Draped in her white-with-green-border Seva Dal saree, 67-year-old Vijayamma, from Kalluvathukkal village in Kollam, is on a mission.
She was only four-and-a-half years old when she met the late Jawaharlal Nehru in Kerala, and is now walking in the Bharat Jodo Yatra led by his great-grandson Rahul Gandhi.
“When Nehru came to Kerala, my father — a coconut shell artist — made carvings of Dasavatharam of Lord Vishnu and handed it to me to give to Nehru. I was just four-and-a-half years old. Nehru held both my tiny hands with his two hands to receive the gift. I felt like he was my own grandfather,” Vijayamma recalled with a childlike twinkle in her greying eyes.
Having seen four generations of the Gandhi-Nehru family, Vijayamma wants a photo with Rahul Gandhi. “But only at the end of the Kerala leg of the yatra. I was keen on walking all the way from Kanyakumari to Kashmir, but my age is a concern; so I will walk only in the Kerala leg,” she told South First.
Vijayamma has been an official member of the Indian National Congress for 38 years. The Bharat Jodo Yatra is a heady mix of nostalgia and excitement for scores of party workers like her. The nostalgia, however, is not limited just to members of the Congress.
Indira, Rajiv and now Rahul Gandhi on the same path
Seventy-year-old Leelamma Abraham is not a member of the Congress party, but the Bharat Jodo Yatra is special for her and her husband Abraham Thomas for a different reason.
“I saw Rahul Gandhi today. On the same road, I have seen his father Rajiv Gandhi and I have also seen his Ammumma (grandmother in Malayalam) Indira Gandhi,” Leelamma recalled in a chat with South First.
“This is our home of 45 years and it is something special to see three generations of this family pass by the same road. When Rajiv Gandhi was here, he was in a car, but there was a focus light on him and I could see him,” added Abraham Thomas, a retired bank officer.
“This yatra is very interesting for me. I hope Rahul Gandhi takes over the reins of the Congress and sets it in order. We are not members, but we support the party,” Abraham added.
The couple were among the hundreds who had lined up outside their homes, standing on balconies, terraces, and along highways on the Bharat Jodo Yatra route in Thiruvananthapuram.
Jailed by Congress government but supporting the yatra
Scores of people — some fans of the Congress, others curious about the Yatra, and some there just to get a glimpse of Rahul Gandhi — thronged the route of the yatra. What has come as a pleasant surprise for the Congress is that non-party members are participating in the yatra with as much dedication as the official Bharat Yatris.
Justice (Retd) BG Kolse Patil, a former judge of the Bombay High Court and renowned social activist from Maharashtra, is one among them. Eighty-year-old Justice Patil, who has a knee problem, turned down Rahul Gandhi’s request to allow a car to ferry him.
“I was sent to jail by the Congress government for protesting against the Jaitapur Nuclear Power Project (in Maharashtra). I spent 15 days in jail, but I have forgotten all that and I am participating in this yatra,” Justice Patil told South First.
He began his walk from Kanyakumari in Tamil Nadu and was part of the padayatra till Monday in Thiruvananthapuram when he fell ill, compelling him to return home. “But I will come back and join the yatra as soon as I am better,” Justice Patil said.
“The Congress has its flaws, but the current government is finishing off our country. They are selling off, with a vengeance, whatever progress we had achieved. They want people to give up their rights on land, education and simply accept anything that these maharajas decide,” Justice Patil said, explaining why he was part of the Bharat Jodo Yatra.
Rush for selfies with Rahul Gandhi
Twenty-two-year-old Megha Suresh was out of breath but bubbling with excitement when South First met her. “I have been running from Pattom till here. After four failed attempts, I finally got it. This is so exciting,” said Megha of the Kerala Students Union, the student wing of Congress in the state. She had managed to get Rahul Gandhi’s attention and a selfie with him.
A law student from Government Law College in Thiruvananthapuram, Megha created ripples in February this year when she was elected to the post of vice chairperson in an otherwise SFI-dominated campus — a first in 17 years for the Congress.
While Megha was among those who managed to snap a photo with Rahul Gandhi, it wasn’t the case for eight-year-old Ann Lia Joseph and her 10-year-old brother Kevin Pio Joseph.
Armed with a yellow Gerbera and a red rose, respectively, the siblings — children of Congress party workers — waited for Rahul Gandhi at the St Mary’s High School in Pattom on Monday afternoon.
“It is for Rahul ji,” Ann Lia said when asked who she was holding the flower for, even though she wasn’t quite sure who Rahul Gandhi was. “Isn’t he the prime minister?” she asked. After waiting for hours, the siblings couldn’t meet Rahul Gandhi, but Gaurav Pandhi made up for the tears of disappointment later.
If it was nostalgia for some, it was the rush to make new memories for others. If it was dedication to the party and Rahul Gandhi that was driving most to participate in the Bharat Jodo Yatra, its purpose resonated with many non-Congress participants. With curiosity adding to the crowds, the Kerala leg of the Bharat Jodo yatra has been consistently witnessing heavy footfall.