As the countdown begins for the Leader of Opposition, YS Jagan Mohan Reddy's six-month long walkathon, termed Praja Sankalpa Yatra, here's a a brief recap of some of the great marches through time which have stirred the imagination of the people. History is replete with examples of men of the masses who have marched through cities, towns and villages to reach out to the weakest of the weak, and the most deprived and marginalized sections of society.
Mahatma Gandhi, former Prime Minister P. Chandrashekar and the late Dr YS Rajashekhar Reddy are among the pioneers of this public outreach programme, who through their walkathons created huge impact on the masses. YS Rajasekhara Reddy’s son and currently the leader of the Opposition in Andhra Pradesh, YS Jagan Mohan Reddy, undertook, as he had promised, his highly popular Odarpu Yatra to console the families of those who either committed suicide or died of shock upon hearing the news of the tragic demise of their beloved leader, YS Rajashekar Reddy. Though other leaders have taken up outreach programmes such as padayatras or walkathons, very few of them have left a lasting impression on the hearts and minds of the people. The one other instance of a march which changed the course of the history of a nation is the Long March of Mao Zedong in neighbouring China.
The Dandi March
Mahatma Gandhi commenced his celebrated Dandi March in the early hours of March 12, 1930. He began marching from his ashram on the banks of the river Sabarmati in Ahmedabad and led a group of 78 satyagrahis, who were followed by thousands of others. Gandhiji marched through a distance of 241 miles and chose Dandi, a coastal village in Gujarat, for his symbolic breaking of the provisions of the abhorrent Salt Tax. Trekking ten miles or more a day, he reached Dandi on April 5,1930 and defiantly picked up a lump of salt to symbolically break the much-despised Salt Tax.
Former Prime Minister P Chandra Shekhar, who belonged to a rare breed of committed Lohiyaites, sought to interact more closely with the masses and eliminate social inequalities through his long Pada Yatra, Bharat Yatra, from Kanyakumari at the southernmost tip of the country to Raj Ghat in New Delhi. His journey took him right through the country over a period of just under six months, ending on June 25, 1983.
While many leaders have undertaken mass contact programmes from time to time, very few stand out for the abiding impression they made on the public mind. Foremost among walkathons which have left an indelible imprint on public consciousness is the Praja Prasthanam Padayatra undertaken by the late Dr. YS Rajashekar Reddy in 2003, which helped the Congress ride back to power in the Assembly polls in 2004. It was in Chevella in Ranga Reddy district of undivided Andhra Pradesh in the scorching summer of 2003 that Dr. YSR began his long trek through the state, coursing through Andhra Pradesh covering nearly 1500 kms and ending his marathon contact programme in Ichhapuram in Srikakulam district.
YS Jagan Mohan Reddy
Six months after his father's death, the current Leader of the Opposition in Andhra Pradesh and YSRCP president YS Jagan Mohan Reddy began an Odarpu Yatra (condolence tour) as promised earlier to go and meet the families of those had either committed suicide or died from sudden shock on the news of his father's death. This time around, YS Jagan's Praja Sankalpa Yatra will begin on November 6 and will cover 125 Assembly constituencies in 13 districts of Andhra Pradesh. The Padayatra will start from Idupulapaya and conclude at Ichapuram, a village where his father had ended his walkathon in 2003. It is relevant to recall that Dr. YSR's daughter Sharmila, undertook a long padayatra--Maro Praja Prasthanam, during the course of which she toured 116 constituencies in 14 districts covering a distance of 3,112 kilometres over a period of nine months in the undivided state.
In neighbouring China, the Long March led by Mao Zedong (1893-1976), which lasted for a year from October 1934 to October 1935, established him as the unchallenged supremo of the Communist party. Currently, Nobel Peace Laureate and child rights' activist, Kailash Satyarthi is leading what he has characterized as the Bharat Yatra to Make India Safe Again for Children.