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Mainstream, VOL 61 No 1-2, December 24, December 31, 2022 (Double issue)

Bharat Jodo Yatra is Evocative of the Spirit of Dandi March of 1930 | S N Sahu

Saturday 24 December 2022, by S N Sahu

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Commencement of Bharat Jod Yatra (BJY) from Kanyakumari on 7th September 2022 under the leadership of Rahul Gandhi is set to culminate in Jammu and Kashmir after covering a distance of 3, 750 kilometers on foot over 150 days. It is unprecedented in every sense of the term and never in history of India such a Yatra in defence of its unity was ever undertaken by any one. Having covered more than 3000 kilometers it has caught the imagination of people who have connected with it in a spirited manner and walked with its participants with gusto. In spite of its huge success by bringing people closer together around the common cause of safeguarding India’s unity by countering hatred it has not been covered by most of the mainstream media be it print or television. The leadership of BJY and all those participating in it are engaged in the arduous task of uniting India agonisingly caught in the whirlpool of hatred, divisiveness and polarisation process caused by the the politics of the present NDA Government and its economic policies. They stridently raise the issues concerning high levels of unemployment, back breaking inflation, over centralisation of political power and most importantly the rising spread of hatred in society negating the vision of India enshrined in our Constitution. Rahul Gandhi famously said that "nafrat ki bazar mein, mey mahabat ka dukan khola hun" (In the market of hatred I have opened a shop of love) and it sums up the goal of BJY to unite India through love, reconciliation and understanding.

The BJY has attracted lakhs of people, including women, children and elderly, from all walks of life and they have participated in it very spontaneously and enthusiastically. Their strong bond and affinity with it has generated a country wide feeling that India has to be salvaged from the forces of hatred and all those who spew venom and inflict violence in the name of faith, food, dress and identities of people. The unprecedented traction of BJY from south to north and its sustained momentum is attributable to participation of people in it on a mass scale. When the BJY was passing through Haryana the Health Minister of India Mansukh Mandaviya wrote a letter to Rahul Gandhi to follow the COVID protocol and requested that in the event of any failure to do so the Yatra should be suspended. In the absence of any such protocol issued by the Health Ministry for the whole country, a letter from the Health Minister only to Rahul Gandhi in this regard smacked of arbitrariness, malafide intention and whimsical approach primarily to stop the Yatra. Rahul refused to halt the BJY and as it entered Delhi on 24th December 2022 lakhs of people joined it inspite of the biting cold and walked to Lal Quila displaying infectious enthusiasm and passion in defence of the unity of India.

It reminds us how Gandhi was requested, in an article published in the famous medical journal The Lancet, to suspend his Dandi March on the ground that in case the March realised its objective of making India free then the British doctors and surgeons would leave the country and public health would collapse. Gandhi was told that he himself was operated by a British surgeon while in jail and, therefore, he should be mindful of the fact that India was dependent on British medical professionals in spite of advancement of medical education in the country. He responded to it in his article "A Vicious Insinuation" published in Young India on 10 April 1930 and wrote that he "never felt the dearth of Indian surgeons or physicians of the highest calibre" and his operation was performed by a British surgeon because his Indian surgeon could not come in time. He did not withdraw Dandi March and asserted in the aforementioned article, "if the British withdrew India could be self-contained without the slightest difficulty".

Income Inequality : Common to Dandi March and BJY

It is instructive that the issues raised during the BJY is evocative of the issues taken up during Dandi March, started by Mahatma Gandhi on 12th March 1930 from Sabarmati Ashram and ended in Dandi on 6th April after he picked up a pinch of salt by breaking the Salt Law imposed by British regime that prohibited Indians from making salt from sea water.

During BJY Rahul Gandhi repeatedly flagged the issue of income inequality and in that context he referred to the exponential rise in wealth of Adani and Ambani and the declining income of the ordinary people of India. It is quite striking to note that what Rahul Gandhi said runs parallel to Mahatma Gandhi’s expose of income inequality during British rule in 1930. It was manifested in his letter of 2nd March 1930 addressed to Viceroy Lord Irwin. He wrote that while the daily income of an average Indian was only 12 paise, the British Viceroy’s daily earning was Rs.700 and the corresponding figure for an average British subject and the Prime Minister of that country was Rs.2 and Rs.180 respectively. He brought to the knowledge of the common people that while the British Viceroy was getting much over five thousand times India’s average income, the British Prime Minister was getting only ninety times of an average Briton’s daily income. Therefore, Gandhi wrote to Viceroy that for people of India independence meant deliverance from the killing weight of massive income disparities. Gandhiji thus interpreted independence in terms of the needs and aspirations of the common people and informed them and communicated with them in that language only.

