Rahul Gandhi may be disqualified from the Lok Sabha and may have lost his official residence in Delhi, but the Bharat Jodo Yatra (BJY) he undertook still evokes strong positive emotions over a vast stretch in election-bound Karnataka.
Weeks after the cross-country walk from Kanyakumari to Kashmir ended, scores of people The Federal met along the Raichur-Bellary national highway spoke highly of the former Congress MP, saying he had inspired them in a manner few politicians had.
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The benefits accruing from the walkathon is bound to fetch plenty of votes for the Congress in the May 10 assembly elections in Karnataka, villagers said.
The Federal posed questions about Rahul’s yatra to people along the highway, a vast region home to Nayaks (STs), Lingayats, Kurubas, Muslims and other communities.
Rahul wins hearts
During the yatra, Rahul had prayed at the highly revered Guru Raghavendra Swamy of Mantralaya on the Andhra Pradesh-Karnataka border. Starting from the Tungabhadra bridge, which links the two states, he passed through the region with hundreds of party workers as well as leaders, attracting thousands from surrounding villages.
At her house at Madhavaram, just near the bridge, Indiramma recalled how Rahul’s visit to her dwelling was like a “lifetime’s achievement” not only for her but for all villagers.
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Everyone, she said, was inspired by Rahul and his simplicity while mingling with the common people. She became emotional when she narrated how she prepared ragi ganji, bread omelette and coffee for the Congress star, when he visited the house and sat on a red plastic chair.
“Rahul Gandhi asked my name. I told him. He was so happy to hear the name which was his grandmother’s, too,” said Indiramma.
“We saw him by standing near the road. Suddenly, he came to my house and spoke to me, my mother Lakshmamma and my husband Manjunath. He is kind-hearted and has empathy towards poor people like us,” she said.
Her old mother Lakshmamma expressed similar feelings about a person from the Indira Gandhi family visiting their humble house. Indiramma runs a petty shop near the village. Manjunath, a Dalit labourer, said many people in nearby villagers were inspired by Rahul’s yatra.
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Narasimha Nayaka, who too belongs to the ST community and owns a chicken shop near Asundi village, said he did not particularly like any leader until he saw Rahul Gandhi. “It was like a dream.”
Nayaka said: “I hated the Congress earlier for their family politics. But I was inspired by Rahul after seeing him and listening to his speeches. We had a row in the village over some communal issues. But we have become friends now because of Rahul’s inspiration.”
Nayaka’s friend Munawar Atavullah said he was a follower of Indira Gandhi’s family. But he had been keeping away from politics in recent times. After he took part in the yatra for 25 km, he feels proud of being an Indian.
“I have decided to at least do a little for the country by having good relations with all the villagers and also think about the real happenings in my village,” he said.
The Federal visited a few places including a village where Rahul Gandhi had camped from the evening to the next morning, near the Tuntapur Lakshmi Ranganatha Temple.
Lakshmanappa Nayak, a villager, said people in the entire stretch were still speaking about Rahul. “Why did he walk all over India just to unite the country and speak about the suffering of the common man? He has inspired us to think about our neighbours and fellow countrymen,” he said.
However, another villager, Rajappa, called Rahul’s yatra a gimmick. He did not even go to a nearby temple when he stayed in the camp. He did not chat with the villagers but only with leaders, he complained.
Mingling with people
However, Kishan Rathod, who lives near Yeramarus village, said Rahul took photos with the children of the villagers, had coffee with common people and chatted with leaders of different castes. “We experienced the truth in his words. His yatra helped unite the Congress party here and attracted youths and villagers,” he said.
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ASHA worker Rajamma Tippannavar said Rahul held spontaneous meetings with villagers and other activists. He met several ASHA workers and listened to their problems. He also met auto drivers and retired soldiers and heard their various issues. “I witnessed him speak to several people including an elderly woman,” she said.
Ranga Nayak said Rahul discussed ordinary people’s problems. “I think he didn’t have a good name earlier. But the yatra helped him to become a national leader. I see on TV channels that he raises very important questions to the government. So, he is facing issues including cancellation of his MP seat. He is a future leader,” he said.
Bhima Nayak, a shepherd, said he has yet to decide whom to vote for in the Karnataka assembly elections. But he feels Rahul Gandhi is a nice person and has the intention to do good things.
Ramappa Achar, a Panchayat member, felt the Bharat Jodo Yatra might help his Congress. Unlike the BJP, the Congress had no party workers at the booth level. Now many have begun working as booth-level activists for the party. “I think this will benefit the Congress to rebuild itself at the grassroots level,” he said.
Shubhadhayini HP, the coordinator of the yatra, said Rahul’s walk has helped the Congress. Party leaders have begun to maintain a good rapport with activists who were neglected earlier.
So, will the Bharat Jodo Yatra help the Congress with valuable votes? Yes, most villagers agree it will.