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'Something historic is happening'

By ROSHMILA BHATTACHARYA
November 26, 2022 10:22 IST
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'Through this one step, and more steps that follow, log judte jayenge (more people will come together); I'm sure of that.'

IMAGE: Actor Sushant Singh joins Rahul Gandhi on the Bharat Jodo yatra. Photograph: ANI Photo

As Rahul Gandhi's Bharat Jodo Yatra made its way through Nanded, Washim, Akola, Buldhana and Jalgaon in Maharashtra, film and television actors walked with the Congress leader who has made its his mission to erase the mood of hate and disharmony prevalent in many parts of our great land.

Among those who walked with Rahul was actor Sushant Singh.

Speaking to Rediff.com Senior Contributor Roshmila Bhattacharya, Sushant says, "Yes, at the back of one's mind, there was this thought that it as a political party's rally; you wondered if the crowds had been raised by the party cadre. But I can assure you they are not stage-managed."

What prompted you to join the Bharat Jodo Yatra?

I was looking for some hope.

For someone who has been seeing India through the news channels -- in my case only NDTV online -- and social media, it seemed like all was lost as one saw only hate, polarisation and division all around.

Then I saw this march, people following Rahul Gandhi with copies of the Constitution, pictures of Bhagat Singh and Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar, and it felt like something historic is happening.

Despite the news blackout, what I saw on social media urged me to lend my support.

I've been highly impressed by Rahul's s journey over the last eight years.

He has been pulled down several times, in a vile manner, yet he has never faltered. And now, he has done something unprecedented with this padayatra, making it clear that it's not a Congress event; that everyone's welcome to join.

I did, hoping I would not be disappointed.

Were you?

No. On the contrary, the turnout surprised me given the way the Congress, in particular Rahul Gandhi as the face of the party, and his family, have been demonised by the media 24x7.

There were people, including children and elderly women, waiting for hours on the roads to catch his eye.

One young man, whom Rahul called, got so emotional, telling him that at a time when unemployment and inflation has peaked, he was their last hope.

This is contrary to what you hear on the channels. You can't hire such people; I'm an actor, I know when someone is acting.

The excitement and enthusiasm I saw on ground zero was palpable and real.

Not just intellectuals, even common people had risen beyond hate and, holding onto hope, come on the streets to preach love and discuss issues like education and price rise.

I'm glad I joined the padyatra; the experience energised me.

Yes, at the back of one's mind, there was this thought that it as a political party's rally; you wondered if the crowds had been raised by the party cadre.

But I can assure you they are not stage-managed.

Many BJP politicians, including Union Minister Narayan Rane's son, Bharatiya Janata Party MLA Nitesh Rane, tweeted a screenshot of a purported mobile phone conversation and, without mentioning names, alleged that the yatra is 'stage-managed' and actors are being paid to walk with Rahul Gandhi.

Wow, that's rich!

The BJP is a richer party and can afford to pay more; bikna hota to bahut pehle bik jaate aur wahin jaake bikte (If I wanted to, I would have sold myself to that party much earlier).

Joining hands with a much-maligned party can bring me only gaaalis (abuses), not money.

Mujhe to kissi ne abhi tak nahin kharida hai (no one has bought me yet).

Amit Malviya, who is in charge of the BJP's national information and technology department, called the participation of actors 'paid PR'.

A few years ago, the Web site Cobrapost had done a sting operation with a PR agency from Delhi calling actors and offering them money to campaign for a party on social media.

Unaware that it was a sting operation, my answer was simple, 'My politics is not for sale.' Period.

I was at the Shimla Literature Festival at the time and, speaking about it, had stated that I hadn't been aware that political parties hired PR firms to hire actors.

It's easy to make such nonsensical allegations without having to furnish any proof.

Jisse bolna hai, bolne dijiye (Let those who want to speak, speak). You can't blackout an event and snatch away an experience from the participants and people in places through which the padyatra is passing; unko jhootha nahin bana sakte(You can't turn them into liars).

Where did you join the march?

I had only one free day, so I joined it at Nanded.

Since Mumbai is 12 hours away by road, I went to Hyderabad and drove down.

I was hoping to walk all day, but there was a sabha (gathering) in the evening and the 10 km walk was cut down to 5 km.

If possible, I would like to join the march again later.

While you are being lauded by many, some have tagged you as part of the 'award vapsi' gang which has always been against Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the BJP.

No matter what you do, you will get tagged by different people in different ways.

That has never deterred me or stopped me from taking a step that I feel is good for the society, for our country and humanity.

Uske baad aapko jo tag lagana hai, lagao (Keeping that in mind, you can put tag me any way you want to).

If you think I'm an urban Naxal or part of the 'tukde tukde' gang, chargesheet me, file an FIR, hum aapke saamne hi hain (I'm right here).

Aren't you afraid of repercussions?

Jaaved Jaaferi said something very relevant, 'Woh usool hi kya jiski keemat na chukani pade (If it doesn't cost you anything, it is not really a principle).'

If you are worried about repercussions, you can't take a stand.

From Umar Khalid to Teesta Setalvad and Dr Kafeel Khan, many are already paying a heavy price.

Jo hoga, hoga (whatever has to happen will happen).

Can the yatra unite a divided country? Resolve issues?

I don't know if it can resolve issues; I am not an expert on that.

But yes, to quote Mrs Lalita Ramdas, peace, human rights and anti-nuclear activist, founder Greenpeace India and wife of Admiral L Ramdas, who also participated in the yatra, it has brought the public back into the Republic.

It is a welcome step, but one step won't change anything.

To reach Bhagat Singh's dream will take time.

Frankly, we have never been so united. Through this one step, and more steps that follow, log judte jayenge (more people will come together); I'm sure of that.

Ever thought of getting into active politics?

Right now, no, but I don't say never.

For me, politics is social service and, before jumping in, I need to take care of my family.

Once I've done my duty, when my family doesn't need me financially anymore and I can take care of my basics needs, maybe I will.

Agar paisa aapki majboori hai, kal ko koi bhi aapko khareed lega aur phir bech bhi dega (If you are in need of money, you can be easily bought and sold).

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