They can be described as strange fellow-travellers. When Lal Krishna Advani had launched his Ram rath yatra in September 1990, Nitish Kumar belonged to the then Janata Dal, which had shown the black flag to the Bharatiya Janata Party leader at a number of places.
Twenty-one years later, on September 23, Kumar, the chief minister of the Janata Dal (United)-BJP combine in Bihar, announced his plan to flag-off Advani’s yatra against corruption from Sitab Diara, the birthplace of Jai Prakash Narayan. Kumar is in the habit of locking horns with the former chief minister, Lalu Prasad. Hence, it is natural for him to join hands with Advani, the man whom the Rashtriya Janata Dal leader got arrested in October 1990.
Cynics may argue that it would have been better for Advani to refurbish the image of his party by starting his yatra from Bellary, a place synonymous with corruption, and ending it in Dehra Dun, the capital of Uttarakhand, where too the BJP has hurriedly changed its chief minister only a few months before elections. That way, Advani would have steered clear of any controversy.
Advani had initially opted for Porbandar or Karamsad, the birth places of Gandhi and Sardar Patel, respectively. Subsequently, he changed his plan. It was not as if he wanted to abandon Gandhi and Patel to embrace JP; nor did he wish to make an on-the-spot inspection of Bihar’s roads. Following instructions from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, he wanted to avoid a face-off with Narendra Modi.
Advani reached out to Nitish Kumar, who, in spite of his party’s weak presence at the national level, is trying to stay in the race for prime ministership. On its own, the JD (U) cannot win a single assembly or parliamentary seat outside Bihar or Jharkhand. Even in Jharkhand, it was virtually decimated in the 2009 assembly elections. Modi, on the other hand, is, at least, the leader of a party with a strong national presence. The marriage of convenience between Advani and Kumar shows that the chief minister of Bihar is getting embroiled in the BJP’s internal political contradictions.
But the problem with both is the timing of the yatra. It would have made political sense had Advani decided to hit the road after the scams pertaining to the Commonwealth Games or the 2G spectrum came to light. But he chose to launch his campaign after the chief minister of Karnataka resigned, following the submission of a report by the state lokayukta, Santosh Hegde. The announcement of Advani’s yatra also came after the arrest of G. Janardhana Reddy and that of two former BJP MPs for their alleged role in the cash-for-vote scandal. Advani, in fact, had hailed them as ‘whistle-blowers’.
The choice of Bihar has not come at the best of times either. Recently, the media exposed the allotment of Bihar Industrial Area Development Authority land to close relatives of ministers and senior bureaucrats at throwaway prices. This was followed by the CAG report that detected irregularities in detailed contingency bills as well as the loot of money meant for Kosi flood relief.
With Advani’s political edge blunted and Kumar’s image dented by the recent developments, the yatra lacks sharpness. Moreover, whom would Advani blame for the rampant corruption in other NDA-ruled states, at the Centre or in the local machinery?