“This Yatra is my sixth one…This last one has really set an all-time record not only in respect of the rallies formally organized during the Yatra, but even in respect of the numbers who lined up all along the route of the rath.”
Lal Krishna Advani stunned his party on September 8 by announcing a nationwide Yatra after daring the government to arrest him for the cash-for-vote scam when two former BJPs MPs were held for what was clearly an operation that helped the Manmohan Singh government win a trust vote in 2008.
Many senior BJP leaders were not only taken aback by his announcement but also began to wonder the ‘real’ motive behind the 84-year-old patriarch’s decision to undertake a 8,500-km Yatra, which was to be the sixth one since he did the first one across India in 1990 for a campaign to build a Ram temple in Ayodhya.
A suspicious media soon began to see clear signs of yet another big leadership tussle in BJP, this time involving Advani and the second-line of leaders, who are said to be forever waiting in the wings for their turn at the helm. Stories about the BJP’s parent body, the RSS, being upset about Advani’s Yatra also began to do the rounds. Even Advani did not disbelieve these stories and rushed to Nagpur for an audience with RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat and to get his “blessings.”
It was only after that meeting, Advani responded to a question from a waiting battery of TV reporters about his wanting to be PM candidate again. He said, “I would only say that I first became a Swayamsewak, then a member of the Jan Sangh and then BJP. I feel that what I have got from these organisations, from my fellow workers and what the country has given me is much more than the PM’s post.’’
Even as the media looked for deeper meanings in Advani’s statement, the BJP decided to give in to the patriarch’s plans and work to make it a success. That set alarm bells ringing at the Congress’ headquarters at 24, Akbar Road and the adjacent to 10, Janpath, the office and home of Congress president Sonia Gandhi. A beleaguered government and a more confused party realised that Advani could not be taken lightly.
Predictably, unnerved AICC machinery went on overdrive to debunk the Yatra and Advani’s plans. Old allegations about Advani’s “ambitions” and his Yatras “dividing” the society began to rent the discourses on TV channels. “If Advani’s Yatra was going to be such a placid affair (as some BJP leaders believed and the Congress dismissed it off initially), why were the Congressmen like Digvijaya Singh uneasy at its prospects?”, asked a BJP leader.
Had not the Congress under its able Sonia Gandhi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh thwarted Advani-led BJP challenge and delivered a “death blow” only two years ago at the hustings? The danger, as Congress managers realised, was serious. More than three weeks since the Yatra began, the Congress began to realise that Advani’s Yatra wasn’t such a tame affair after all.
THE HEAT AND DUST
Jan Chetna Yatra and its aftereffects
“The bastards should have at least told us a day before. Forty kilos of mutton I had cooked. Not a single trucker has made his way past. The policemen on duty eat what they like and also pay what they want,” said Kartar Singh, owner of the Shere-E Punjab Dhaba at Luharachati. He berated and fumed and told me about his uncle in Canada who had told him about the premier there who made his way to office in a public bus. “Yahan par to sab ulta hai. Do din se jeena haram ho gaya hai,” he complained.
We drove on from Luharachati to Saraipali, the last pit stop for Advaniji’s Jan Chetna Yatra in Chhattisgarh. All traffic had grounded to a halt; police commandoes stationed at every 50 metres, SLR’s cocked and ready. We were stopped at Khamarpalli and allowed no further. The carcade was to start soon hence we hurried back.
Earlier, on the drive from Sambalpur to the Chhattisgarh border we had seen banners, party flags, freshly painted billboards, loudspeaker jeeps and party men with bullhorns. At Luharachati, the party had put up a small shamiana, where the bigwigs and hangers-on had gathered. A very flustered State President Jual Oram looked worried and spoke of the fragile condition of the road and the two public meetings that were scheduled for the day. The speakers all waited on turn to have their five minutes, the Yatra was two hours late and would only reach at 5 P.M. instead of the scheduled time of 3 P.M. The speakers all exhorted the patriarch’s epoch-making journey and the change that it would bring to the village, the town, the state and country. One of the speakers also went overboard and told that it would make a world of a difference. There were the regulation ‘Bharat Mata Ki Jai’s’ and ‘Vande Matarams’ ‘BJP Zindabad’ was the catch word, with ‘Advaniji Zindabad’ and an occasional ‘Atal Behari Vajpayee Zindabad’ was also thrown in.
