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Advani holds no magic on sadhvi turf

HEAT, THE Uma effect and failure to factor in local concerns?not necessarily in that order?railroaded LK Advani?s Bharat Suraksha Yatra as it rolled through the Malwa region on Friday.

india Updated: Apr 29, 2006 15:30 IST
Saeed Khan

HEAT, THE Uma effect and failure to factor in local concerns—not necessarily in that order—railroaded LK Advani’s Bharat Suraksha Yatra as it rolled through the Malwa region on Friday.

Advani traversed nearly 400 kms after leaving Indore in the morning. The BJP leader addressed gatherings at the temple town of Ujjain — a bastion of sadhvi Uma from where the BJP rebel will launch her new party on April 30 — Ratlam and, finally, Mandsaur where he halted for an overnight stay.

It was a display of stamina, especially from a 76-year-old. The magic, however, was missing in the Yatra. Security concerns apparently didn’t strike a chord as strongly as Ram. Or perhaps Advani was diffident at performing in the stronghold of his one-time protégé Uma Bharti — a master of public oratory. The debilitating heat was also a reason for the lacklustre performance.

Whatever be the reasons, watching Advani at the meeting gave the impression that he was perhaps thinking of the Assam polls, given the frequent references to Bangladeshi infiltration. The issue did not exert any emotive tug on people sitting a thousand kilometers away.

Something the BJP leader’s advisors failed to point out. The other subjects of Advani’s speeches— corruption, national security and the oil-for-food scam — were equally bereft of local interest. The meetings evoked a tepid response. “What’s the relevance of these topics,” said 70-year-old GL Sharma who came to hear Advani at Ratlam. “Why doesn’t he talk about poverty and unemployment.”

The closure of 136 business establishments has thrown nearly 2 lakh people out of job. “He may be a great nationalist but what’s the public got do with that”, remarked Ramlal Patidar as the BJP leader dwelt at length on the threat posed to national security by the UPA government. To be fair, the lack of public enthusiasm became evident ever since the Yatra cavalcade, boasting 40 cars including one carrying Advani’s son and daughter-in-law, and, of course, the rath, left Indore.

Uma’s ghost loomed large over the yatra as it wended its way through Malwa. The fiery sadhvi’s influence was manifest in the less-than-modest attendance at Advani’s speeches whether at tiny hamlets like Badnagar or district headquarters Ratlam and Mandsaur.

Parallels were drawn between the huge crowds, nearly 30,000 at a recent meeting in Ujjain, the BJP rebel managed to rustle up and the less-than-packed galleries at Advani’s Yatra. Organisers perhaps anticipated the poor response. The meetings at Ujjain, Ratlam and Mandsaur were not held at open grounds to disguise the thin attendance.

Section 144 was clamped on all three places to force shopkeepers to down their shutters, something taken with a pinch of salt. There is, however, no way to make a small crowd look like a truly mammoth gathering and so the attempts, naturally, failed.

As one Uma supporter quipped pointing to the five-odd thousand strong crowd, mostly ferried from rural areas to the meeting at Mandsaur, “It’s not the country but the BJP that needs suraksha (defence)”. Lastly, the searing heat. The sun beat relentlessly down for the most part of the day making everyone but the most avid Advani supporter give the gathering a cold, no pun, shoulder.

First Published: Apr 29, 2006 15:30 IST