Whatever happens to his proposed yatra, BJP ‘Loh Purush’ L.K. Advani managed to shift the focus within the saffron party, the RSS and the NDA, onto himself with his headline-grabbing announcement. The one-line statement at a press briefing in Parliament House on the monsoon session’s last day was simple but effective: “I have decided to embark on a yatra and I have spoken to the party president.” The 84-year-old leader had decided he needed to be back in the reckoning and what better vehicle than to get on his favourite rath, this time to fight corruption.
It was presented to the parivar as a fait accompli. Or, “In true Advani style,” as insiders put it. On that Thursday morning, Advani called BJP president Nitin Gadkari to his Prithiviraj Road residence and broke the news about the yatra. Taken by surprise, Gadkari offered to “discuss the idea with other senior party leaders and make a formal announcement later”. Party sources confirm that Advani told Gadkari that he would make the announcement himself. Not just that, he said that the “yatra would be nationwide”, turning down Gadkari’s suggestion that it be restricted to poll-bound states.
A little before noon, Advani broke the news to senior NDA leaders, Arun Jaitley, Sushma Swaraj, Rajnath Singh, Yashwant Sinha, S.S. Ahluwalia and Sharad Yadav in Parliament. The BJP parliamentary board got together to discuss the yatra in detail only much later. “Advaniji had made up his mind and taken a decision. What could anyone say?” explains a senior party leader. The anguish of a team caught unawares echoed in RSS spokesperson Ram Madhav’s statement: “Anyone who will pursue the issue of corruption will find our support in the larger interest of the country. If it is Advaniji taking out a yatra, then we will support him as well.” A little less coy with his words was Anna Hazare, the current mascot of anti-corruption crusaders, who called the yatra nothing but a “political gimmick”.
Indeed, the internal response to Advani’s idea has been not just tepid, both in the BJP and the Sangh, but potentially counter-productive. Insiders in the RSS reveal “the Sangh is in no mood to support the yatra. That has been made clear to Advaniji. In fact, the Sangh had even decided to send an RSS pracharak, close to Advaniji, as an emissary on September 11 telling him that the Sangh would be unable to support his yatra till he categorically announces that he would not be a prime ministerial candidate in 2014”.
Even as both Advani and the BJP remain ambiguous on the issue of the prime ministerial candidate for 2014, senior leaders concede that Advani’s new-found aggression is forcing everyone to confront the issue of leadership. Undecided since 2004, post Vajpayee—and with second-rung leaders like Sushma Swaraj, Arun Jaitley, Narendra Modi all waiting in the wings—everyone normally tends to circle warily around the question of who gets to be the party’s face for 2014. No one makes an overt play for it, not wanting to blow his or her chance, nor cedes too much ground to others. It’s this nervy stalemate that Advani has upset by throwing his hat in the ring. Gadkari had actually announced that the party will not project a PM candidate in 2014, and party spokesperson Rajiv Pratap Rudy reiterated it, but Advani has clearly decided that he deserves one last shot at prime ministership. Insiders say second-rung aspirants are hoping the yatra “fails to garner any support for Advani or the BJP”. Says one leader, “In case the yatra is a success, the second-rung leaders will remain where they are.”
As the RSS closely watches the developments in Gujarat, especially after the Supreme Court ‘breather’ for Gujarat CM Narendra Modi, an insider confirms, “The Sangh will study the situation before making a move. It will now try to ensure Advaniji does not compete for the top job.” It is also on this plan of action that the BJP leadership in Delhi is pinning its hope. Says a party senior, “We were hoping the Sangh would intervene and abort Advaniji’s yatra, like it did in 2009 after the general elections. But the Sangh seems to have lost the chance this time. The yatra, no matter how damaging, is inevitable now. I am yet to see anyone in the party excited over Advaniji’s yatra. A campaign against corruption cannot have Ananth Kumar as its convenor given his own doubtful credentials in the hudco and Niira Radia case.”
With the yatra all set to start on October 11, poll-bound states like Punjab, Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh will by default become the first litmus test for Advani. Scheduled to go to the polls in the first quarter of 2012, Punjab, where the BJP is a partner in the Shiromani Akali Dal-led government, and Uttarakhand (where it is in power) offer a strong anti-incumbency factor for the BJP, coupled with charges of corruption. The BJP is already on a weak wicket in Uttar Pradesh and if Advani’s yatra is unable to turn the situation for the party, Advani may miss out on being the prime ministerial candidate in 2014.
