''Rahul Gandhi has shown courage to heal the heart of democracy.'
Actor-Film-maker Amol Palekar, along with his Writer-Director wife Sandhya Gokhale, joined Congress leader Rahul Gandhi's Bharat Joda Yatra on its 74th day.
The yatra was then on its last leg in Maharashtra before it stepped into Madhya Pradesh.
The couple has always been very spirited, with definite views and fearless about voicing their opinions.
Explaining their reasons for joining the march for unity to Rediff.com Senior Contributor Roshmila Bhattacharya, Sandhya Gokhale says, "Very few seem to be speaking out against this corrosion of democratic values. Most people are fearful of a possible attack on them from enforcement agencies, the police or the hired army of trolls."
"But is the silenced voice really in minority? We do not think so."
Amol Palekar adds, "We believe that the politics of hatred, religious fanaticism and oppression ought to be stopped.
"At least Rahul Gandhi has shown the courage to march with a positive spirit of healing the heart of democracy. Hence, we both felt compelled to join hands (with him).
"As (winner of the 2006 Nobel Prize for Literature) Orhan Pamuk asks, 'Does love make one a fool or do only fools fall in love?'"
You joined the Bharat Joda Yatra on November 20 in Buldhana. What were your reasons for showing solidarity with this yatra?
Sandhya Gokhale: There are primarily two reasons why we felt compelled to join the yatra.
Firstly, the circumstances of our life have restricted our choices and decisions in so many ways that self-censorship has become ubiquitous.
Threats to our democratic existence have surfaced from all corners -- throttling of the media, equating dissent with sedition, decimation of regional socio-political movements, systematic propelling of a chosen few business houses which can buy out and curb the media or control the entertainment industry, imprisoning progressive intellectuals, distorting history to suit the narrative of Hindutva as defined by the BJP, ideological indoctrination of educational and scientific institutions through government-controlled appointments of its heads... The list can go on and on.
The worst is the usage of democratic means to camouflage totalitarian measures.
Amol Palekar: The world over, the 21st century is facing the problem of authoritarianism under the garb of democracy.
The new leadership -- like El Salvador's Nayib Bukele, Turkey's Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Poland's Law And Justice party, Hungary's Viktor Orban, Venezuela's Hugo Chavez -- are smarter in not being overtly brutal; they proved that using democratic machinery to enforce an autocratic agenda was more effective.
India is no exception in this regard.
And the other reasons?
Gokhale: Very few seem to be speaking out against this corrosion of democratic values.
Most people are fearful of a possible attack on them from enforcement agencies, the police or the hired army of trolls.
But is the silenced voice really in a minority? We do not think so.
The populist majority has the sanction of the ruling party on the basis of their religious agenda.
But is that a true majority voice?
We need to know.
And, for that, people who have chosen to shut up need to take a stand on issues.
Their fearfulness has eased a proliferation of hatred on many fronts, thereby facilitating a slide in our progressive, secular values.
The Bharat Jodo Yatra is seeking to bind all with love and fearlessness. It is a call to people to stop hatred against each other.
Palekar: We believe that the politics of hatred, religious fanaticism and oppression ought to be stopped.
At least Rahul Gandhi has shown the courage to march with a positive spirit of healing the heart of democracy. Hence, we both felt compelled to join hands (with him).
As (winner of the 2006 Nobel Prize for Literature) Orhan Pamuk asks, 'Does love make one a fool or do only fools fall in love?'
What were your apprehensions, if any, before joining the yatra?
Palekar: There were many.
The major one was that we were getting labelled as Congress patrons.
We have had no affiliation with the Congress; in fact, most of our fights against artistic censorship took place during the Congress regime.
We neither have political aspirations nor any quid pro quo to gain.
We don't wish to sabotage our freedom to oppose any injustice in the hands of any political party.
Since Rahul Gandhi is a poster boy of the Congress, we were worried that no one would actually see our position.
Gokhale: We were also sceptical about his (Rahul Gandhi's) intention behind this yatra.
But as the yatra crossed two southern states, the overwhelming support, totally voluntary, of the masses, became apparent.
Despite the mainstream media's ban on its coverage, we all could see its stupendous success through social media.
One more thing almost certain to happen was the trolling and personal maligning through every possible avenue to discredit the image of Amol Palekar.
But shaking off your fears and apprehensions is the need of contemporary times.
How long and how far did you march?
Palekar: Sandhya walked through the morning session.
Rahul's pace was such that a 78 year old (Palekar's age) could not cope with it beyond half an hour.
Both of you looked extremely fit. Are walks a part of your daily regime?
Palekar: Yes, Sandhya is very fit and disciplined.
I am fundamentally allergic to the idea of exercise. Nonetheless, I do walk occasionally.
Can you tell us briefly about your interaction with Rahul Gandhi?
Gokhale: Warmth, sharing of ideas on various topics and empathy towards masses were the highlights of our interaction.
What do you think he has achieved since the yatra started? Can this march really unite a divided India as claimed?
Palekar: The support is stupendous.
Many NGOs and civil society groups are joining the yatra.
Even Congress opponents are joining in solidarity.
Rahul's sincere approach has convinced people of his commitment to fight against hatred.
Gokhale: People are realising that his 'Pappu' image was a media construct devoid of any truth.
Unfortunately, he has to carry the burden of the past misdeeds of his party.
The yatra was the only constructive alternative for him to establish his image beyond his party's context.
People are able to connect with him directly.
They see a catalyst for transformation, a genuine sympathiser.
His vulnerability is his biggest strength.
However, let us not create yet another myth. Over-scripting and over-expectations may overshadow his achievements.
Having said all this, we do believe that the yatra will percolate love in people.
What are some of the issues you would personally like to address through your participation in the march?
Gokhale: Being an activist for women's rights, I would like him to address the issue of gender-based fear.
Even in the 21st century, patriarchy is ruling all over the world.
Women need to be told to be fearless qua (roughly translated, it means when it comes to ) men, to say NO to violence at any level, to stand up for each other in this crusade.
Women are taught to absorb the atrocities of patriarchy.
This centuries-long conditioning gets endorsed by radical religious fanatics.
The yatra can unite women to say NO to date rape, NO to marital rape, NO to thappad, NO to sexual harassment at workplace, NO to abuse of elderly women.
Amol too cherishes gender equality and is a supporter of the fight against patriarchy.
While many have lauded you, some BJP politicians like Nitesh Rane and Amit Malviya have claimed that you were paid to walk with Rahul Gandhi for 15 minutes and could choose where to join him.
Palekar: Such accusations are expected.
Alleging and spreading lies is the technique used systematically to ruin their target's credibility.
How ridiculous is it to even defend such a baseless claim!
Some Twitter users are calling you a part of the 'award wapsi gang that has long opposed Prime Minister Modi.
Gokhale: Any form of dissent will attract such criticism. They are exercising their freedom albeit for manipulative goals.
We are not going to stoop low to equalise with the trolls.
We have elections coming up. Any plans of joining active politics on a Congress ticket?
Palekar: Oh wow, yet another imaginative question!
A polite NO though.
Is there anything you would like to do in a personal capacity to unite India?
Gokhale: We performed Kusur, a play that challenged our hidden biases against each other on account of religion.
Our artistic pursuit is always towards bringing harmony.
Whatever way we can, we will keep on uniting people.