Armed with walkie-talkies, dozens of Congress volunteers walk in small groups either close to their leader Rahul Gandhi or ahead of him during the Bharat Jodo Yatra, managing the crowd and clearing the road ahead.
With many of them witnessing snowfall and sub-zero temperatures for the first time, the volunteers are in high spirits and ecstatic to be approaching Kashmir, the final destination of the foot march that started from Kanyakumari in Tamil Nadu in September last year.
When not walking beside Mr Gandhi, these sprightly volunteers are busy overseeing arrangements at camping sites and putting up billboards, among other things.
“We have been moving continuously since the yatra started on September 7. Many of the volunteers preferred to remain part of this historic march and are moving with the yatra to its final destination in Kashmir,” Devender Yadav, the youngest MLA from Chhattisgarh who is heading a group of 125 volunteers, told PTI.
The 33-year-old former mayor of Bhilai said all volunteers are happy that the yatra is achieving its goal of spreading brotherhood.
“Our country is full of diversity and any conflict between the communities is very harmful for our unity. The only aim of the Bharat Jodo Yatra is to unite people against hatred and spread the message of love and brotherhood,” Yadav said.
On meeting the people of Jammu, he said, “They are very good and the way they received the yatra is a reflection of its success.” With lakhs joining the Bharat Jodo Yatra, managing crowds has proved to be a “big challenge” for the volunteers, Yadav said.
“Managing such a huge crowd was quite impossible.
“We have braved hot and humid weather, cold and rain over the past four months and now let us experience snowfall and sub-zero temperature as well. We are ready for any situation,” he said.
The Bharat Jodo Yatra will enter Kashmir on January 27.
Rahul Rao, national chairman of Indian Youth Congress’ media department, thanked his stars to have got the chance to join this “significant and memorable” yatra.
Hailing from Haryana, Rao has been part of the yatra from the day one and is responsible for managing the camps where the yatris stay for the night.
“It has been a life-changing experience for me and heading closer to Kashmir, I am feeling that my long wish to visit Kashmir will be fulfilled shortly,” he said.
Rahan Ramdayal from Jodhpur in Rajasthan said the inclement weather does not deter the volunteers and they are “very excited” to enter Kashmir.
“Gandhi is not feeling cold and can be seen moving around in a T-shirt in this winter. He is getting energy from the people who are joining him and we are drawing energy from our leader,” he said.
Before the yatra started, Ramdayal said, he was planning to visit Kashmir to witness snowfall and now finally his dream will be fulfilled.
One of the volunteers, Pandit Dinesh Sharma from Haryana, is walking barefoot.
“My family has been a Congress supporter for generations and I feel lucky to have been part of the Bharat Jodo Yatra from Kanyakumari. I have been walking without any shoes or slippers for the last 12 years.
“I have pledged not to wear shoes till Rahul Gandhi becomes the prime minister of the country,” said Sharma, carrying the national flag.
He said Gandhi and all those accompanying him are “tapasvis” and “we have no fear of anything, be it heat, cold, snow or rain”.
Besides the volunteers, hundreds of yatris are accompanying Gandhi.
Suraj Matte, a 69-year-old farmer from Uttar Pradesh, is travelling in his tractor, which he said is a symbol of strength and reads “Daro Mat” (don’t be afraid).
He said he joined the yatra in Delhi.
Jammu and Kashmir Pradesh Congress Committee spokesperson Jahanzaib Sirwal said the party unit feels privileged to welcome the volunteers who have stood with Gandhi to strengthen the “idea of India”.
“It is a once-in-a-lifetime event and being part of it is our pride. It provided an opportunity for all of us to interact with each other and witness senior leaders, who are aged above 80, move alongside Gandhi with great zeal and energy.” The cross-country Bharat Jodo Yatra will culminate with Gandhi unfurling the national flag at the party headquarters in Srinagar and addressing a grand rally at the Sher-e-Kashmir Cricket Stadium on January 30.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)