BJP stuck with Advani’s tour bill

As L.K. Advani’s anti-corruption yatra enters its final leg, the murmurings in the BJP are growing louder and louder. Put mildly, the yatra has been less than successful. Other than in states where the state government or the chief

minister — in case he belonged to the BJP, or, as in Bihar, to an allied party — mobilised crowds, the response has been tepid. On each occasion, the coterie in the yatra’s flagship vehicle has found an excuse —– blaming the rain one day, pointing out that while a particular public meeting was below par the consequent press conference was well attended and so on.
Party sources describe the atmosphere inside the yatra bus as “strange”. There are clearly competing interests at work — comprising Mr Advani’s personal and family associates, the two senior politicians assisting him, and a couple of junior party functionaries who have gone along for the ride and surface occasionally, claiming to speak on behalf of the “sanghathan” (organisation). It is believed there are tensions and differences of perception between all of these stakeholders, with each one trying to promote a personal and personalised agenda.
This has left many in the BJP fuming, and for several reasons. The implications of the yatra in Karnataka are worrying for the party. Mr Advani has been encouraged — some have used the word “instigated” — to speak out against B.S. Yeddyurappa, former chief minister in Bengaluru. Mr Yeddyurappa has been arrested on charges of corruption but remains a powerful state politician. The BJP is wary of pushing him into a corner and causing him to rebel or walk out of the party. This can severely damage the BJP and its government in Karnataka.
Unmindful of this, Mr Advani has repeatedly snubbed Mr Yeddyurappa. “What can you do,” a BJP functionary says, “when somebody on the bus keeps pointing to Yeddyurappa on television and abusing him and criticising him.”
Karnataka is only one time bomb. In Uttar Pradesh, the yatra interrupted the BJP’s election preparations — the state votes for a new Assembly in about six months. The pressure on the national party headquarters has been enormous. Teams of workers from New Delhi have been sent for short periods to assist the yatra. They have complained that the main bus contingent keeps them out of the loop, barely interacts with them, even about lodging and other logistical arrangements. The so-called yatra managers on the bus are too busy with their intrigues.
The distance between those on the Advani bus and the rest of the party became apparent at an event in Nizamabad, Andhra Pradesh. Mr Advani and the Delhi brigade sat on the dais, even making space for two minor secretaries from the Ashoka Road headquarters. Inexplicably, the BJP’s MLA from Nizamabad, Endala Lakshmi Narayana, was kept standing with the media. It was only when people in the audience began protesting that Mr Lakshmi Narayana was accommodated in a hurriedly-procured chair, to the edge of the dais. “There is nobody on that bus,” a senior BJP leader complains, “who is showing any political maturity.”
However, the demands on the party organisation keep mounting. Instead of recognising that masses are not thronging simply because the Advani appeal is years past its sell-by date, the coterie has been pressuring local BJP units to essentially manufacture a response. In New Delhi, evening media briefings by party spokespersons regularly begin with 15-minute video updates of the yatra. “Every single speech in every single public meeting is put up on the website,” mutters a party person, “it’s ridiculous. After all, he’s making the same point at each of them, as is to be expected.”
The fuss with symbolism and gimmicks — and, indeed, the differences of opinion within the Advani inner-council — are representative of another verity. Realising that the yatra has turned out to be something between a non-event and a fiasco, there is concern and fear among those who travelled with Mr Advani as to how they will explain the expending of such huge resources, not to speak of other angularities of an individual and sometimes salacious nature.
As such, a campaign has begun within the party to somehow ensure a gigantic public meeting in New Delhi on November 20, as the yatra concludes and two days before Parliament opens for its Winter Session. If this becomes a media talking point, it is hoped it will paper over the preceding one-and-a-half month and rescue the yatra. Of course this ends up putting the onus on the BJP unit in the capital, and on the national headquarters. If they fail, it is their failure; if they succeed, it is Mr Advani’s success.
Whatever happens on November 20, the fact remains that Mr Advani — and some of those accompanying him on his valedictory Bharat Darshan — have put off a lot of people in the party. They have encashed almost every single IoU. In a few instances — such as Karnataka — Mr Advani has left the party extremely anxious and worried. In his personalised attacks on Congress president Sonia Gandhi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh — “He is the weakest Prime Minister since 1947”, the BJP patriarch has not only been unrealistic (could anyone be weaker than Inder Gujral?), but also invited an obvious counter-charge. Dr Singh has turned around and accused Mr Advani of being desperate for the Prime Minister’s job and not being reconciled to electoral defeat. After the yatra experience, many in the BJP would actually agree.
It is not that the UPA government is above criticism. Far from it, it has more to answer for than any government in recent decades. It faces not just hostility but downright ridicule in the public domain. However, this message has to be articulated in an adroit manner and the messenger has to carry credibility. The Advani yatra has faltered on both these counts. It has come as a pointless intervention that has delayed the BJP’s natural build-up to 2014. Everybody has recognised that. Has Mr Advani?

The writer can be contacted at malikashok@gmail.com

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