"I was young when I had first met Gandhiji (Mahatma Gandhi) in Jabalpur. I was 13 or 14 years old when I had met him in 1944. I would shout 'chachaji, chachaji,' when I had joined a rally he was conducting back then and he had patted my back. I would follow him wherever he would go," said 90-year-old Karuna Mishra, the oldest man in the Rahul Gandhi-led Bharat Jodo Yatra, as he recalled his younger days.
Significantly, Mishra also joined Rahul's march on the occasion of Gandhi Jayanti on 2 October, and has been relentlessly marching every day since with a national flag and his walking stick.
A staunch supporter and worker of the party for close to 60 years, Mishra said that it was late Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru who inspired him to join politics. He said he has even met Indira Gandhi several times.
As the yatra reached Haryana's Faridabad on Friday, 23 December, Mishra narrated his association with the Congress and the Gandhi family to explain why he supports "Rahul's quest."
'I Would Put a Flower On My Kurta Like Nehru Would'
Mishra met Nehru in the early 1960s during the construction of the Rihand dam in Singrauli, where the late PM came for inspection.
"I went to see Nehru ji on foot for 200 kilometeres to meet him. I was wearing a pyjama-kurta and a topi, and I had attached a flower on my kurta, just like he would. He noticed me, called me, and enquired about me. I told him that I was entering the second year of my graduation degree. He then asked me to come to Delhi and pursue politics after I finish my education," Mishra recalled.
"Par Nehru ji ki mrityu ho gayi, aur mere liye Dilli dur ho gayi, (But Nehru died and I could never come to Delhi)," he said.
'Rahul Gave Me the Same Respect That Nehru Did'
Confident that Rahul "will become the Prime Minister," Mishra explained what inspired him to join the Bharat Jodo Yatra.
"Nehru ji had inspired me to join the Congress. I had seen what the Congress was then. When I heard about the idea behind the yatra, I was happy. Sacrifices of three generations of the party have gone into building this country. So, when somebody from this generation took a step, I felt responsible as a senior citizen to support him. He gave me the same respect that Nehru ji gave me back then," Mishra said.
"He (Rahul) once made me sit in the car and I told him that I will always be ahead by a kilometer to support him," he said.
Haldi Doodh, Stable Diet: How Mishra Keeps Fit for the Yatra
A farmer, Mishra said that he speaks to his family every day since he has joined the yatra.
Asked how he keeps fit to walk in the yatra, he said that he makes sure to eat bananas, milk, and dal for his daily consumption of protein and calcium, which helps him march for three hours daily. Mishra further said that he has never had to take an injection or pill in his life, and never got COVID-19 either.
"Everybody should drink haldi doodh (turmeric milk) and nothing will ever happen to you," he said.
"I am a lion who is being followed by his pack, and I will go to Kashmir to unfurl the flag at Lal Chowk," Mishra said.
'Flaws in Congress, But BJP Can't Decimate It'
Mishra said that having seen the India of Mahatma Gandhi, Nehru, Indira, Rajiv Gandhi, and Atal Bihari Vajpayee, he believes that the current government's policies are pushing monopoly and are a threat to democracy.
"The BJP of Vajpayee's era was different, but the party has currently been taken over by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) completely," he said.
"Vajpayee ji always said that there should be three things given for free - education, healthcares, and justice - or the world would not survive," he added.
He further weighed on what is currently wrong with the Congress party.
"The BJP says that they will decimate the Congress from the country, but can they? Yes, there are flaws in the Congress, but that's because of some of its own people. Some got greedy for their own children, others for wealth. They are not letting better, talented people thrive and are pulling them down. That's the only problem," he said.