A motley group of tribal drummers and dancers had been arranged on the border. They soon raised a cacophonic din, the two muscled lead drummers banged away at their huge drums.
The party men and women had all lined up like obedient school children, with the hope that they would be introduced as per the pecking order. They had all been asked to stay behind the lines and only the press was allowed to get a frontal and first view. Most of them held scarves; garlands and bouquets in their hands, for the old man who at the age of eighty-four had decided to go on a nation-wide tour with a mission to exorcise the demon of corruption.
Very soon the motorcade sirens were heard and everyone’s attention turned to the road. The crowd began to shout slogans at uncoordinated intervals. Sensing the moment, the drummers began to drum loudly. The orderly crowd surged forward; the black cats took up positions, holding them at bay. The State party bigwigs made their way forward and the introductions were soon made. The Chhattisgarh Police was a might relieved lot after they had handed over charge to the Odisha police.
Advaniji emerged on the podium, raised his hand and gave his short speech. The demure and cool politician defied the fact that he had travelled more than 300 kms that day and had already addressed two public meetings. The cavalcade soon picked up speed, after all the others had rushed to their respective vehicles.
Sohella is a small one horse town. However the streets were packed with people, and the policemen could not control the crowds. The Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha volunteers tried to make some bandobast with young leader Brughu Baxipatra making way for the bus to pass. The crowds cheered, the reverence for this old fox of Indian politics was very evident. In him they saw the new messiah who would lead them out of the drudgery and sloth that have been the mite of the poor in Odisha in the last decade.
The public meeting at Bargarh was the precursor of things to come. Corruption on a national scale may have been the leitmotif of the Yatra, but the people were more concerned about the local issues. They wanted to hear a national leader baying for the blood of the Biju Janata Dal and its leader who had back-stabbed the BJP during the last hustings. But alas, Advaniji was silent. Not even once did he mention the BJD or its leadership, rather he extended his sympathy to the state government, calling it a victim of the centre’s apathy. He mentioned that all non-Congress-ruled states bore the brunt of the Centre, be it the National Highways or other development activities. The crowd of more then five thousand had waited patiently for three hours, most of them had disappointment writ large on their faces as they left the George High School ground.
The reception at Attabira too was a repeat, the thick crowds had blocked the roads and made the progress of the Jan Chetna Rath very slow. There was palpable pressure amongst the State leaders and a big public meeting was scheduled at Sambalpur, and things were getting late. A burst pipe at Attabira caused a further delay, however the remainder of the trip was made by car.
The Sambalpur meeting was a rousing success, and the hold of the Party in the Western Odisha was evident. The meet had a lot of people trucked in from neighbouring Sundargarh and Balangir, but once again the disappointment of not hearing him lambasting Naveen Patnaik and his party was seen in the party rank and file.
The morning press conference at Sambalpur brought things to the fore. Even though the small town press was not in its aggressive front, questions about the prospects of further coalition were deftly parried. However, Advaniji was forced to reply that options were open. One could visibly see the jaws of the local leaders drop. The grapevine worked fast, one of the local channels aired the press conference live. Soon the lines were humming at the prospects of the changed scenario. The Party’s Chief Spokesperson Ashok Sahu was quick to dispense his sense of perception of Advaniji’s direct remarks.
A disturbed and perturbed Jual Oram could be seen confabulating with the other leaders who accompanied Advani. He hopped on the bus and there was vigorous brainstorming from Sambalpur till Rairakhole, in which he was asked to clarify the Party’s stand vis-à-vis coalition with the BJD. The old man stood his ground and did not budge one bit. An upset Jual Oram got down from the bus and speeded off to Angul fretting and fuming.