Dandi March and BJY Countered Communal Narrative

It is noteworthy that both during Dandi March and BJY the political regimes gave priority to communal narratives over common issues affecting people of different communities. Gandhi wrote in the aforementioned letter to the Viceroy that “You have unnecessarily laid stress upon the communal problems that unhappily affect this land. Important though they undoubtedly are for the consideration of any scheme of government, they have little bearing on the greater problems which are above communities and which affect them all equally.” The spirit embodied in those lines of Gandhi was amply demonstrated in the words of Rahul Gandhi who said, in his speech in Lal Quila on 24th December 2022, that the TV channels controlled by corporates and supported by Modi regime remain engaged in airing Hindu-Muslim, Hindu - Muslim and completely black out real issues of the people who have been economically crippled. None is placing the BJY in the same footing as that of the Dandi March; but the parallel between the two exposing the communal narratives of both British regime of 1930 and the Modi regime of 2022 is quite striking and revealing.

Dandi March as a Pilgrimage and BJY as Tapasya

There is one defining aspect of BJY which come closer to the way in which Gandhi described Dandi March as his pilgrimage in quest for spirituality and purification of body and mind. During Dandi March Gandhi was sixty one year old and some people advised him that at his age instead of engaging in the march to break salt law he should go to the Himalayas to realise God and attain liberation of soul. In his reply he said that he wanted to have Darshan of God through Dandi March by identifying himself with thirty crores of people of India. He also said that a believer in God was one who established heart unity with Muslims, Sikhs, Parsis, Christians, Sikhs and men and women of every section of each community. That spirit of the historic Dandi March is reflected in BJY in which people of all communities are participating in large numbers and Rahul Gandhi himself is visiting temples, mosques, churches and Gurudwars located on the route of the BJY. His description that BJY for him is his Tapasya is evocative of Gandhi’s description of Dandi March as his pilgrimage.

Walk as a Lesson for Health and Well Being

The manner in which Rahul Gandhi is walking faster than others and covering twenty to twenty two kilometer a day during BJY reminds Gandhi’s fast paced walk while marching to Dandi and covering 14 kilometers a day. He was 61 years old and yet walking faster than other marchers who were finding it difficult to keep pace with him. In fact, Gandhi was distressed to see many of his fellow marchers getting tired in walking 12 to 14 kilometers a day and some of them also down with fever and they were not to able to walk on a sustained basis because of the blisters on their feet.. But nothing happened to him. On 3rd April 1930, three days before he broke the salt law, Gandhi delivered a public speech outlining the imperative necessity of doing exercises while serving society and nation. He said, “The modern generation is delicate, weak, and much pampered. If they will take part in national work they must take ample exercise and become hardy. And no exercise is as good as and as effective as long vigorous marches. Gymnastics and the like are good and may be added to walking. They are no substitutes for walking, justly called prince of exercises.”

The modern generation he referred to in 1930 has become weaker, extremely delicate and remained vulnerable to cardiovascular diseases, hypertension and diabetes due to reduced physical activity and lack of exercises. The health disorders affecting them are alarming and therefore the prescription of Mahatma Gandhi for ample exercises through long and fast walk is of relevance for all time to come.

In BJY Rahul Gandhi walking 20 to 22 kilometers a day assumes significance in the context of what Gandhi wrote in 1930 for the modern generation which needs to be physically fit and resilient in face of sedentary ways of living and spread of life style diseases which affect people at an early age and remain a major cause of ill health and mortality.

Rahul Gandhi wearing a half sleeve T shirt walked all along in Delhi caught by chilling winter. When a correspondent asked him if he was not feeling cold with only a half sleeve T shrit he gave a thoughtful answer and said as to why he was not asking the same question to children in streets without warm clothes or the farmers and workers who toil hard in open fields with hardly any clothe on their bodies. It was reflective of his affinity with the people who are struggling and economically marginalised.

Of the many lessons of Dandi March and BJY, the lesson to walk every day constitute a wholesome and healthy message for the present generation to follow.

Lessons of Dissent and Accountability

Dandi March was a shining example of expressing dissent, interrogate the British regime, oppose the unjust law and hold the Government to account. At the same time Gandhi flagged the point that marchers and people as a whole should remain accountable as well for what they did. That spirit of Dandi March is deeply resonating in Bharat Jod Yatra and it is demonstrated in the questions asked to the Union Government on a variety of issues and questions faced by the leaders of BJY including Rahul Gandhi in many press conferences which they address.

The import of BJY is better comprehended by locating it in the historical backdrop of Dandi March the significance of which endures beyond time and space. It was on the ninety first anniversary of Dandi March on 12th March 2022, Prime Minister Modi started the national celebrations of 75th anniversary of our independence, Aazadi Ka Amrit Mahotasav. It is equally significant that during the Aazadi Ka Amrit Mahotasav BJY has been started from Kanyakumari to unify India by taking head on the forces of hatred and engaging in an ideological struggle with them. It is heartening that it has entered Delhi on its onward journey to Jammu and Kashmir and is setting narrative to defend the Idea of India.

(Author: S N Sahu served as Officer on Special Duty to President of India K R Narayanan)

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