Congress leader Rahul Gandhi embarked on a 3,750-km ‘Bharat Jodo Yatra’ on Sept. 7, 2022, from Kanyakumari to Kashmir and over the course of 150 days, he was accompanied by 117 core walkers, who were there with him from the start to finish. One among them was Mysurean Dr. Shushrutha Hedna Vishnumurthy, Managing Director of Neurozone, a Neurology Hospital in Nazarbad. Dr. Shushrutha returned to Mysuru on Feb. 1 after the Yatra ended on Jan. 30, 2023, in Srinagar. Star of Mysore caught up with Dr. Shushrutha, who answered a few questions about his experience. Excerpts:
Star of Mysore (SOM): Did the Bharat Jodo Yatra really shake the ground as anticipated?
Dr. Shushrutha: Yes, no doubt about it. Because when we started, we did not expect such support. In Kanyakumari, over 20,000 people joined us and this was a huge momentum. When we entered Kerala, the response was greater because Congress has a strong cadre base there. People were interested and enthusiastic and they walked with us.
In Karnataka, the response was humongous as people are fed up with the current dispensation. The overwhelming response went on and on until Jammu and Kashmir. People were coming to see this gentleman (Rahul Gandhi) who is walking all the way from Kanyakumari to Kashmir.
Definitely, it is an impactful Yatra because even film personalities, eminent scientists, well-known personalities and even NRIs participated and support came from all quarters.
SOM: For Rahul, Yatra was a lifetime experience. Was it the same for you?
Dr. Shushrutha: I joined the Yatra as a doctor, as a responsible citizen and not as a member of any political outfit. I felt that I want to do something to express my protest against the current situation in India, be it a communal divide where people are using some agenda to kill each other, unemployment, worsening economic situation, women empowerment issues and journalists being put in jail.
SOM: What benefits have you garnered?
Dr. Shushrutha: Firstly, my health improved significantly. Secondly, my spiritual depth increased because of the way I was able to reflect on myself and see what I could do better in my life or how I could help society in my own humble way.
Thirdly, it was more like a religious Yatra because we visited many religious places belonging to different faiths. Fourthly, I discovered that there is so much of a health disparity between urban and rural areas. This was more like a research thing to see what the disparities are. And since I was doing tele-health advisory for rural zone and also health camps for rural people in and around Mysuru, this was a big experience across the country.
Last but not the least, I also wanted to understand India. I had read and achieved academically but I had not seen the country. So, this was a great experience to look at India in my own way. And I selfishly involved myself in that with my own agenda.
SOM: The entire focus was on Rahul, his beard, his expensive T-shirt and the luxurious caravan he took to unwind while others slept in normal containers. Where do other walkers count?
Dr. Shushrutha: This is a misconception. He was sleeping exactly in the same container in which we were sleeping. Some vested interests spread that Rahul Gandhi had an expensive container. Because of his security, his was a single container. We shared a container of 12 people. Even the food was the same.
SOM: Has Congress succeeded in making a point as the Yatra intended to educate people on various failures of the Central Government?
Dr. Shushrutha: Yes definitely. To be honest with you, a Congressperson should answer this question because as I said before, I am not affiliated with Congress or any political party. But what I feel is people are upset. Why did lakhs and lakhs join the Yatra? That itself shows that they are not happy with the country’s present state. This has definitely helped the Congress party rejuvenate a demoralised cadre and give new faith to people.
SOM: Will Bharat Jodo Yatra fetch rich electoral dividends to Congress?
Dr. Shushrutha: I am not a political person to answer this. But from the response of the crowd and my little political knowledge, I feel it will have a huge benefit. Only time can tell.
SOM: Has Rahul got a makeover from his earlier image after walking all these days? Or do you think he has to do more to gain people’s trust and confidence?
Dr. Shushrutha: With my interaction with Rahul Gandhi, I feel that he is generally interested in the social impact, economic, rural health and he is very much interested to improve each and every aspect. So definitely whatever has been painted on him is false. No leader in the last few decades had the guts to face the people like him. He conducted many media interactions, asking questions, answering questions and involving people. He is very good at it. He can easily connect with people, media and it is the media who should answer this question.
SOM: What was your learning in the Yatra? And was India really divided for Rahul Gandhi to unite it?
Dr. Shushrutha: I definitely felt that after coming back from the US, I was shocked to see how India has changed. I used to come and go for 10 to 15 days. But by staying here, I felt that India was divided. Every day we hear killing, rape, women safety issues, economy drained and farmers having problems. Even people are divided by religion and infrastructure problems and corruption. This Yatra made an attempt to unite India.
SOM: As a doctor, how did you manage to treat your patients in Mysuru and simultaneously be a part of the Yatra?
Dr. Shushrutha: As a telemedicine doctor, I am involved in the THAR project (Telehealth Advisory for Rural Zone), providing free telehealth and health camp for rural populations in and around Mysuru and Kodagu. I also used to cover many hospitals in America using telemedicine and I use the same technology here. I used to conduct telemedicine using WhatsApp and connect with patients who want to see me personally. I used to do telemedicine consults using my laptop and phone. Also in the camp, I used to treat whoever reported ill.
SOM: What were your memorable moments of the Yatra?
Dr. Shushrutha: When we were walking, we had a person in his 80s who collapsed and died in front of our own eyes. An MP from Punjab had a heart attack and passed away. And there was a person who was hit by an unidentified vehicle and we had to take him to the hospital.
On happier side, I saw people, including women and children, on the last stretch in J&K rushing to be a part of the Yatra, mindless of the gun-toting security men. This is etched in my memory. Overall, the enthusiasm of the people and the way they look at Rahul Gandhi with some hope gives us hope.
SOM: You were moving from the hottest places to the coldest ones. How could you cope with the temperature shift?
Dr. Shushrutha: Until we reached Haryana, we did not have any issues with temperature. It was all hot in Kerala and Karnataka, but as we moved to Telangana and Maharashtra, it was a pretty decent temperature. As we reached Haryana, temperature dropped. After passing the eighth and ninth phases, we started to feel cold. We were ready to cope with a hot climate, but not ready for the cold.
In the beginning, it was tiring and a lot of discomfort. However, we adapted quickly and the last 10 days in Jammu and Kashmir, we dealt with extreme cold and we were afraid thinking what would happen. But somehow with our team spirit and crowd support, we were able to pull it off, even walking through snow at minus 3 degrees Celsius.
SOM: What is the key takeaway from this Yatra for you and the rest of India?
Dr. Shushrutha: The take-home message is very clear to me. Firstly, India is divided and Bharat Jodo Yatra was extremely relevant. For India, I would say, that all have to come together. This is just a small voice we have started and there is a long way to go. I don’t think we would be able to do this on our own.
Every organisation, all political parties, doesn’t matter whether ruling or opposition, everybody should come together to solve India’s problems. Every party has to do such Yatra to understand the genuine problems that India is facing. They should leave selfish motives behind and bring India together.
By S. Kenneth Shishir