Bharat Jodo Yatra, the 3,570 km long walkathon led by Congress scion Rahul Gandhi across India has all the bearings of a mobile head quarters of a corporate entity. Hundreds of SUVs, container freighters converted into caravans, a 24X7 communications room and of course the well trained commandos of paramilitary forces guarding the young Gandhi.
Nearly four decades ago, to be precise in 1983, Kerala had played host to another Bharat Yatra. It was an odyssey undertaken by S Chandra Shekhar, the then chief of the Janata Party, who went on to become the Prime Minister of India for a brief period in 1990. Chandra Shekhar’s walk across the country took place at a time when the Opposition parties were literally down and out as the Congress-led by Indira Gandhi had registered a landslide win in the 1980 Lok Sabha election decimating the rivals.
“But for a battered old van meant for carrying the essential items of Chandra Shekhar, there were no cars or even two-wheelers accompanying the Yatra. All of us joined the Yatra from Kanyakumari on our own and there were no mechanism to screen the Yatris,” reminisces Rosaline Panjikaran, the lone woman participant in the Yatra till it reached Karnataka.
Rosaline said though she had heard about Netaji (as Chandra Shekhar was addressed) , her first one-to-one meeting with him took place only after she joined the Yatra. “There were no high profile political leaders to accompany Netaji and he never wanted any brand ambassadors to promote the same. Throughout the Yatra, he held informal meetings and interviews with ordinary people like farmers, artisans, traders, women and small time merchants whom he came across during the yatra,” said Rosaline.
It was Rosaline who took personal care of Chandra Shekhar and others in the Yatra when they were afflicted with blisters on their foot. “The evenings were for applying warm water on the feet of Chandra Shekhar who would have developed blisters because of the high speed walk. Those sessions were used by Chandra Shekar to educate us with the political shadow boxings which were happening in New Delhi and other State capitals. The Yatra was a big education for us,” remembers Rosaline who is with the Loktantrik Janata Dal now.
She said she was watching the Bharat Jodo Yatra with interest. “But . Chandra Shekhar’s Yatra was in a different era and different time. Times have changed. If Rahul Gandhi could usher in a new phase through this Yatra, it would be a welcome change. We have to see how he develops a national narrative through this Yatra,” said Rosaline.