On the 32nd day of the Bharat Jodo Yatra, Congress workers marching along with Rahul Gandhi on Saturday, 8 October, reached Karnataka's Tumkur district.
The yatris (marchers) have so far walked a distance of over 728 kms and will continue the foot march to galvanise support in the states of Karnataka, Telangana, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Delhi, Haryana, Punjab and union territory of Jammu and Kashmir.
The yatra which is currently in its Karnataka leg witnessed huge support with more than 15,000 people gathering at Bellur town to get a glimpse of Rahul Gandhi and extend their support to the movement.
Overwhelming Response in Karnataka's Nagamangala
The Quint joined the yatra on the ground to witness the support and speak to locals and the yatris.
The day began early at 5:30 am for Mohammed Zeeshan, who along with 120 other national yatris, are walking the entire distance from Kanyakumari to Kashmir.
After finishing his morning ablutions, he hosted a small meeting with his peers to plan out the day. Once the agenda of the day was set, clad in plain white clothes, the yatris had their morning meal and hit the road at 7 am.
On 7 October, the march party started from Nagamangala and was welcomed by a band of Koothu performers—Dalit musicians hailing from Karnataka-Tamil Nadu border.
Their fast paced intense drum beats of the artists set the tone of the day.
Rahul Gandhi and the yatris were then welcomed by the village women, who applied Kumkuma and Arshina on the latters’ foreheads as a sign of prosperity.
People from the neighbouring constituencies flocked to Anche Chettanahalli in Nagamangala to march alongside the yatris.
Within a few minutes the entire village had over 15,000 people raising slogans and singing protest songs. The troop of Koothu performers were also joined by Yakshagana artists who enacted sequences from folk tales.
Speaking to The Quint, national yatri Rahul Rao said, “The support we are witnessing is overwhelming. I am walking the entire distance with 119 other national yatris and are also joined by state yatris (Congress workers who are walking the distance limited to their own state). Apart from the yatris, the real support is coming from the common man. They constantly march with us, boost our confidence. We thought the reaction of people in Karnataka would be less when compared to Kerala. However, we have been proven wrong.”
The yatra made a stop at around 11.30 to rest for a few hours. Tents where raised and beds were setup.
In a camp filled with state yatris The Quint met with party workers who claimed that the Bharat Jodo Yatra would result in a major change of politics in the country.
“I was not fortunate to be born during the freedom struggle and walk alongside Gandhi ji and Nehru ji, but the situation today is not very different. We are faced with communal politics everyday and it was important that we took this march. However, we must also acknowledge the sacrifices our families are making in order to be part of this massive movement."Lavanya Yadav, youth leader and state yatri.
Local villagers from Anche Chettanahalli said that they were unhappy with their MLA Suresh Gowda and the Janata Dal (Secular) which has a strong sway over Old-Mysuru region.
Carrying the 75-feet wide national flag, the locals marched shouting slogans against the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the JD(S), and vowed their allegiance to the Congress party.
Meanwhile, sitting on the road with badges, keychains stickers of the Gandhis and the Congress, a vendor from Thiruvannamalai was selling the party merchandise in Nagamangala.
After having a bumper sale on 7 October, the vendor claimed that the demand for posters of Rahul Gandhi has witnessed a steep rise, but still lagged behind that of Narendra Modi's.
Elections are Secondary, This is a Movement for Uniting People: Congress Leaders
Addressing a sea of Congress party supporters, Rahul Gandhi invoked the 12th century philosopher Basavanna, and said that the main purpose of this march was to unite people together, treat them as equals and speak out against hatred.
"Today, the nation is witnessing communalism, commercialisation and centralisation of power. We are going to fight this hatred with love and our movement—Bharat Jodo Yatra is inspired by the teachings of people such as Basaveshwara," he added.
While Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee president DK Shivakumar was in Delhi attending the summons issued by the Enforcement Directorate, the leader of opposition Siddaramaiah was occupied in an all party meet called by chief minister Basavaraj Bommai.
However, it was leaders like Digvijaya Singh, Jairam Ramesh, BK Hariprasad, Priyank Kharge, Rajeev Gowda and Kanhaiya Kumar who steered the march from Mandya to Tumkur.
The communication head of the Karnataka Congress Priyank Kharge revealed to The Quint that the party had identified three key sectors—education, healthcare and livelihood to be suffering from mismanagement and lack of governance.
While admitting that elections is the endgame of political change, Kharge also highlighted how the party wished to move beyond electoral politics to galvanise support of the masses.
In an interaction with The Quint, senior Congress leader Digvijaya Singh said:
"Karnataka in the south is a nursery for the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and the BJP to breed communal politics. If a Sikh is allowed to wear a turban, then why deny Muslims the right to wear what they want? It is more important for the yatra to fight BJP's divisive politics of the BJP than winning the elections. If we win the hearts of the people, then we will come back to power. I am certain that this is going to happen in Karnataka."
Joining the Bharat Jodo Yatra were also slain journalist Gauri Lankesh's mother Indira Lankesh and sister Kavitha Lankesh.
Taking to mirco-blogging site, Rahul Gandhi tweeted a picture of him holding hands of Gauri's mother and wrote, "Gauri stood for Truth. Gauri stood for Courage. Gauri stood for Freedom. I stand for Gauri Lankesh and countless others like her, who represent the true spirit of India. Bharat Jodo Yatra is their voice. It can never be silenced."
The family also told The Quint that they were not part of the march for any political reason, but to fight the ideologies that promote hate and class hierarchies across the nation.
Yogendra Yadav of Swaraj India also joined the Congress in Nagamangala and said that his party would march alongside Rahul Gandhi till Kashmir to fight against the Hindutva ideology.
"I am here as a common man and not as a supporter of the Congress. I am only backing this movement. Our Constitution is under threat and our civilisational heritage is being twisted. At this moment, the only duty is for us Indians to unite and prevent the nation from being ruptured," he added.