Congress leader Rahul Gandhi on Wednesday launched the party’s Bharat Jodo Yatra from Kanyakumari in Tamil Nadu.

The Congress has said that the march is aimed at countering the “environment of hate” prevalent in the country, besides flagging the problems of increasing unemployment, rising prices and political centralisation.

The 3,570 kilometre-long tour will cover 12 states and two Union Territories in about five months. Ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha elections, the party has described the march as its biggest mass-contact exercise since Independence and a “turning point” in India’s political history.

Before the launch of the march, Gandhi on Wednesday visited the memorial of his father and former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi at Tamil Nadu’s Sriperumbudur. Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated in Sriperumbudur on May 21, 1991, when an operative of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam detonated her RDX-laden belt.

“I lost my father to the politics of hate and division,” Gandhi said in a tweet along with a picture of him paying respects to his father. “I will not lose my beloved country to it too. Love will conquer hate. Hope will defeat fear. Together, we will overcome.”

He then attended an event in Kanyakumari, where Tamil Nadu Chief Minister MK Stalin, his Rajasthan counterpart Ashok Gehlot and Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel were present. Stalin handed over the national flag to him at the event for the launch of the yatra.

While addressing the event, Gandhi alleged that India is under attack by the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, which he claimed, are diving the country on lines of religion and language.

He also claimed that India is facing its worst economic crisis under the Narendra Modi-led Central government.

“A handful of large businesses control the entire country today,” Gandhi said, according to ANI. “Earlier there was East India Company which controlled India and today there are 3-4 big companies which control entire India.”

He added: “Demonetisation, flawed GST [Goods and Services Tax], three anti-farmer laws, are all designed to help the same few business people. The idea is very similar to what the British used to do – Divide India, make Indians fight with each other and steal from Indians.”

The Bharat Jodo Yatra

Meanwhile, many Congress leaders and party workers arrived at Kanyakumari from across the country in batches for the march.

Gandhi and others who will take part in the march plan to walk around 22 to 23 kilometres daily, PTI reported. Led by Gandhi, Congress workers and leaders will walk in two batches between 7 am and 6.30 pm everyday.

They will pass through Thiruvananthapuram, Kochi, Nilambur, Mysuru, Bellary, Raichur, Vikarabad, Nanded, Jalgaon, Indore, Kota, Dausa, Alwar, Bulandshahr, Delhi, Ambala, Pathankot and Jammu, before culminating the march in Srinagar.

On Sunday, Gandhi had said that the party has no choice but to go to the citizens directly and tell them about the situation in the country.

“The government has blocked all paths for us,” he had said at a rally in Delhi. “The medium of Parliament is not there. Congress leaders, the opposition, and people cannot make speeches in Parliament. Our mic is put off. We want to talk about China’s attack but can’t do it. We want to talk about unemployment, but we can’t do that. Want to talk about inflation, can’t do that.”

Congress leader Jairam Ramesh had said the march is a “transformational moment” for Indian politics and a “decisive moment” for the Congress’ rejuvenation.

“The first reason for the division is economic disparity, the second is social polarisation and the third is political centralisation as states’ rights are being snatched away,” he added. “So, it is important to unite the country. If not now, then when?”