Samba/Jammu/Nagrota: Walking right behind Rahul Gandhi throughout his Bharat Jodo Yatra, holding the Tricolour high, is a 28-year-old law graduate who’s been barefoot for a dozen years.
Clad in a saffron turban and clothes the colour of the national flag — with images of the Congress leader and slogans of the Bharat Jodo Yatra splashed on them — Dinesh Sharma stands out.
“Jab tak Rahulji Bharat ke pradhan mantri nahi ban jaate, main bina chappal ke sangharsh karta rahoonga (Until Rahul Gandhi becomes prime minister of India, I will remain barefoot),” an enthusiastic Sharma told ThePrint. It’s a vow he’s stayed true to since 2011.
It’s easy to miss Sharma when Gandhi is seen on television, but no visitor to the yatra — which is on its last leg this month — can miss him. He’s the lone flag-bearer who has access inside the former Congress president’s tight security ring.
On one occasion in Samba, Jammu, a former MP was struggling to get through to Gandhi because of his security — but Sharma had easy access.
Sharma is neither an MLA nor a corporator, and he holds no official position in the Congress. Yet, Gandhi and those around him know the man personally. Most party workers know him as well. His clothes are probably the reason most yatris refer to him as “Panditji”.
Speaking about his journey, Sharma said, “My 12-year-long yatra is continuing. In this yatra, another yatra began, in the form of India’s biggest jan andolan, the Bharat Jodo Yatra. … I picked up India’s flag and under this Tricolour, my yatra continues. I am grateful that I got a chance to hold the Tricolour… It feels very good.”
He added, “Wherever Rahulji goes, there I will travel and serve.”
Also read: “Just a loving person who’s intelligent” — Rahul Gandhi shares his thought about marriage, partner
Why Rahul Gandhi?
The Bharat Jodo Yatra started from Kanyakumari on 7 September, 2022, and Sharma has been walking alongside Gandhi since then. Born in Kakrod village in Jind, Haryana, Sharma comes from a well-off family. He has borne the expenses of his journey himself, he said.
In 2021, he even celebrated his birthday with Gandhi — which was tweeted out by the Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee.
When asked what had pulled him to the Congress leader, Sharma said he was drawn to the illustrious history of the Nehru-Gandhi family and Rahul Gandhi’s “josh, shakti, taakat (enthusiasm, power and strength)”.
“When Pandit (Jawaharlal) Nehru became the country’s first prime minister, he took the nation to great heights. Then, the late dadimaa (grandmother) Indiraji (Gandhi), who was Congress president, took India to even greater heights. She died for the country. From the same family, the same party, Rajivji (Gandhi) also died for the country. And from the same family, the same party, Rahul Gandhiji emerged as a leader,” said Sharma.
He believes that Gandhi “will do something” for India.
“Rahulji saw pain at a young age. He lost his grandmother (Indira Gandhi) and he lost his father (Rajiv Gandhi) at a young age. That leader, Rahulji, will do something for this country. And I have a dream to see India as number one in the world. I felt that if someone can fulfil my dreams, it is Rahulji. That day I took this vow (of walking barefoot),” Sharma said.
Keeping up with the Bharat Jodo Yatra, which aims to cover a distance of 3,500 km, is not easy. The pace is fast, the weather is fickle and Sharma’s bare feet make the going even tougher for him.
But Sharma sees the yatra as a fight to “save the country”, with much bigger goals. Discussing the journey’s challenges, he said, “Log behosh bhi hue, aur is andolan mein log shaheed bhi hue (People have collapsed during this movement, and people have also been martyred). Whoever has died here,has died for the country. They will always be remembered.”
He said there is an “atmosphere of fear in the country, inflation is touching the sky, and India has the highest unemployment in the world”, adding that “these are driving factors in the Bharat Jodo Yatra”.
(Edited by Nida Fatima Siddiqui)
Also read: Rahul Gandhi left guessing about ‘proxy’ PM but it was no slip of tongue by Partap Bajwa