At the pit stops in Rairakhole, Bamur and Boinda, Advaniji cut little ice with his short speeches on the CWG and Telecom scams, though the crowds cheered when he told of the funds stashed abroad being brought back and used for the development in the villages.
At Angul, a volte-face situation happened on the dais. The party Young Turk, Dharmendra Pradhan, who has been all along perceived as a pro-coalition element and a stooge of Pyari Mohan Mohapatra, the strong man in Naveen regime, took on centre stage and spat fire and venom against Naveen Patnaik and the BJD. Many of the party stalwarts and the press were taken aback by the hard attack. Even though the crowds at Angul were a damp squib, the vitriolic attack by Dharmendra made up for the lapses.
At Dhenkanal, the huge crowd, egged on by the veritable parliamentarian Rudra Pani, cheered the wannabe Prime Minister. The stadium was jam packed, with people perched on the rooftops nearby.
Cuttack was the grand finale. The 20,000 odd crowds listened with bated breath. The dais was a jamboree of sorts with party men and workers all clambering on top. The emotional Jual Oram could not control his sentiments any more, and in a choked voice expressed his grief about the coalition stand. “Main ek adivasi hoon, sar kata sakta hoon par sar jhuka sakta nahin. Par phir bhi, agar ap hukum denge, to ham har hukum to sweekar karenge.”
Advaniji left a day early. There was an intellectual meet and a press conference scheduled the next day at Bhubaneswar, but he decided to call it a day and left by his chartered flight the same night. Why he skipped the Bhubaneswar press meet was the journalistic talk of the town the next day. The fourth estate patted itself in the back, telling that Advani had backed off as he had anticipated a very questioning media at Bhubaneswar.
The Core Committee meeting held at the State headquarters the next morning saw morose party men. The agony after the ecstasy, with bewildered party officials enquiring from the districts, the stand taken by the BJD and its leadership, all left a lot of confusion. There was a damage control exercise, keeping the upcoming local body election in view.
According to one party leader, coalition with the BJD would be akin to the rape victim going back to the rapist and reconciling her fate. The heat and dust has settled, how much Jan Chetna the Yatra evoked will be evident from the results in the Panchayat elections in a couple of months. Till then the party waits with a bated breath.
By Kasinath Sahoo
A sluggish BJP had cast its weight to make it a success and the saffron party’s cadres across the country were indeed “enthused.” Crowd turnouts at most places were quite impressive and certainly, not bad. Maybe, Advani’s route was “intelligently chosen”, as a BJP leader put it. But what sank into the Congress minds was that, in the post-Anna movement phase, people were looking for alternatives to deliver them from the UPA kind of governance. And, Advani remains the BJP’s best known face.
Surely, he is somebody his party cannot do without though it can be debated whether he can still be its prime minister candidate. Why? With the most popular face, former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, confined to his New Delhi residence for health reasons, no BJP leader had been able to match Advani.
True, Advani had been projected once and failed to stop the Congress’ return to power. By 2014 when the next elections are held, he would turn 86! Yet, what distinguishes Advani from the rest of the lot of BJP leadership?
Is it just his association with the Ayodhya movement, which he took it to the peak in the 1990s, and helped the BJP eventually catapult to power in 1998? Or is it his uncanny political sense to constantly re-invent his party’s role in Indian politics? Why hasn’t another BJP leader been able to do what Advani has always known for?
Maybe, Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi is different from the pack. But has he succeeded in reinventing himself yet for a national role? Even his die-hard critics agree that Advani singularly demolished the Congress’ domination and gave shape to a second political domination led by the BJP.
AL-UMMA BEHIND PIPE BOMBS DURING ADVANI YATRA
The dreaded banned Islamist outfit Al-Umma which was responsible for the Coimbatore bomb blasts of February 1998 in which 33 people lost their lives and 153 were seriously injured, is behind the presence of pipe bombs which were discovered during BJP leader LK Advani’s Jan Chetna Yatra in Madurai.
