| Advani with his family members on the Bharat Uday bus in Kanyakumari on Wednesday. (PTI)
Kanyakumari, March 10: At the stroke of noon, from the country’s southern-most tip, a specially-designed saffron and green bus rolled out at the head of a long convoy.
“For the next 8,000 km on the road, I will have one simple message to my countrymen,” deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani told the modest crowd of supporters who had gathered on a windy patch of land near the shore to see him off on his Bharat Uday yatra. “India’s time has come to become a great power.”
“This is only a symbolic beginning,” he had said earlier, addressing a public meeting to mark the beginning of the roadshow, which was flagged off by BJP chief M. Venkaiah Naidu.
The first leg of the tour will end in Amritsar. After a brief break, Advani will head for Puri from there.
The BJP leader began the day by paying homage to Swami Vivekananda and Tamil poet Thiruvalluvar. “Kanyakumari is where the feet of Bharat Mata are washed by the three seas” and there could not be a better place to begin the yatra, he said.
It not only symbolised India’s “unity and greatness” but also every Indian “learns his first lesson in patriotism by learning about the two ends of our vast country — Kashmir in the north and Kanyakumari in the south”.
A small canopy, which had been put up on the bus, had to be pulled down soon because of strong winds. Advani, who was accompanied by his wife Kamala and daughter Prathiba, had to campaign mostly from within the bus, as he passed through most of Nagercoil before entering Kerala in the evening.
To dispel fears that the journey could whip up communal passions, BJP campaign managers lined up a number of Muslim and Christian leaders at the start of the campaign. General secretary Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, new-recruit Arif Mohammad Khan, the head of the Ajmer dargah, Jainalubdhin, Father Thomas David, of the Church of South India from Kerala, a Christian priest from Tamil Nadu, Abraham Thomas, were among those who wished Advani success. Former cricketer K. Srikkanth and actress Vijayashanthi also wished the BJP leader.
While Naidu said the yatra’s aim was to “go and connect” with the people, Advani tried to put it in perspective. “I will try to project India’s achievements in the past five-six years and thus give expression to the mood of hope and self-confidence that now pervades the country,” he said.
The yatra, he added, was also to explain to the people that the BJP and the National Democratic Alliance were “fully committed” to tackle the challenges before the nation.
The 79-year-old leader contrasted the run-up to the 1999 polls with the ongoing re-election campaign. “In 1999, we projected the Kargil victory; but today we project the victory in the peace offensive in India-Pakistan relations,” he said, terming it a “great achievement in foreign affairs”.
Advani asserted that for the next 8,000 km, he would have one message: “Our journey towards prosperity for all, towards India’s all-round development and towards India as a great power has begun and the 21st century will become India’s century.”
While Advani made it a point to thank Tamil Nadu chief minister Jayalalithaa for the alliance she had worked out in the state with the BJP, he kept his broadsides against the DMK-led alliance to the minimum. The task of tearing the DMK-Congress combine to pieces was instead left to Naidu.
The BJP leader broached Congress chief Sonia Gandhi’s foreign origin only once in Nagercoil. He asked people whether they would choose “between a great Prime Minister (Atal Bihari Vajpayee)” whose achievements have been acknowledged and a “prospective Prime Minister, who does not belong to India, or understand India and not even willing to project herself as Prime Minister”.