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A Walkathon Of Epic Proportions

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Ichchapuram is a small, sleepy town in Srikakulam district of Andhra Pradesh. It has nothing much to boast about except that its name is etched in history as a famous destination of long marchers known for their willpower, ambition and vision. The town has three pylons unveiled by three marathon walkers from the same family belonging to a place which is hundreds of miles away. The first pylon was raised in the name of Dr YS Rajasekhara Reddy who inaugurated it when he reached the place walking, in the name of ‘Praja Prasthanam,’ from Chevella town in Ranga Reddy district in Telangana State. The second landmark was launched by his daughter YS Sharmila when she reached the town at the conclusion of her walkathon, ‘Maro Praja Prashanam’ in 2013. The third pylon was unveiled by her brother YS Jagan Mohan Reddy on the completion of the longest walk in recent memory, ‘Praja Sankalpa Yaatra.’ Nowhere in the world do we find a family from which three out of four members walked thousands of miles to connect with the poor and the underprivileged in order to hear their tales of misery. The fourth mega walker, Nara Chandrababu Naidu, present chief minister of AP, walked for more than two thousand kilometres in more than 200 days. But he stopped short of Ichchapuram terminating his walk at Visakhapatnam in 2013 as the elections were fast approaching. That was how his pylon was missing at Ichchapuram. This town was also a starting point for the historic farmers’ march 72 years ago. More about it bit later.

A Learning Curve

Walking is good for any one. It is a learning curve for a politician. It is an opportunity to mingle with common people and to know their problems and the shortcomings of the administration. YSR was 54 and Chandrababu Naidu 63 when they set out on the mission while Jagan was only 44. Since every Opposition leader who walked with a purpose won the nearest election and became a chief minister, there is no reason why this should not be the case with YS Jagan Mohan Reddy who visited Tirupati to pray at Balaji temple. He walked for 12 km climbing thousands of steep steps to reach Tirumala. With a visit to Idupulapaya on Saturday to pay tribute to his father, Jagan would be winding up the paadayaatra he undertook 14 months ago. He visited Ameen Pir Dargah at Kadapa on Friday. He took the blessings of Lord Venkateswara even before embarking on the long march. Elections are only three months away. We would not have to wait for long to know whether or not the tradition, of the Opposition leaders who walked across the state winning election, continues.

Jagan Mohan Reddy’s walkathon stands apart from the rest. Innovation distinguishes a leader from a follower, said Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple Inc. What he observed in a different context applies to YS Jagan Mohan Reddy’s just concluded mega walkathon. It was not sheer grit, abundant stamina and inexhaustible perseverance alone that made the historic paadayaatra a huge success. The innovation that went into planning events en route made a big difference. There were many leaders who took the trouble of walking for a cause before Jagan launched himself on the longest journey on foot. Mahatma Gandhi’s famous Dandi March is a glittering phase in the history of Indian Independence Movement. He walked, with a group of associates from Sabarmati, from 12 March 1930, for 24 days to reach Dandi, 272 km away, to break the salt law imposed by the colonial rulers. That was perhaps the first long march in the world for a public cause. In 1934-35, Mao Tse Tung led the Red Army in its path-breaking Long March for 9,000 km in 370 days liberating villages and towns on its way.

Next year, 1935-36, farmers from North and Central Andhra walked from Ichchapuram to Tada, near Chennai, demanding a better deal. Farmers who walked under the leadership of freedom fighter Kommareddi Suryanarayana and Communist leader Chalasani Vasudeva Rao submitted a memorandum to the premier of Madras presidency, Chakravarti Rajagopala Chari. Vinoba Bhave, a Gandhian and the leader of Sarvodaya and Bhoodan movements, travelled 58,000 km on foot persuading the landlords to donate land to the landless. He launched the movement at Pochampalli near Hyderabad on 18 April 1951 and continued it for 13 years. Former Prime Minister Chandrasekhar undertook ‘Bharat Yaatra’ walking for 4,260 km from Kanyakumari to Raj Ghat, the final resting place of Gandhi in Delhi, in a matter of six months. He planned the yaatra in such a way that he reached Raj Ghat on 25 June 1983, the day Emergency was promulgated by Indira Gandhi eight years ago.

Walking to Seat of Power

Former chief minister of undivided Andhra Pradesh, Dr YS Rajasekhara Reddy, who was the Leader of Opposition at that time, walked in 2003 for 64 days covering a distance of 1,470 km from Chevella in Ranga Reddy district in Telangana to Ichchapuram in Srikakulam district. Reddy was followed by the present chief minister of the residual state of Andhra Pradesh, Nara Chandrababu Naidu, who walked from Hindupuram in Anantapur district to Vizag covering 2.340 kms in 208 days starting 2 October 2013. He was also the Leader of Opposition in undivided AP. By a strange coincidence, father and son, YS Rajasekhara Reddy and YS Jagan Mohan Reddy used Paadayaatra as a weapon against the rule of Chandrababu Naidu. In other words, when YSR and YSJ undertook walkathons they were Opposition leaders and Chandrababu Naidu the chief minister. YS Sharmila, daughter of YS Rajasekhara Reddy and younger sister of YS Jagan Mohan Reddy marched for 2,800 kms from Idupulapaya, where YSR’s samaadhi is situated, in Kadapa district to Ichchapuram in Srikakulam. She faced the vicissitudes of all seasons across the year in order to keep the spirits of the YSRCP workers high at a time when the party president was in jail. It was also meant to be a mark of solidarity with her brother. YS Jagan Mohan Reddy surpassed all the records by walking 3,648 km for 341 days through 231 rural madals, 54 municipalities, eight corporations and 2,516 villages touching 134 Assembly constituencies. The Opposition leader addressed 124 public meetings and 55 groups of different communities and vocations. He is understood to have met or spoken to about 1.5 crore people in the entire journey.

If it was only walking along the highway, it would not have created a wave. The yaatra was planned meticulously to mentally prepare the people to decide as to which way they shall vote in the forthcoming elections. The public meetings, one in every three days, were attended by thousands of people. In the first phase, it was thought people had thronged since Jagan was walking in Rayalaseema region. But it picked up from Narasaraopet in Guntur district. The Kanakadurgamma Vaaradhi had wobbled when thousands of people wer marching with the leader. The sight of Rail-cum-Road bridge, named after former president Fakhruddin Ahmed, over river Godavari between West and East Godavari districts, looked like a sea of humanity over the river. The numbers grew with every meeting. The intimate gatherings of every community and occupation were highly successful since they gave an opportunity for the leaders of communities and professions to express their viewpoint freely before the Opposition leader who, in turn, could understand the issues thoroughly.

Are People Convinced?

The background of the walkathon was also very convincingly explained by Jagan Mohan Reddy. While the ruling party leaders were criticising the Opposition leader for bunking the Assembly sessions, Jagan asked, ‘What purpose would attending the Assembly serve when the defected MLAs were made ministers and they answer the questions asked by the Opposition?’ Chandrababu Naidu employs hostile MLAs to mock at and shout at the Opposition in order to provoke it to stage a walkout. The treasury benches repeat the same unfounded allegations and hurl accusations against the Leader of the Opposition session after session. Speaker Dr Sivaprasad does not attempt to control the unruly members. The democratic institutions have been vitiated and subverted. Police force is used to suppress dissent. Corruption is at its worst. Crime has been on the rise. Farmers have been committing suicide. As against this background, there was no way other than going to the people, said Jagan Mohan Reddy. People appear to have been convinced, whatever the ruling party leaders might say.
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