As Rahul Gandhi entered Hyderabad on Tuesday on the 55th day of his Bharat Jodo Yatra, among those who joined the march was the mother of Rohith Vemula, the Dalit student of University of Hyderabad whose suicide had sparked protests in 2016.
Rahul, who had visited the Hyderabad campus during the protests, tweeted a photo with her at the Yatra and said he had got “new courage” from her to achieve his goal.
With six days left for its Telangana leg still, the crowds for the Yatra in the state where the Congress has been swamped by the mighty Telangana Rashtra Samithi (now renamed Bharat Rashtra Samithi) have been encouraging for the party. However, most of the push is being provided by various civil society organisations, volunteers, NGOs and worker unions. A number of ‘Civil Society Participation in Bharat Joda Yatra’ groups have come up on social media where the civil society organisations and NGOs coordinate.
On Monday, Rahul’s seventh day in Telangana, a similar crowd greeted him as he started from Shamshabad, with many of the activists joining and walking along with him at intervals. After Vemula’s mother Radhika joined him, Rahul tweeted: “After meeting Rohith’s mother, I got new courage to go towards the goal of this journey, and new strength of mind.” Rahul also said that Vemula would remain a symbol of the struggle against social discrimination and injustice.
रोहित वेमुला, सामाजिक भेदभाव और अन्याय के विरुद्ध मेरे संघर्ष का प्रतीक है, और रहेगा।
रोहित की माताजी से मिल कर, यात्रा के लक्ष्य की ओर बढ़ रहे कदमों को नया साहस, और मन को नई शक्ति मिली। pic.twitter.com/7XrVSqnptF
Vemula, 26, had hung himself in his hostel room alleging discrimination and harassment by the university management on account of being a Dalit. He and four others had been suspended on the complaint of an ABVP leader.
Congress leaders said civil society group members are coming to meet and talk to Rahul. “At Shadnagar, a large group of residents who call themselves civil volunteers and share the Congress ideals of communal harmony, peace and protection of democracy joined the padayatra. Similarly, a large number of members of groups like the Telangana Federation of Trade Union, Pravasi Mitra Labour Union, academicians and activists like Prof G Haragopal, member of the Rythu Swaraj Vedika, are participating in huge numbers,” one of the leaders, Mohammed Khaleel, said.
A volunteer said organisations like the Jai Gouda Telangana Sangam were joining the Yatra on their own. “They wait on the road for him to arrive and then start marching alongside. Farmers, weavers, small traders, teachers etc are coming voluntarily. A group of kids from a dance academy at Katedan came Tuesday morning and put up a dance for Rahul.”
Congress leaders said they were enthused by the participation of a large number of students, especially from Osmania University. “They come with grievances to narrate to Rahul, but are also impressed by his padyatra and march along with him for as long as they can. On Tuesday morning, students of Prof Jayashankar Agriculture University and research scholars joined us,” said Anil Yadav of the Youth Congress.
In the evening, there was a festive atmosphere at the Charminar as Rahul Gandhi trooped in with the other yatris. Hundreds of Congress workers and supporters, Youth Congress workers, National Students’ Union of India (NSUI) activists, and youth from across Hyderabad were at Charminar to welcome Gandhi.
More than three decades ago, the Congress leader’s father and former PM Rajiv Gandhi stood at the same spot to launch the Sadhbhavana Yatra on October 19, 1990. Gandhi, accompanied by senior Congress leaders such as Telangana Pradesh Congress Committee (TPCC) chief A Revanth Reddy, Jairam Ramesh, and Digvijaya Singh, unfurled the Tricolour at the spot and offered floral tributes at his later father’s portrait. At this, there was thunderous applause and loud cheers. Gandhi spent some time admiring the monument and flipped out his mobile phone to snap some photos.
The padayatra then proceeded towards Necklace Road, which encircles Hussain Sagar lake. Hundreds of people lined up at Patherghat market and nearby areas to catch a glimpse of the Congress leader. Gandhi later garlanded the statue of his grandmother and former PM Indira Gandhi. At a corner meeting for invited people at Necklace Road, Gandhi made a speech in which he criticised the BJP’s alleged agenda of hatred and violence. “This politics of hatred, this politics of bhai ko bhai ko se ladana (this politics of pitting brother against brother) is weakening the country,’’ he said.