| Advani tries to catch a garland thrown by a supporter in Chhindwara as Uma Bharti (right) and state BJP president Kailash Joshi look on. (AFP)
Chhindwara/Nagpur, March 20: The tone of L.K. Advani’s campaign changed as the deputy Prime Minister’s Bharat Uday yatra entered Madhya Pradesh — the first BJP-ruled state on the 8,000-km route.
Advani also shifted gears, buoyed by a good turnout in the traditional Congress stronghold of Chhindwara, and focused on its “failures” and Ayodhya, saying it is just a matter of time before the temple comes up. “It has now become a matter of the nation’s collective wish,” he claimed to cheers from Bajrang Dal and BJP workers.
In Nagpur yesterday, the deputy Prime Minister was less categorical when Bajrang Dal workers had cut his speech short with slogans demanding the temple’s construction. “Ram Lalla ke vaaste, khule kar do raaste (For the sake of Lord Ram, remove the hurdles from constructing the temple at Ayodhya),” the motley group had shouted at the meeting at Chitnis Park near the RSS headquarters.
“This is not just your wish, but that of the entire nation, but we need a consensus,” Advani had said. “The Muslims are on the right track. In Kanyakumari, the diwan of Ajmer Sharif flagged off my yatra. Christians joined me during my trip down south. Muslims and Christians are joining us. Don’t divert them from their present course.”
Today, Advani said: “I have got an impression that the temple issue would be settled amicably in 6-8 months. I have been meeting various people and have got an impression that the nation now collectively wants a temple there. I am confident that it will be settled amicably soon after the general elections.”
There is no question of ignoring Ayodhya as “we have sacrificed lives for the cause”, Advani said. A peaceful settlement would also usher in a new era in Hindu-Muslim relations, he said on the 11th day of his yatra. “It will all be visible very soon.”
There were other contradictions, too. The deputy Prime Minister was greeted with the slogan: “Hinduon ki vani, Lal Krishna Advani (Voice of Hindus, Lal Krishna Advani),” as soon as he entered Madhya Pradesh. Cries of “Jai Shri Ram” and saffron flags and turbans underlined the belligerent mood in the BJP three months after Uma Bharti became chief minister.
In Nagpur, however, farmers from Vidarbha, where suicides are still routine, wanted to know how India Shining has helped them.
Two months ago, a farmer plagued by penury drank poison in front of the block development office. Another took two litres of pesticide from a gram panchayat when he could not procure the litre of kerosene needed to cook a sparse meal. The pesticide, ironically, was almost free.
Advani also had to face queries on the demand for a separate Vidarbha state at the Nagpur meeting. “It is on the BJP’s agenda, but not on that of the National Democratic Alliance. There has to be an unanimous resolution in the Assembly and then we can look into it,” he had said.
Advani’s soft-pedalling comes despite the BJP — at its national executive meeting in Bhubaneswar in 1993 — favouring the creation of a separate Vidarbha state.
At Chhindwara, Advani took on the Congress. He urged senior Congress leaders to introspect on leadership at a meeting in Palika Park next to party MP Kamal Nath’s deserted district office. “I am really concerned about the weakening of the Congress. In parliamentary democracy, the role of the Opposition is important as in the case of the US and the UK”, he said.