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Sunday, October 16, 2011

Who's bigger in the Advani yatra: Message or Messenger?

By Swapan Dasgupta

If the solitary purpose of the Jan Chetna Yatra being undertaken by LK Advani was to demonstrate that the India of 2011 is markedly different from the India of 1990, it could be described as an unqualified success. Whereas in 1990 the Somnath to Ayodhya yatra was cut off in full flow at Samastipur on the orders of the Bihar Chief Minister, Advani’s fifth yatra had the satisfaction of being flagged off from Bihar by a friendlier Bihar CM.

In an ideal world, major political undertakings — irrespective of the loftiness of the cause — should not be pursued casually. For the BJP, there were other, less exacting ways of demonstrating that Nitish Kumar has been extricated from the clutches of the evil Lalu Prasad, and that 21 years is a long time in politics.
Advani must have kept in mind the experience of the Rashtra Suraksha Yatra of 2006 which was a casualty of mass indifference. The yatra had been suggested as an angry response to the blasts in Dasashwamedh Ghat in Varanasi, an issue that agitated the public mind in 2006 just as corruption does today. Yet, the yatra was a monumental flop not least because it lacked focus. Its objectives were five-fold: to safeguard national security; to defend national unity; to rescue governance from corruption and criminalisation; to save parliamentary democracy; and to protect the aam aadmi, garib and kisans.
So generous was the embrace of the yatra that an adventurous soul may well have smuggled in the demand for a Bharat Ratna to Sachin Tendulkar. No one would have noticed it, and least of all party functionaries who approached the yatra with the same sense of foreboding as the soldier who rode in the charge of the Light Brigade. But at least, it would have resonated with the “youth”—a slippery commodity that refuses to be re-inducted into a party it deserted sometime between the capitulation in Kandahar and the images of Bangaru Laxman extending his hand towards a wad of currency notes.
On this anti-corruption yatra too, the organisers have tried to inject a youth quotient by recording a theme song that had the party leadership wanting to emulate Herman Goering and reach for their guns at the mention of the word ‘culture’. Even Advani was compelled to concede during his gush-gush interview with NDTV’s Barkha Dutt that the song was best kept away from the ears of rural India — an indication that the messaging was wrong yet again.
The BJP, it would seem, has not taken sufficient care with the larger messaging of the ongoing Jan Chetna yatra. There is no point complaining that the media has been wilfully mischievous and has highlighted the footnotes rather than the central theme. During the 1990 yatra that redefined the ideological agenda for the next 15 years, the media also tried its utmost to focus on trivia.
Those with memories may recall how the offer of a bowl of blood to Advani made news for a day or two. Others may recall the suggestion of erudite Left-wing columnists that Advani’s focus on Ayodhya, rather than Mathura and Kashi stemmed from caste prejudice: Ram was Kshatriya, whereas Krishna was a Yadav and Shiv was possibly a tribal.
None of these sneering asides made the slightest difference to the central thrust of that yatra against ‘pseudo-secularism’. The question therefore arises: why has the anti-corruption theme of this yatra been subsumed by trivial issues such as the bus getting stuck under a bridge and cash incentives paid to the media in Satna? Most important, why has the central question of the yatra been transformed into the likelihood of Advani becoming the NDA candidate for Prime Minister in 2014?
The answer lies in the undeniable fact that the yatra resulted from a unilateral  initiative by Advani. It is no secret that there were many reservations over the yatra within the BJP and its larger ideological family. The party feared that the yatra would highlight the unresolved issue of leadership for 2012 and point to Advani’s determination to have another throw of the dice.
None of these fears appear to be unfounded. During his travels, Advani connects with a large number of people but the people who observe the yatra or attend the public meetings associated with it are still a small drop in the ocean of humanity in India. Most Indians derive their perception of the political programme from the media, and the message from the media is unequivocal: this is Advani’s comeback yatra, calculated to force a sceptical BJP into acknowledging his primacy. Worse still, Advani appears to have done very little to put an end to the speculation. His interviews are largely focussed on his career as a yatri and he has kept alive the speculation by refusing to rule himself out as a candidate for the top job. The impression therefore persists that the yatra is a facet of a vicious leadership battle in the BJP, not least because the focus is on Advani and not on the BJP as a brand. The public reaction, consequently, is one of amusement, if not wariness.
There was a time when the BJP earned a reputation as the master of spin and a party that is able to dictate its agenda to the media. Alas, the party has lost its sure-footedness. Its messaging for this yatra has been self-defeating.


Anonymous said...

Dada - isn't there a sort of contradiction - on one hand you imply what media says doesn't matter on the other hand you say - political message is conveyed via media

Yatra may not add much, but do you feel it could get negative points ?


Bhuva@Bhopal said...