Highly placed sources in the central intelligence agencies told Uday India that Al-Umma had been trying to target Advani ever since its attempt to blow him up failed in Coimbatore as he arrived late in the textile city to address a party function. Several people were killed and many others injured and maimed for life in the explosion which had rocked Coimbatore.
The discovery of pipe bombs in Madurai during the Jan Chetna Yatra of LK Advani on October 28 had led to intense speculation in political circles with the theory of Maoist organisations behind the move. There were also theories that the Maoists were trying to establish its presence in Madurai area by targeting a high-profile person.
However, the sleuths in the central intelligence agencies along with the support of Tamil Nadu and Kerala police have cracked the mystery with the investigation agencies identifying the main people behind the operation.
The close associates of dreaded terror leader Imam Ali who was killed by Tamil Nadu Police in Bengaluru, “Fakruddin” alias ‘Police’ Fakruddin and Bilal Malik were the people who had planned the attack on the BJP leader.
Top police brass while speaking to Uday India on condition of anonymity said that as Abdul Nasser Madani, the leader of the People’s Democratic Party of Kerala, was also an accused in the Coimbatore blast case which was operated by Al-Umma, there are possibilities of the agencies interrogating the PDP leadership regarding the presence of pipe bombs during Advani’s Jan Chetna Yatra. The PDP leader Abdul Nasser Madani is now into judicial custody in Bengaluru central jail following the blasts in Chinnaswamy stadium, Bengaluru during the IPL season.
Fakruddin is the son of a retired police constable in Madurai and was involved in the 2002 blasts in Madurai. He has been arrested by the police in this case and has served jail term. Bilal is an accused in the case related to the murder of Hindu Munnani leader Kalidas in Coimbatore five years before. He was arrested and sent to judicial custody and while serving jail term in Vellore central jail he is accused of having attacked a jailer.
The elite “Q” branch of the Tamil Nadu police has arrested one Ismath and Abdula Rahman and has taken into custody one Usman Ali. Ismath is a watermelon seller and local people had given statement to the police that the motorbike of Ismath was found near the bridge for three consecutive days. On interrogating Ismath, police could gather information on his accomplice Abdula Rahman and Usman Ali and all three on questioning said that it was ‘Police’ Fakruddin and Bilal Malik who were the brain behind the operation.
Sources in the police told Uday India that Fakruddin had used the services of Ismath as he had found that both Ismath and Abdulla Rahman were not associated with any organisation or movement and hence would not be easily noticed. However, local people were vigilant and had informed the police on the suspicious movement of the trio during the days just before Advani’s Jan Chetna Yatra passed through Madurai.
By Reshmi Padma from Thiruvananthapuram
Today, no matter how the NDA looks, it is to Advani’s credit, that a non-Congress and non-Left alliance is indeed remains an alternative to what goes for Congress-led UPA alliance. Advani has always believed that, like in business, any political party has to show adaptability and innovation to remain in public domain.
His 2005 Yatra to Pakistan was also in that context and his controversial pronouncements on Mohammed Ali Jinnah at his Karachi mausoleum was to give the much-needed ‘secular’ tinge to a saffron superstructure.
But, perhaps, his inability to take his colleagues and the RSS into confidence before he undertook that mission resulted in a major upheaval in the BJP. At that time, a fierce debate had raged on whether the party must adopt a more modernist face and whether it lost the 2004 polls because it gave up on core Hindutva causes.
Conservatives won that round but the BJP surely lost an opportunity to emerge as a new BJP, say some analysts. Even today, Advani’s emphasise on good governance and clean politics (through his Yatra) is again to reinvent the BJP.
It is no secret that Advani has thoroughly disagreed with the BJP leadership’s penchant for realpolitik in Jharkhand and Karnataka to stop the Congress from re-capturing power. But subsequent events (involving a promising leader like BS Yeddyurappa) has only gone to show Advani was right about “means being as important as ends” and political slips on issues of ethics tend to harm in the long run.
