Congress leader Rahul Gandhi on Wednesday, 7 September, while flagging off the 'Bharat Jodo Yatra' from Gandhi Mandapam in Kanyakumari, said that "every single institution today is under attack from RSS-BJP."
"Every single institution today is under attack from RSS-BJP, they think they can divide India on religious lines, languages. But this country cannot be divided, it will always remain united," he added on the first day of the rally, which is being touted as the biggest mass contact programme since Independence.
He also stated that India is facing its worst ever economic crisis along with highest unemployment rate ever, adding that country is headed towards disaster.
Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam president and Tamil Nadu CM MK Stalin also accompanied Gandhi during the launch. In a symbolic gesture of the commencement of the yatra, Stalin handed over the national flag to Gandhi and both leaders saluted the tricolour.
Congress president Sonia Gandhi also extended her support for the yatra, saying that she will be participating daily in thought and spirit. "Bharat Jodo Yatra a landmark occasion for Congress, confident that our organisation will be rejuvenated," Gandhi added.
Other leaders who attended the prayer session of the yatra include chief ministers of Rajasthan and Chattisgarh, Ashok Gehlot and Bhupesh Baghel as well as Tamil Nadu Congress Committee president K S Alagiri.
The 3,500 km-long yatra will cover 12 states, from Tamil Nadu to Jammu & Kashmir, in a span of 150 days.
'BJP's Work Similar to That of British': Rahul Gandhi
Targeting the BJP, Gandhi said that "BJP government's work is similar to what British did by dividing India, make all fight among themselves and then steal from them," Gandhi said.
He further highlighted the need to bring people together, and ensure that they are united.
"That's the aim of Bharat Jodo Yatra," he added.
"BJP government has systematically attacked farmers, labourers and small and medium businesses. Handful of large businesses today control country, PM won't last one day without support of those who ensure PM is 24X7 on TV," Gandhi said.
Chennai: Rahul Pays Floral Tribute to Rajiv Gandhi
Earlier, the congress leader had paid floral tributes to his father and former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi at the latter's memorial in Sriperumbudur near Chennai.
Sharing a photo, Gandhi said in a tweet, "I lost my father to the politics of hate and division. I will not lose my beloved country to it too. Love will conquer hate. Hope will defeat fear. Together, we will overcome."
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi with party leaders hoists the party flag at a programme at his father Rajiv Gandhis memorial in Sriperumbudur, Tamil Nadu.
Congress party flags posted along boundary walls ahead of the launch of Bharat Jodo Yatra, in Kanyakumari.
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi with party leader DK Shivkumar and others at his father Rajiv Gandhis memorial in Sriperumbudur, Tamil Nadu.
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi pays homage at his father Rajiv Gandhis memorial in Sriperumbudu.
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi pays homage at his father Rajiv Gandhis memorial in Sriperumbudur.
Meanwhile, the coastal town of Kanyakumari was buzzing with activity as Congress workers geared up for the launch of the "Bharat Jodo Yatra" last evening.
Posters with "welcome Rahul Gandhi" and "Bharat Jodo Yatra" written in Tamil adorned the walls of the city on India's southern tip.
The Wayanad MP, who had arrived in Chennai on Tuesday night, began the day by offering floral tributes to the former Prime Minister and sat in a silent prayer in his memory.
Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated in a suicide bombing in Sriperumbudur on 21 May 1991.
Earlier, Rahul planted a sapling at the memorial. Tamil Nadu Congress Committee chief KS Alagiri and other senior leaders accompanied Gandhi.
Preparations in Full Swing
Flags and flyers have been put up leading up to the "Mahatma Gandhi Mandapam," where Congress leader Rahul Gandhi will receive a Khadi flag from Tamil Nadu Chief Minister MK Stalin and hand it over to Seva Dal workers, who will manage the yatra throughout its 3,570-km route.
A final check of the preparations at the seaside venue of the rally near the "Mahatma Gandhi Mandapam" was carried out by Congress general secretaries KC Venugopal and Jairam Ramesh, along with senior party leader and yatra organisation panel in-charge Digvijaya Singh.
"There is a lot of enthusiasm and excitement among the Congress workers across the country," Ramesh told news agency PTI.
"Even in states that are not on the yatra route, people are excited as in each state, the Congress will organise similar yatras on a smaller scale – maybe 50km, 100km yatras linked to the main theme of uniting India, an India that is being torn apart by economic inequalities, social polarisation and over-centralisation," the former Union minister said.
In an apparent dig at the Bharatiya Janata Party-led Centre, Ramesh said it will not be a yatra of speeches where announcements are made.
‘Turning Point in India’s Political History'
Gandhi, accompanied by 118 Congressmen and women, will interact with various groups, including civil society organisations and fishermen associations, he said.
"The party is focused and geared up for making the Bharat Jodo Yatra successful because it is the largest mass mobilisation programme that it has undertaken in independent India," Ramesh said.
"It is the longest yatra undertaken by the party. It is a turning point for Indian political history. Padyatras (foot marches) have a significance of their own and this is transformational politics. This is what politics is about, not the politics of abuse, vendetta and vilification," he added.
Though the 3,570km yatra from Kanyakumari to Srinagar, covering 12 states and two Union territories in about five months, will be formally launched at the rally, it will actually begin at 7 am on 8 September when Gandhi and several other Congress leaders will embark on the march.
The yatra will start from Kanyakumari in Tamil Nadu and then move northwards, passing through Thiruvananthapuram, Kochi, Nilambur, Mysuru, Bellary, Raichur, Vikarabad, Nanded, Jalgaon, Indore, Kota, Dausa, Alwar, Bulandshahr, Delhi, Ambala, Pathankot and Jammu, before culminating in Srinagar.
Those participating in the yatra, with the tagline "Mile Kadam, Jude Watan," have been classified as "Bharat Yatris," "Atithi Yatras," "Pradesh Yatris" and "Volunteer Yatris."