The Rath Yatra Returns – Part 1
21 years ago, in September 1990, when LK Advani embarked on his first 'rath yatra', little would he have known that 'yatras' would, over the years, become the hallmark of his politics. The first yatra will remain historically significant as it was instrumental in catapulting the BJP to a position where it could directly take on the might of the Congress. A second yatra called the "janadesh yatra' followed in 1993. Then in 1997, when India competed 50 years of her independence, Advani decided to pay homage to all the heroes and martyrs of the freedom struggle by visiting different places associated with them across the country. Advani subsequently took out a Bharat Uday Yatra in 2004, followed by a Bharat Suraksha Yatra in 2006 and finally the Jan Chetna Yatra which took off a Sitabdiara today.
If one looks at the sheer length of these yatras, both in terms of the area covered by them and the days spent on them, the least that one can do is admire Advani's relentless zest for physical labour. At a time when politicians half his age have confined themselves to TV debates, it takes a herculean effort to traverse the length and breadth of the country, disregarding health and security concerns.
I have met Advaniji twice. Once, when I was invited by his daughter, Pratibha to his book launch in Mumbai and a second time when I met him to gift him my second book, 22 Yards. There are two things which anybody who has spent even half an hour with him can make out about him. One, he is the old school nationalist who swears by the country; two, he loves to interact with and understand people on a personal level. The man is a workaholic. For someone his age, he is exceptionally techno-savvy, besides being a voracious reader.
Moreover, Advani is someone who will never compromise on his principles. Sample this, just in case my claim seems outlandish: Which Indian politician would refrain from contesting elections just because his name was mentioned in a shady hawala dealer's personal diary? Which other politician would stand by the dead body of one of his fiercest rivals( Madhav Rao Scindia) and personally help with all the arrangements, just because he had been close to the rival's mother? Which other politician would apologize to his rival, like Advani publicly did to Sonia when some of the claims(on black money stashed abroad) made by a BJP fact finding team were found unauthenticated? Which other politician would stand up in Parliament and own responsibility for the sting operation in the Cash for Vote Scam, knowing fully well how the government has tweaked and manipulated the case to make the whistle-blower seem the perpetrator?
Advani's Jan Chetna Yatra, thus, need not be unnecessarily entangled with his personal ambitions. Yes, he loves to travel across the country. He loves to interact with people from different regions. Can any other living Indian politician today claim to have visited each of India's 626 districts? Unlike the well travelled Advani, in Manmohan Singh, you have a PM, who after being a Rajya Sabha MP from Assam for over 10 years, seems unaware of the magnitude of the infiltration problem there.
Thus, why should Advani stop himself from embarking on another 'yatra' just because people might attach motives to it? Let us understand that at 84, you don't know what's going to happen tomorrow, while the next general elections are a good two and half years away. Besides, if in 2014, if Advani is as hale and hearty as today and with another successful yatra behind him, should age be the only criterion to keep him away from the job?
Questions there are aplenty. Doubt if there are going to be any clear answers anytime before 2014. For the moment, thus, it makes sense to just celebrate the spirit of India's most indefatigable yatri.
Three cheers to the man who remains that treasured link between our political past and future!
More about Tuhin A SinhaTuhin A Sinha is among the best-selling authors in India, a columnist and a screenwriter. Starting in 2006 with his first book, That Thing Called Love, an unconventional romance set in a Mumbai monsoon, Tuhin has written five novels. They include The Captain (formerly 22 Yards), Of Love And Politics, The Edge of Desire and The Edge Of Power. Tuhin is acknowledged among the most prolific Indian writers with a maverick knack to experiment with new genres. While his first book was an offbeat romance, The Captain was a cricket thriller that explored the underbelly of modern cricket. Of Love And Politics was a political thriller. His last two books which comprise the Edge series can be called socio-political thrillers with a strong feminist skew. Tuhin is a screenwriter of several popular TV shows, the most noteworthy being Yeh Rishta Kya Kehlata Hai on Star Plus. Apart from his fiction novels and scripts, Tuhin is a keen political observer. His columns on Indian politics appear regularly in India’s leading dailies. Tuhin has a regular blog on ibnlive.com. He also appears frequently on news channels on discussions around politics and cricket.
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