Why should Advani ji declare that he is not a PM candidate? To my perception, there is no leader under whom other leaders can combine to put up a unified face for the 2014 elections. I feel Advani ji should take the reins in his hands and state that he is the leader under whom all BJP should unite. Even for RSS, Advani ji is a better bet than any other.

The next option is for Advani ji to declare the name of the next leader. I prefer Sushma ji!

Jay Jani said...

Completely agree with your last line. But that is something which is bound to happen when people successively vote a horrible party and not BJP which has given so much glory to the country. Its hard for the party to keep up the good moral going when poeple fall into ugly vote bank politics, into pseudo-secular speeches and when the media is very much prejudiced.

balbir59 said...

Swapan, you have hit the nail on the 'head' undoubtedly, hope the leadership and who matrer read this epic piece. So, Advani lacks vision and charisma of Atal ji and future is bleek for BJP. Corrections are required, the top 5 are fighting for premiership as oppsed to winning and ruling the country for a full term! Sad!

Anonymous said...

dada ...khub bhalo....language ta ke aktu simple rakho

vihang said...

why do you indulge with gutter class politicians like Manishankar. I saw your politically incorrect debate on media and if you revisit it, at some point of time, one fellow from audience points out that politics and religion are inseparable. if his logic is applied why we should have problem with Advanis rath yatra in religious context. why we have to defend of being hindu.

Anonymous said...

Appreciate your views greatly. BJP had been blundering and bumbling a lot in the last few years. There does not seem to be a proper strategy to take on the Congress, which would have been very easy given the scams they are facing. One should not forget that Congress is in this game for much longer than BJP and they are more seasoned politicians and will try and make every pitfall into an opportunity.To say the least it is sad to see Advaniji still not saying goodbye to active politics.

Dinesh Divekar said...

Swapan-da, you had written excellent artile. You have won accolade on Twitter from yet another political columnist – Tavleen Singh.

However, what baffles me is that you have not mentioned a word about corruption in Karnataka. With scores of ministers behind bar, do BJP has got even basic right to comment on corruption let alone criticise it? When the article was published by the time, ex-CM of Karnataka Shri Yeddyyurappa was arrested. In your article, you should have asked Shri Advani whether he was not privy to the mineral scam that was going on in Karnataka? Advani should explain why he kept quite when plain loot of natural resources was going on in Bellary.

I am little surprised and disappointed that you missed this point. As the events in Karnataka unfold, message or messenger both become irrelevant.

Jitendra Desai said...

Mr Advani has decided on his own.It is like an elderly head of a large joint family suddenly deciding on one more HAVAN and invite every one,when few have annual exams,one or two are in the hospital,one fellow has lost money in his business,one fellow is worried about finding a suitable match for his young daughter.And then on spur of the moment,patriarch has this HAVAN!
Rather than focusing on misdeeds of Congress,planning for elections,party workers are busy collecting crowds and distributing cash to media!
Media is deliberately hyping Mr Advani.So that he takes the bait and throws his hat in the ring.That will be the end of BJP's 2014 campaign.

gautam said...

Advaniji's sixth yatra the jan chetna raised a lot of hopes that it would be a tad better than the earlier four and may bring some solace to the old man.But the yatra has turned too be a damp squib.I remember how his ram rath yatra when it arrived in Delhi at India gate has close to 5 lakh attendance.The road was filled with a sea of humanity.He has never been able to recreate his magic of 1990.Advaniji should realise that india has moved on from 1990 and he is no longer considered as a contender for top post even by most BJP cadre.The future belongs to Genx like modi and sushma.He should gracefully step aside rather than trouble people and party with his antics.

Anonymous said...

You say, "If the solitary purpose of the Jan Chetna Yatra being undertaken by LK Advani was to demonstrate that the India of 2011 is markedly different from the India of 1990, it could be described as an unqualified success"

But the question is, who changed? It is Advani who changed from a firebrand hindutva man who could cause riots, to someone almost embarrassed by all that happened in the 1990s. His repeated show of humility about 1992 and calling it saddest day, running into controversy with his own party etc made him more acceptable. So it is not as if people accepted Advani's 90's ideology and his rhetoric of pseudo secularism etc - it is the other way round. It is Advani who became subdued and fell in line (more or less) with secularism.

Anonymous said...

What has changed is that in 2011:

1. People in general don't give a rat's arse about Hindutva

2. People have realized that the BJP=Congress=JD=NCP=AIADMK=DMK=TC when it comes to corruption. Everybody loots, given a chance

3. People in general have seen what is happening to Pakistan and value secularism

4. The economy and an open society are the key issues for the younger generation

5. The commies and the knickerwallahs (Communism+ Cow) have become irrelevant


subhojit ghanty said...

what to your mind,mr.dasgupta,could be the way for the bharatiya janata party to wrest back power at the centre in 2014 or maybe even earlier,in the event of a mid-term poll?

Anonymous said...

BJP's time has passed.