Says a BJP leader: “Even if you don’t see the yatra as Advaniji’s claim to the PM candidature in 2014, it is certainly his way of reasserting himself within the party and an attempt to regain the position he once enjoyed in the BJP. Till a few months back, he was complaining to anyone who would care to hear that he had been marginalised within the party. Now he wants to change that.” A senior lawyer in the party, also close to Advani, explains the situation, “That’s Advaniji’s nature. He will make sure, if it’s not him, then just no one else will do. This yatra is the manifestation of that nature.” While the endgame for 2014 may have just begun, for the time being, L.K. Advani seems to have managed to deal a blow that could perhaps successfully checkmate the challenge his detractors may have thrown at him.
It is naive on the part of L.K. Advani if he thinks he is still a leader of some stature in the eyes of the public at large (The Eternal Charioteer, Sep 26). He is very much a spent force politically, whose use-by date expired a long time ago. Opposition parties do not consider him any threat, nor do his party or the Sangh consider him valuable for electoral battles or even rath yatras. He should, therefore, relinquish all political ambition and retire gracefully to a more useful role of consultant to his partymen.
S.P. Karir, on e-mail
Before Advani embarks on his yatra, he should ask Narendra Modi to institute a strong Lokayukta who could probe and take action against corrupt officials and politicians in Gujarat. He should also see that the recommendations of the Lokayukta report in Karnataka are implemented and that the office is given more powers. Without all this, his yatra will be just a farce, nothing more than a political gimmick.
B.S. Chandrashekhara, Sagar
If Advani is this country’s ‘maharathi’, then Modi with his open letters is becoming the country’s ‘mahapatrakar’. Why does he need all this chitthibaazi to say things that he says anyway in his public speeches and interviews?
Mukul Dube, Delhi
‘The eternal charioteer’ or the sanatana sarathi in Sanskrit is used as a metaphor for the atma or the element of divinity within every individual which guides him or her on their spiritual path. Using this lofty philosophical phrase to describe a blatantly political gimmick is a sacrilege. He can be called ‘the compulsive charioteer’ instead.
D.L. Narayan, Visakhapatnam
Before Advaniji starts his Yatra, he should ask the CM Modiji to institute a strong Lokayukta in Gujarat who could probe and take action against corrupt politicians and officials. Advaniji should also advise and see that the recommendation of recent Lokayukta report in Karnataka should be implemented immediately and Lokayukta should be given more powers. Modiji as a BJP CM, is opposing the appointment of Lokpal; here Adaniji is preparing for Rathayatra against corruption. It is a contrast and farce and has no moral strength; but looks like a political gimmick.. Can the people be fooled by this? We expect some more honest efforts by the veteran aged Advaniji. /bsc
Trouble now with BJP is that it is jumping the gun, counting their chikens in false anticipation. They are the only political outfit nationally present who could have mounted a strong movement against this totally corrupt anti-people government. Instead they resorted to unconvincing posturings. Against all purvading corruption, runaway inflation , terror , lack of governance , collapsing inept external relations, the BJP could not or did not want to mount a credible sustained opposition to create an impact. They even lent a hand in covering up of the cash for vote scam
For all practical purposes BJP is other side of the Congressi coin, hijacked by a bunch of small time operators , busy hatching their own small nests. The two parliamentary leaders looked so much in consonance & in cahoots with the anti-people policies of the ruling regime.. The man on the street do not form opinion on basis of bites on TV , they know better. An insecure nonagenarian Advani is a pathetic figure, always has been , more so now. An iron man who lacked iron in the belly. One hopes Mr. Gadkari looses enough Body Mass Index & gains political gravitas instead. He does not so far seem to be in to the New Delhi closed coterie of political wheeler dealers.
Modi unfortunately reminds one of what he could have been but could not be, do not know how to outgrow his provincial narrow world vision. If Modi could have given a lucid account of his development vision , display genuine continence for happenings of 2002, or more transparency in governance, India would have been gone along with him. A good conduct certficate from the Americans in today's world is a drag rather than an asset. And Satbhavna need not be drummed up from AC halls. People know it when they see some. Modi is giving too much importance to TV-genic Satbhavna. In any case , through these three days of TV interviews, he exuded more cunning than faith in truth. He also threw his hat in to the ring too early , time enough for his opponents to spoil his party.
It is heading for greater chaos come 2014. Because neither BJP nor Congress wiil have numbers to call the shots. They are going to be decimated in the hustings, the voters having seen through them well enough. It will be a terrible Maya, Mamata & Jailalita cat-fight , Nitish waiting in the wings. Hopefully he would do a Deve Gowda act.
"....my prediction is Dr Swamy." - Indian Desi
I would rather have MMS continue than to have Dr. Swamy sitting there. A mute puppet is better than a hyperbole troublemaker.
"The forever-in-waiting-PM announces a yatra.... "
The summary catch should lead one to the conclusion. Advani's chapter is over - he better acknowledge it. Advani ji, it was good having you here - but, it would have been better if you had not been here......
>> "It will be either Dr Subramanian Swamy/Narendra Modi in 2012 "
Heaven help us!
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