| Advani waves to supporters as he stands atop the bus in Kottayam on Thursday. (Reuters)
Kottayam, March 11: L.K. Advani’s “all-inclusive” bus was put through a tough road test today as it rolled across Kerala, where the BJP is yet to open its account and the minorities make up nearly half the electorate.
Advani did manage to address an impressive gathering in the Christian heartland but elsewhere modest crowds and subdued response greeted the Bharat Uday yatra which hit the road from Kanyakumari yesterday. To dispel any doubts about his inclusive agenda, he had announced at the outset: “This is no rath yatra. It is a bus yatra.”
If the clarification was intended as a reassurance to the minorities, Advani could not have found a better terrain than Kerala to gauge the response. Muslims and Christians hold considerable political sway in Kerala, where the BJP has never gone beyond a 10 per cent vote share.
Addressing a good turnout at Moovattupuzha, a Christian stronghold in central Kerala, Advani said: “This time the lotus will bloom all over Kerala.”
He then proceeded to Angamaly, hallowed by the footprints of Sankaracharya, the apostle of Advaita. But he skipped the Muslim bastions of Malabar.
The peculiar coalition politics in Kerala, with the Congress and the CPM on either side of the political spectrum, has left little inter-space for a breach by the BJP.
In this election also, the script does not seem to reckon a serious role for the BJP, though the reception when Advani entered Kerala from Tamil Nadu met the BJP’s expectations.
But the response more or less tapered off till he reached the central Kerala meeting venue. Some of those who occasionally lined Advani’s route seemed to savour the sight of the Swaraj Mazda chariot more than Advani’s appeals.
Advani called on the Syrian Christians to return to Parliament P.C. Thomas of the Indian Federal Democratic Party, an NDA ally, indicating that the BJP is hoping to make a breach by wooing the community.
Finding no local minority leader of standing flocking to Advani, the state BJP paraded a couple of bishops and priests of the Anglican church. But they made it clear that they had come to submit a petition, not endorse the BJP’s brand of politics.
Asked about the contentious issues at a news conference in Kottayam, Advani said Hindutva was very much a part of the BJP credo, but clarified that Hindutva meant Indianness, the unique culture that all Indians shared.
On the Ram temple, he said the BJP’s considered position was “either a settlement through the court or negotiations”.
Nightfall took Advani to Coimbatore, where he made a reference to his special association with the place.
In February 1998, over 50 people were killed after a series of blasts rocked Coimbatore shortly before Advani’s arrival for an election meeting. Advani recalled how he had a providential escape by arriving an hour late.
Saying that the Congress had failed to convert “swaraj” (self-governance) into “suraj” (good governance), Advani said the BJP was hopeful of getting a fresh mandate of five years for the Vajpayee government.