Some long marches have changed the course of history. Some, or one such rather, is aimed by a desperate out-of-power politician and his cronies out to seek attention, prop up the flagging zeal of a fast-disappearing party cadre and garner a few votes.
Some hold a mirror up to the brazen neglect of the common man by the State, the authoritarian and manipulative nature of an intolerant regime and crass abuse of authority by the ruling elite.
A padayatra typically means a journey undertaken by prominent people, more often a politician to reach out to masses and learn about their issues.
The concept of padayatra started way back in 1930 when Mahatma Gandhi led the Dandi Salt March which triggered a wide Civil Disobedience Movement. In Gandhi's case, the cause was noble and the goal in the best interests of the society.
Which is why he elicited huge response as millions of Indians joined the fight. Besides, the event drew the world's attention to what was happening in a tiny under-developed country—India!
In 1946, the bloody riots at Noakhali (in today's Bangladesh) where there were massive communal disturbances, drew Gandhi's attention. Gandhi marched through Noakhali, where the infamous genocide was happening. Gandhi camped in Noakhali for four months and toured the district in a mission to restore peace and communal harmony.
Since then, the padayatra or a march has been used as an effective technique to fight social and polical injustice. Mao's Great March or Long March in the 30s changed the course of politics and life as the Chinese knew it, forever.
In our state, we had our very own YSR who toured every village in the state. He undertook a 3-month-long padayatra covering a distance of nearly 1500 kms. The best thing was that the late chief minister, Dr YS Rajasekhara Reddy was a people's person, a leader of the and for the masses! And he knew every nook and corner of AP like the back of his hand.
However, it was no mean feat to walk across the hot districts in Andhra Pradesh during the months of summer. Yet, YSR relentlessly progressed, walking in the scorching sun.
It may be recalled that YSR did not have have the kind of media coverage that the present day politicians have! That was a period when Naidu had established himself on the throne as the guardian of Andhra Pradesh and styled himself the state's CEO. He had a long stint—for nine long years. But it was only when YSR met people in the villages did he realise how ineffective and inefficient Naidu's administration was.
He got first-hand information from farmers on how the then CM's schemes favoured only big farmers who had huge holdings. At the time, Naidu had also abolished the Rs 2/kg rice policy saying nothing comes for free. This had irked BPL families who led a hand-to-mouth existence.
Wherever YSR went, only anti-government sentiments echoed. However, YSR reassured them and later after he was elected with a resounding majority, he fulfilled all his promises.
He realised no matter how many reports you read, the real problems of the common people can be learnt only through mass contact, which is why he continued meeting people (Rachabanda) even after he became the CM. In fact, even at the time of death, he was on duty—he had set out on a rachabanda mission!
In fact after his padayatra, YSR even said that Ichchapuram in Srikakulam district had a great impact on him. YSR even told media persons, "The padayatra brought about a total change in me. I learnt many lessons through this. I came to understand the problems of various sections of society. I observed the lifestyles and livelihoods of the people, which inspired me to do something for the oppressed and needy people."
Perhaps he's the only leader in the state to undertake such massive padayatra. It wouldn't be wrong to say that he pioneered the concept in Andhra Pradesh.
Another example is of course the TDP chief, Chandrababu Naidu. His agenda is clear—to win the support of people so he can garner more votes through his Vastunna Meekosam padayatra. Naidu has lost every single election since 2009.
Moreover, the alarming rate at which the desertions are taking place is in party is something beyond his control. Thus Naidu is clueless about where the party's heading, he has to take charge of the situation and gear enough support to save the face of his party in the upcoming elections (2014). However, one can't help but call him a copycat as he's blindly aping YSR's style. Why not! if that can earn him a few more votes!
Who can forget our chief minister's Indiramma Baata programme, which YSR initiated as a mass contact programme. Kiran Kumar Reddy is going all out to make mass contact through this programme. His aim is to build a good rapport with the villagers to win their confidence.
Another padayatra that's raising eyebrows is that of YSR Congress president Jagan Mohan Reddy's sister, sharmila's walkathon titled 'Maro Praja Prasthanam'. It may be recalled that her father's padayatra was called 'Praja Prasthanam'.
When Sharmila announced her padayatra, there were widespread doubts if she will be able to carry off such a huge feat! However, with every passing day it's apparent now that she has pulled it off in style! Even the way she waves her hand resembles YSR's signature gesture!
Sharmila, flanked by mother Vijayamma and sister-in-law Bharathi began her 3000-km padayatra from the family estate after paying homage to fer father's memorial at Idupulapaya in Kadapa district. Her mission is simple—she wants to expose the dilution of her father's flagship schemes by the government.
And for a person, especially a woman who's used to some luxuries in life, going on a walkathon for thousands of kilometres is no cake walk. On one count, both Sharmila and her father are similar—While Sharmila has chosen stormy weather to undertake the padayatra, her father had chosen scorching heat.
And it's not easy to accomplish such arduous tasks in extreme weather conditions. Although Sharmila too started off her foot march in monsoon, she continues to walk with the same ease in summer too. This, after she suffered a ligament tear in her knee and underwent a surgery. The YSRCP leader is taking all the hardships in her stride for a cause.
The bottomline is although we are in an age where social media will help deliver instant messages across the world, yet in a democratic country like India, the human touch is very crucial not just to get votes but also to build a rapport with the people, to learn about their everyday problems on a first-hand basis and to steel yourself to bring about a change in their lives. Mahatma Gandhi and YSR were successful in accomplishing their mission. Can Sharmila, Naidu and Kiran do the same? Only time will tell!