Advani’s Yatra: Totally Off-Track!

Notwithstanding the hype raised against corruption by Bharatiya Janata Party and its associates, particularly those belonging to the Saffron brigade, what are these politicians really gaining in the process? A little bit of media coverage, some publicity and more negative criticism than they probably expected. In fact, the different measures used by various politicians belonging virtually to the same camp have apparently created a rift within this political group. Now, can this be regarded as an effective and constructive anti-corruption political campaign? Hardly, as even before the campaign has had any substantial impact, it appears to have lost its own credibility.

Understandably, when Anna Hazare appeared to have moved the entire nation by his anti-corruption fast, for sometime many, including academicians and intellectuals, were almost convinced by his so-called “movement.” Even before a year has passed, the same people have started raising questions regarding sincerity, legitimacy and actual focus of Hazare. The “movement” has got derailed even before it could take off effectively. Was Hazare genuinely on fast as part of an anti-corruption drive or was he being made use of by groups associated with the Saffron brigade primarily to politically influence the people against the Congress and its allies? In this context, Hazare’s fast was more of a political move, deliberately initiated with an eye on assembly elections in five states in the coming year. These are: Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Punjab, Manipur and Goa. Besides, parliamentary elections are scheduled to be held in 2014. The same can be said about BJP-stalwart L.K. Advani’s present yatra, which is his sixth one.

Paradoxically, Advani seems convinced that he will succeed in this yatra. The first yatra, labelled as “Ram Rath Yatra” was undertaken in 1990 to “educate” the people about Ayodhya, in other words, to popularise the Saffron brigade’s stand on the issue. The next four were conducted simultaneously, from four corners of the country, in September 1993. Advani led the one that began from Mysore. The focus of these yatras was on religion bill. The fifth yatra in April-May 2006 was named “Bharat Suraksha Yatra.”

To a degree, Advani succeeded in his first yatra in making people more familiar about the Ayodhya issue. Greater credit to “Ramayana-fever” having gripped the majority of India must, however, be given to the Ramayana serial, telecast weekly on Doordarshan from January 25, 1987 to July 31, 1988 on Sundays at 9.30 AM during the prime ministership of Rajiv Gandhi. As the serial gained popularity, it brought virtually life in India to a standstill with most glued to the then black and white television screens. The devout Hindus watched it for religious purposes, with some hoping that the “religious” serial will help them get rid of their problems and ailments. Doordarshan was then the one and only channel available for television viewers in India. Had the religious-fervour not been revived by the TV serial, perhaps Advani’s Ram-yatra may not have received much attention then. That was the period when the actor playing the role of Rama was revered as “actual” Rama when ordinary people came in contact with him.

In a bid to politically cash on this Ram-fervour, Advani probably decided then to undertake the Ram-yatra. He did succeed in attracting crowds for two reasons. It was his first attempt, which was accorded considerable media attention then. It was also his first major attempt to reach out to the people and make himself familiar to them. From these two angles, it was natural for media and people to give him a chance by paying his yatra substantial attention. Against these two points, prospects of his present yatra gaining little attention by media and people should not seem astonishing. This is not Advani’s first yatra nor is he the first politician to have started raising voice against corruption.

Besides, the Indian public and television industry have come a long way away from where they were in the last century, when they tended to pay more attention to what they learned through television programmes and what the leaders said then. In today’s period, numerous channels telecast a range of different programmes, including news, views, religion, debates, movies, songs, wildlife, cartoons and a lot more. The era when one serial had almost the whole country glued to the screen is now history. So is attraction that Advani’s first yatra had for the people. Why should they step out on the streets when they can catch a glimpse of it on the television? Besides, the television has made even the most illiterate people fairly sharp about political developments in the country. Even an illiterate person, thanks to television’s impact, cannot be viewed as ignorant of Advani’s political ploy in the name of anti-corruption yatra. People are well aware that they were taken for a ride by Advani in the name of religion in early 1990s. Now, rather than let history repeat itself, people are paying little attention to Advani’s yatra. With little attention received by Advani’s yatra being largely negative, the yatra can only be labelled as off-track!