For a believer in astrology, L.K.
Advani cannot be too pleased with the way he set off on his latest
rath yatra. First, he had to shift the starting point from Gujarat
to Bihar after Narendra Modi suddenly demonstrated his intention
to play a larger role by a volte face which sought to replace his
earlier sectarian image by a socially inclusive one.
Since this transformation was interpreted as a move to join the
prime ministerial race, Advani had no option but to turn away from
Gujarat since his own yatra has also been seen as a prime
ministerial ploy. Obviously, it would have been odd if Gujarat
became the base of two contenders for the top slot.
The disingenuous element in this affair is, of course, patent
enough. Neither the Gujarat chief minister nor the leader of the
BJP's parliamentary party has openly declared his candidature. The
ostensible reason for Modi's call for "social harmony" and for
Advani's yatra against corruption is to spread the message of
brotherhood and arouse public consciousness against sleaze.
But no one in the BJP and outside is fooled. The fact that it is
on the basis of such deception that the two leaders have embarked
on their campaign is a sad commentary on the state of Indian
politics. But, to return to Advani's yatra, the unfavourable omens
continued not only with the shifting of the starting point but
also the sudden illness which afflicted Sushma Swaraj and Arun
Jaitley - the two BJP leaders who are also said to harbour prime
ministerial ambitions - even as Advani was setting off on his
journey. Then, as if these inauspicious signs were not enough, the
Isuzu rath - not Toyota unlike the 1990 yatra - got stuck in an
But Advani would not be Advani if he was daunted by these
setbacks. Instead, he ascribed them to the Congress' machinations
and exulted in the public acclaim which he claimed to have
received so far. According to him, the adulation was greater than
what he experienced in 1990. Considering that he had seen a "sense
of reverence" in the eyes of the people in 1990, the latest
reception will appear to be quite overwhelming unless he is
resorting to hyperbole again, as he did when he compared the
police attack on Baba Ramdev's followers in the Ramlila grounds
with the Jallianwala Bagh atrocities.
However, the new venue, the sudden indisposition of two senior
companions and the mishap on the bridge were not the only
disconcerting portents. No less significant is the fact that Bihar
too, like Gujarat, can now be said to have two prime ministerial
aspirants in Advani and, perhaps the real frontrunner, Nitish
Kumar. The BJP leader's decision, therefore, to switch from one
state to another hasn't served the purpose for which the step was
taken. To the astrologically-inclined, this similarity of
situation may seem like an instance of fate pursuing a person.
All these premonitory indications can be unnerving for Advani if
only because his latest venture is evidently the last throw of the
dice where fulfilling his latent ambition is concerned. He had
missed his first chance in the wake of his first yatra - when he
had surged ahead of Atal Bihari Vajpayee within the BJP for a
while - after he became embroiled in a hawala scandal.
And even his second attempt was problematic because, for one,
Modi's name had come up even then, and, secondly, his saffron
colleague, Bal Thackeray, had expressed his preference for his
fellow Maharashtrian, Sharad Pawar, just as the Shiv Sena chief
had backed another Maharashtrian, Pratibha Patil, for the
president's post instead of the veteran Bhairon Singh Shekhawat of
the BJP and the National Democratic Alliance (NDA).
If provincialism trumped Hindutva solidarity at the time, it is
difficult to pinpoint exactly what twists of fortune will confront
Advani this time. But there is little doubt that his hindrances
are formidable. First, his party is against him and has been ever
since the aftermath of its defeat in 2009 when it kicked him
upstairs - to use an infelicitous phrase - by nominating him
chairman of the parliamentary party.
The post was created to accommodate him after Advani had declared,
suo motu, that he would continue to be leader of the opposition in
the Lok Sabha till 2014. Since this would automatically make him
the prime ministerial candidate in that year, the BJP decided,
post-haste, to give him a new designation.
The second, and possibly even greater, obstacle in Advani's path
is the disinclination of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) to
let him realise his ambition. True the RSS could not stop Vajpayee
from becoming prime minister although it was opposed to him as
well because of his perceived moderation. But Advani is not
Vajpayee since he lacks the latter's across-the-board appeal.
And, last but not the least, Advani's age is against him. To some,
this may be his plus point - that an octogenarian can have so much
zest for life.
is a political analyst. He can be reached at email@example.com