In Jharkhand, Advani was keen that a senior BJP leader like former Finance Minister Yashwant Sinha lent his leadership as Chief Minister to the fledging state. But his suggestions were overruled by an eager party leadership, which seemed to think that Arjun Munda’s dexterity with recalcitrant MLAs were key to the BJP’s impact on governance.
It was only after the Jamshedpur Lok Sabha by-election result, which was lost by a BJP nominee picked by Munda, the party realised its folly. Munda had represented that seat until he shifted to Jharkhand as Chief Minister. Coming back to Advani’s Yatra, BJP leaders are beginning to sense a turning point and a change in public mood towards the Congress, thanks to an inept UPA which seems to flounder on every scam and on issues like price rise.
There has been a change in internal equations in BJP too, in the meantime. Even before Advani had set out, Modi too went on a much hyped fast after a Supreme Court order sent 2002 riot cases back to a trial court, which was seen as his bid to upstage other BJP rivals for the top slot. Not to be left behind, party chief Nitin Gadkari chose to highlight a development agenda and announced his plan to contest the next Lok Sabha polls.
Now, BJP insiders see that the relations between Advani and Modi and Modi and Gadkari, which were on the downswing, are being re-worked. As the Yatra rolled on, behind the scene parleys have worked to break the ice. Modi turned up for Advani’s Yatra as he entered Gujarat. Gadkari and Modi too said to have buried their “differences” a few days ago.
Advani too sought to smoothen the ruffled feathers on the leadership issue, by writing in his blog that “this Yatra has nothing to do with LK Advani nor even with the BJP or the next elections.” True, the start of Advani’s Yatra in Bihar on October 11 was marred by an episode of a faulty air-conditioning in the bus carrying him, which left opposition leaders Arun Jaitley and Sushma Swaraj quite dangerously ill and tongues wagging within the party.
Subsequently too, reports of state BJP functionaries getting upset with the “high-handedness” of Yatra in-charge Ananth Kumar and his aides, Shyam Jaju and Muralidhar Rao, began to do the rounds. But the bottom line, as BJP leaders see it, is that Advani and the party are happy that the Yatra was not a bad idea at all—even if a lot more still needs to be done to pitchfork the BJP on to the centre stage.
Advani has declared the people’s response for Jan Chetna Yatra was far greater than for his Ram Rath Yatra of the 1990s. Advani noted in his blog that “several journalists have pointedly asked me: Is this Yatra aimed at repackaging L K Advani ? My answer is: Frankly, I do not quite understand why I would like to repackage myself. I would wish laying all the emphasis on my command that this Yatra has nothing to do with L.K. Advani. Nor even with the BJP or the next elections. It is concerned essentially with India.”
“My first Rath Yatra was the Ram Rath Yatra, from Somnath to Ayodhya and tremendous response that it had received was attributed to the fact that the Yatra was for the construction of a Rama Temple at Ayodhya. The popular support was said to be the natural support due to the people’s religiosity.”
Now, Advani said, “This Yatra is my sixth one…This last one has really set an all-time record not only in respect of the rallies formally organized during the Yatra, but even in respect of the numbers who lined up all along the route of the rath…if Rambhakti has an appeal for the average Indian, Rashtrabhakti (patriotism) has no less an appeal. From Vivekananda to Dayananda to Gandhi—all these great leaders in the realm of spiritualism were a major source of inspiration for our struggle for independence.” Advani has himself attributed the people’s response to his Yatra this time to their self-esteem being undermined “because of the happenings of numerous scams, several central ministers being removed and even jailed because of corruption, and the cash for votes scandal in which instead of the bribe-givers it was the whistle blowers who had exposed the scandal who have been put behind bars.” He could not be wrong.
That brings us to the question: what’s next for BJP? What’s next for Advani? Can BJP leaders including Advani sink their differences and be united with a common vision?