In more than one way, Rahul Gandhi is driving the Congress’ Kanyakumari-to-Kashmir Bharat Jodo Yatra.

His pace of walking is the talk of the march.

“I have been a part of many yatras,” psephologist and the leader of the Swaraj India party, Yogendra Yadav, tells me with his characteristically calm smile right after an early breakfast on Saturday, the 24th day of the march. “But I have never seen a yatra that moves at this pace. And that is only due to Rahul Gandhi.”

Gandhi is walking across the country to shore up his party’s image as the principal counter to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party. Currently his train is crossing the state of Karnataka as he heads north.

Credit: Shoaib Daniyal

This isn’t the first time Gandhi’s walking is driving politics. In 2018, the Bharatiya Janata Party had accused the Congress leader of fabricating a trek to Mount Kailash in Tibet. In response, the Congress put out his smart watch’s pedometer reading which had clocked up an impressive 46,433 steps.

With the yatra covering 23 km on Saturday, walking is serious business for the people behind Gandhi. Chandy Oommen, Youth Congress outreach cell chairman and son of former Kerala chief minister Oommen Chandy, has taken a nuclear approach to the matter: he is going barefoot. “Believe it or not, it has helped me walk better,” he tells me as I look down self-consciously at my specially-made-for-walking sports shoes. “My blisters have gone after I went barefoot.”

Chandy Oommen, Youth Congress outreach cell chairman, is walking barefoot. Credit: Shoaib Daniyal

The pace of the yatra is so brisk, even Rahul Gandhi seems to have complained about his own pace. On September 29, Gandhi put out a video of “having knee problems while walking” going to say that meeting people during the yatra helps to overcome it.

The Bharat Jodo Yatra aims to cover more than 3,500 kilometres over the span of around five months as Rahul Gandhi marches across the country to make the Congress’ pitch around opposing the BJP on issues such as communalism, inflation and joblessness.

Credit: Shoaib Daniyal

For the next few days, I’ll be walking with the participants and will post sights and insights from the ground.