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Padayatras: political posturing or genuine outreach programme?

Padayatras by politicians have been around for quite some time. They have again caught national attention after Prashant Kishor announced his Jan Suraj programme 

May 10, 2022 / 05:09 PM IST
SP's Akhilesh Yadav during an election campaign rally in Lakhimpur. (File image) REUTERS/Pawan Kumar - RTSX9JV

SP's Akhilesh Yadav during an election campaign rally in Lakhimpur. (File image) REUTERS/Pawan Kumar - RTSX9JV


The decision by political strategist Prashant Kishor (PK) to walk his way through Bihar and understand the issues at hand to usher in a change in the state triggered a wave of speculation over what it will entail.

Coming as it did close on the heels of Kishor rejecting an offer to join the Indian National Congress, the announcement of the 3,000-km walkathon starting October 2 this year and creating a ‘Jan Suraj’ platform, keep the question open whether it would be turned into a political party.

After acquiring an image as one who successfully propelled electoral campaigns for different political parties, Kishor’s moves are watched with great interest. For the present, he hopes to connect with the people over the next eight to 12 months in his home state where elections are still some years away. That PK preferred to target both the incumbent government and previous Lalu Prasad governments adds to the grist.

Be that as it may, the announcement—and when the padayatra gets underway—has the potential to propel PK on the stage in a state where people are politically conscious.

While it is too early to arrive at any conclusion as to what would be the effect of this padayatra either in the politics of the state or by extension on national politics, PK certainly cannot claim a copyright for this venture.

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Over the past four decades, the country has witnessed padayatras or travel through automobiles by political leaders at different times, to push forward different agendas at the regional or national level. Way back in 1982 Telugu film star N T Rama Rao, hit upon the idea of covering the length and breadth of then Andhra Pradesh by converting his Chevrolet van. Riding atop the ‘Chaitanya Ratham’, the Telugu Desam Party founder covered some 35,000 km by road. Enroute, he addressed small gatherings and large crowds, at times meetings stretching into wee hours.

In a way, this novel experiment of using a chariot (rath) has come to stay in politics across several states. Now during election campaigns, leaders of various political parties take recourse to such yatras or road shows. Uttar Pradesh was the most recent instance when Akhilesh Yadav of the Samajwadi Party undertook one such Rath Yatra.

The other Rath Yatra that came into prominence was the one by former BJP leader Lal Krishna Advani, during September-October 1990. The yatra came amid the ‘Mandal-Kamandal’ tussle in national politics with the BJP coming out in support of the Ram Temple movement. The party which was supporting the Janata Dal government of V P Singh drew distance over the decision to implement recommendations of the Mandal Commission providing reservation for other backward classes.

Yet on the national plane, it was the padayatra of socialist leader Chandra Shekhar that caught the attention. Those were the days when Indira Gandhi rode back to office after the exit of the Janata Party government and her government was confronting problems on multiple fronts. The march from Kanyakumari to Rajghat in Delhi began on January 6, 1983 and ended on June 25, the day in 1975, Indira Gandhi imposed internal emergency. Over the next five months and 25 days, he traversed over 4,200 kilometres talking about drinking water, primary education, nutritious food, and welfare of scheduled castes/tribes.

“Chandra Shekhar made it clear that the padayatra was not a political programme or a party-based campaign, and that no leader or worker was authorised to collect any donations,” noted authors Harivansh and Ravi Dutt Bajpai in the book “Chandra Shekhar – The Last Icons of Ideological Politics”.

Padayatra as a measure to gauge the mood of the people ahead of elections came up in undivided Andhra Pradesh during 2003. The then Leader of the Opposition Y S Rajasekhara Reddy walked for two months across 1,500 km to connect with the rural people especially farmers who felt neglected by the TDP Government of N Chandrababu Naidu.

Naidu, on his part, fashioned his tenure as the CEO of Andhra Pradesh, seeking to bring investment and industry to the state. Reddy and Naidu cut their political teeth together in the Youth Congress and the former tapped the anger of the farmers. The end result: Reddy got wide support and unseated Naidu in 2004. A decade later, Naidu paid Congress back in a similar fashion. He undertook a 2,800 km padayatra during 2013, at a time when the Congress government post Reddy’s death was floundering. The next year and after a decade, people voted Naidu's TDP back to power.

Several years later, YSR's daughter Sharmila embarked on a journey to launch the YSR Telangana Party while her brother Y S Jagan Mohan Reddy went on another journey ahead of the 2019 state assembly polls. Promising a revolution in the way the government works for the people, Jagan like his father defeated Naidu and became the Chief Minister.

At present the BJP State Unit Chief of Telangana, Bandi Sanjay Kumar is on a ‘Praja Sangrama Yatra’ in an effort to build a momentum against the Telangana Rashtra Samiti government of K Chandrasekhara Rao. On Thursday BJP President Jagat Prakash Nadda addressed a rally as Kumar was walking highlighting how the government failed to deliver on promises. Elections are due towards the end of 2023 in Telangana.

What is it that makes political leaders, aspiring or established, to go through the rigour, testing endurance, braving harsh weather and away from comforts? One might surmise that such walkathons assist the leaders to interact and connect with the people directly.  Probably even in these days of social media and digital connect, a human interface has a lasting impact both on the Neta and the Praja. No wonder these padayatras continue and the Yatris head towards their destination.

 

K V Prasad is a senior Delhi-based journalist. 

Views are personal and do not represent the stand of this publication.

 



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KV Prasad is a senior Delhi-based journalist. Views are personal.
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