Advani’s rath yatra to begin on 11 October

Advani’s rath yatra to begin on 11 October

New Delhi: Senior Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader L.K. Advani’s nationwide rath yatra for good governance will begin at Sitab-Diara in Bihar on 11 October and end in New Delhi on 20 November, covering 18 states and three Union territories.

Party president Nitin Gadkari, who made the announcement after consulting BJP leaders from different states, said the yatra was not an attempt by Advani to stake claim to the “post of party’s prime ministerial candidate" for the 2014 Lok Sabha election. Advani was not present at the news briefing. Gadkari said Advani had already made it clear that he was not in the race for the Prime Minister’s post after meeting Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) chief Mohan Bhagwat recently in Nagpur. RSS is the BJP’s ideological parent.

The announcement of the yatra, made by Advani on 8 September, is being seen as an attempt by him to bolster his own sagging influence in the BJP, the main opposition party, ahead of crucial assembly elections next year in Uttar Pradesh.

The yatra is “meaningless" since it would do nothing for Advani’s stature or for his party, said Jyotirmaya Sharma, professor of political science at the University of Hyderabad and a BJP watcher.

“One can say this is Advani’s second yatra in one month. The first was to Nagpur where the RSS leadership told him to back off and not be a prime ministerial aspirant," said Sharma. “That sealed his political fate. This is a futile yatra. It might have still meant something if he had not gone to Nagpur before this. What is the point of such a yatra by a man who is not his own master? He is completely out of sync with not just the mood of the country’s but also his own party’s reality."

The journey from Sitab-Diara, which is veteran socialist leader Jayaprakash Narayan’s birthplace, will be flagged off by Bihar chief minister and Janata Dal (United) leader Nitish Kumar. The JD(U)-BJP combine is in power in the state. The next stop will be Patna where Advani will be joined by leaders of opposition in both Houses Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley.

“This is a public awareness yatra for clean politics and good governance. This is especially important in the context of current worrying political scenario where corruption is rampant," Gadkari said.

The announcement of the yatra had come less than two weeks after a hunger strike by anti-corruption campaigner Anna Hazare found nationwide public support and forced the Congress party-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government to agree to some of his demands on a proposed anti-graft legislation, the Lokpal Bill.

The BJP is hoping to cash in on the current public mood with the yatra. The yatra also comes at a time when the party is grappling with the leadership issue. Narendra Modi attempted an image makeover with a three-day fast earlier this month for “peace and harmony" in Gujarat. While the BJP lost two back-to-back parliamentary elections to the Congress in 2004 and 2009, the UPA’s second stint in power has been plagued by corruption scandals.

Advani had carried out a rath yatra in 1990 to rally support for building a temple in place of a mosque in Ayodhya, a campaign that helped catapult the BJP to the centrestage of national politics and eventually come to power in 1998.

Interestingly, Somnath and Ayodhya, the starting and end points of his 1990 yatra are not part of the current route.

Meanwhile, the BJP national executive will begin its two-day meet in New Delhi on Friday. Modi is unlikely to attend, according to a party leader who did not want to be identified.

PTI contributed to this story.