick lunch, the congress leader is scheduled to interact with several groups, including families of those who died during the Covid-19 pandemic, tribal representatives such as the Soligas, young intellectuals, theater performers and writers.

“He expressed his solidarity with the families of the Chamarajanagar tragedy. They asked him to give the next of kin government jobs and compensation. Rahul you told them they would be given due respect and opportunities could be presented once Congress is back in power. He had a meeting with the chiefs and they also indicated that the Forest Rights Act, among other things, has not been properly implemented,” KPCC and MLA Communications Chairman Priyank Kharge told News18.

In another meeting, Gandhi meets young theater artists and singers who tell him that their work seems to be looking for a ‘certain ideology’.

“They said they lost friends if they had a particular preference or ideology. They are forced to unlearn what they have been taught all their lives: to be open, multicultural and constitutional. Their voices are suppressed, a certain ideology is suppressed and it affects their work and livelihood,” says Kharge.

During the meeting, Rahul Gandhi advises them to be patient and tolerant.

“He told them that some people have a hateful background. For them, bloodshed is easy and they live on hatred. That’s something we need to stop doing. It can only be achieved when people work together united and peacefully,” Kharge added, sharing details of the interaction.

After a few sessions, padyatra resumed for the last leg of the day.

As they walk from Begur in Chamarajanagar district to Thandavpura, a group of young boys are summoned to walk alongside Rahul Gandhi. When asked about the experience, they said they were so impressed they couldn’t speak.

Right then, a young one Puli Kalic (tiger dance) artist from Kerala cheerfully walks up to this reporter. He is excited when Rahul Gandhi hugs him and asks him how he is doing.

Local performers in Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo yatra. (Rohini Swamy/News18)

“He asked my name and wished me. That was huge and so warm,” said Jaishankar, who came from Thrissur to be part of the yatra and entertain people with the traditional dance.

The local taste

Rahul Gandhi’s love for local snacks is obvious when he makes sure to sample them along the way. From Kerala’s famous parippu wadas (valley-based vadas), pazham pori (Banana Fritters), unniyappams (fried sweet) to Karnataka’s maddur vada and bell pepper-potato-onion bajji (batter fried bell pepper, potato and onion rings), Rahul enjoyed every one of them.

The owners of Vishnu Inn, a quaint hotel in Nanjangud, were pleasantly surprised to learn that they would be serving tea and snacks to Rahul Gandhi and his fellow travelers.

Bhagirathi and Venugopal Nair have been running the hotel for three decades. “A quick check by the police and the SPG team was done and they asked to keep the place clean. They asked us if the electricity would go out and we told them we had generator backup. The police team asked us to keep four plates of onion, pepper and potato bajjis finished tea,” the couple told News18 with a broad grin.

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi with the owners of Vishnu Inn, a quaint hotel in Nanjangud. (Rohini Swamy/News18)

“It has gone so fast. He appreciated the food and asked for a locally available energy drink. He has to stay hydrated when he runs such long distances, right?” says Varun Venugopal who manages the hotel.

After the pit stop for tea, the entourage starts walking again. It is during this stage that the crowds increase and many join the yatris for a short distance to show solidarity. As they approach their next camping spot and stop for the day, people wait in hopes of catching another glimpse of him.

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