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If BJP cadres don't cooperate, LK Advani's latest yatra could turn out to be an embarrassing affair. Shekhar Iyer writes.

delhi Updated: Sep 17, 2011 23:28 IST
Shekhar Iyer

If the party cadres don't cooperate, Advani's latest yatra could turn out to be an embarrassing affair.

Name: Lal Krishna Advani
Age: 83 years
Date of birth: November 8, 1927

Objective: Good governance and clean politics is the central theme of his 8,500-km yatra, which will be the sixth since he did the first across India in 1990 for a campaign to build a Ram temple in Ayodhya. He has used yatras as a tool for mobilising mass support.

Chief Aides: Senior BJP general secretary Ananth Kumar has been appointed the convener of the event, a job earlier handled by the late Pramod Mahajan. His long-standing aide, Deepak Chopra, is working out the details. Chopra has handled all his yatras.

When will LK Advani's yatra begin and from where?

Advani is said to have chosen to begin his yatra from Sitabdiara in Bihar's Saran district, the birthplace of popular socialist leader Jayaprakash Narayan (JP), on October 11, JP's birth anniversary.

The JP-led stir saw Indira Gandhi making way for India's first non-Congress government under Morarji Desai in 1977. Advani was information and broadcasting minister in that government. Initially, Advani thought of starting the the yatra from either Porbandar, the birth place of Gandhiji or Karamsad, the birthplace of Sardar Patel.

What are the political implications of the yatra?

When Advani announced his yatra on September 8 after daring the UPA government to arrest him instead of two BJP MPs for the cash-for-vote scam in 2008, he aimed at cashing in on the nationwide response to Anna Hazare's agitation against corruption. But he surprised his party and its parent body, the RSS. They saw Advani's yatra as another attempt to have himself projected as BJP's prime ministerial candidate. The RSS wants younger leaders to spearhead the party's campaign in the next election and would like BJP's prime ministerial candidate announced closer to the polls or after the election results.

So, will the BJP still make his yatra a success?

After overcoming their initial misgiving, senior BJP leaders have decided to back the yatra. Leader of opposition Sushma Swaraj said, “We'll be part of his yatra too.” BJP leaders suggested that Advani's yatra should extensively cover poll-bound States like UP, Uttarakhand, Punjab, Himachal and Gujarat. But Advani does not want to make his effort a poll-centric campaign. Rather, he wants to use the opportunity to heighten the anti-Congress sentiment over corruption. In any case, the BJP will not suspend its own yatras, like the one to be undertaken by Rajnath Singh in UP.

Does the RSS back the yatra now?

Within a month of his exit in 2009 as leader of opposition, Advani announced he wanted to do another cross-country yatra aimed at rejuvenating the party but the RSS said no. This time, RSS national executive member Ram Madhav has said, “Corruption is a huge issue. Many people have launched agitations against corruption. We have asked our supporters to participate in such campaigns. In this case, Advaniji is embarking on a yatra, naturally, the Sangh will also join this campaign and support him.”

What are the hassles before the yatra?

Hazare and his team, which have captured the imagination of the people in cities with their anti-graft crusade have vetoed Advani's yatra. This is despite the BJP going all out to ensure the government held a special debate in Parliament to express support for their campaign for Lokpal. Now, Hazare says, “If Advani is serious on the issue of corruption, then instead of a yatra, he should ask all BJP-ruled states to enact legislation for appointing Lokayuktas... it is a gimmick.”

Why has the yatra invited ridicule?

In the 1990s, Advani's yatra for Ram temple lead to a resurgence in the BJP's support base. But it was also blamed for destruction of the Babri masjid, followed by religious violence. Advani has since denied allegations he incited the mob. His critics accuse him of having encouraged communal polarisation. His latest yatra comes 21 years after his Ram Rath Yatra and the subsequent Janadesh Yatra in 1993, Swarna Jayanti Rath Yatra in 1997, Bharat Uday Yatra in 2004 and Bharat Suraksha Yatra in 2006.

What can go wrong for the yatra this time?

Advani no longer commands significant support within the BJP leadership and cadres who'd rather prefer Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi. The latter has stolen the limelight after he won relief from the Supreme Court last week in a case relating to the 2002 riots. Advani's yatra could turn out to be an embarrassing affair if cadres don't cooperate.

What can Advani do to add value to yatra?

In 2009, Advani's projection as PM did not give any significant edge to the party, and its tally went down to 116 in the Lok Sabha. If only Advani were to declare before the start of his yatra that he is not yearning to become PM and his mission is to focus on corruption, his stock could go up dramatically. Advani will be past 86 in 2014 when the next general election is held. With more and more young voters being added to the electoral rolls, his yatra cannot mould popular mood in his favour.