He berates the UPA government for price rise,describing it as the most corrupt dispensation ever. He questions the silence of Sonia Gandhi and promises a Naya Bharat of everyones dreams once the Rs 25 lakh crore of black money stashed in foreign banks is brought back. L K Advani pumps his fists,claps and sings along with the yatras vigorous theme song Ab bas played at the end of every sabha,exhorting his audiences to do the same.
But the crowds respond most enthusiastically when Vasundhara Raje covers her head with the traditional red and gold chunari,promises to keep its laaj,and appeals to their chivalry and sympathy by describing her agni pariksha by the Mathur Commission set up by the Ashok Gehlot government to probe charges of corruption against her regime. The former chief minister stokes regional pride and the currently raging controversy. She alleges that in the last three years Rajasthan has sunk back into BIMARU status. And asks: Gayee kahan Bhanwari? a reference to the political scandal around the disappearance of a Dalit nurse in the state.
As Advanis Jan Chetna rath hurtled through the state he describes as his political cradle,where he spent 10 years of his life before moving to Delhi,first as a young pracharak in the RSS and then as a member of the Jan Sangh,the crowds assembled for every swagat and sabha under banners of the state BJPs kisan,mahila and yuva morchas pointed to the mobilisation of the party machinery.
What was more evident was this: Advani was not the only yatri on board his rath,nor was his the most conspicuous message.
The veteran yatri himself was gracious about being overtaken in the state where he cut his political teeth. In a democracy of our size,apart from issues,programmes and ideologies,we must have leaders with whom the masses identify. Therefore,if you have a leader like Vajpayee,Narendra Modi and Vasundhara,there is no point in underplaying it, Advani told The Sunday Express.
I am surprised and overwhelmed, said Raje,who has just returned to the state after a nearly four-month-long sabbatical. According to sources,it was provoked by what she saw as the unrelenting sniper fire directed at her from within her own party.
Along the route,also,were unmistakable signs that Rajes yatra on Advanis rath has sparked more heartburn and bitterness in the already bitterly divided Rajasthan BJP. At Sikar,the divide was starkly manifest in the two meetings organised by the BJP,one at the Krishi Mandi,under the aegis of the Kisan Morcha in which most Raje supporters participated,and the other at the Ram Lila Maidan by those perceived to be her baiters.
Two press conferences were held by the two clearly defined groups in the local BJP to announce the yatra a day earlier. In Sikar,the separateness of the two camps and their mutual hostilities are an open secret.
In Jaipur earlier,while Raje supporters claimed that the yatra showed that their leader had won the argument in the party,her detractors complained about what they saw as her attempts to hijack the show and suggested that the yatra against corruption would end up pointing to her own alleged vulnerability on the issue.
Lalit Kishore Chaturvedi,former BJP state president,minister and Rajya Sabha MP,once a Raje supporter and now known as a hardliner in the anti-Raje camp,described the battle within the party as one between those who want power at any cost and those who support value-based politics. His prescription: The BJP should not project a leader ahead of the next election. Let the elected MLAs decide.
Hanuman Beniwal,Jat MLA from Nagore and outspoken critic of Raje,lashed out at the chor mandali conspicuous in the yatra: I have said within the party forum that Advanijis yatra is against corruption,yet those seen on stage are ministers of Rajes government who have been charged with corruption. People voted for the Congress because of corruption in the Raje regime. This yatra is only to facilitate Madams comeback but the Raje camp must not be in a hurry to get their Jodhpuri suits stitched.
On the other side of the fence,Bhawani Singh Rajawat,party spokesperson and MLA,known to be in the Raje camp,claimed: The controversy on the leadership issue has been clarified. That is the benefit of the yatra. Vasundharaji was the centre of attention at the Jodhpur rally. Advani,Jaswant Singh and Ananth Kumar have all publicly indicated that she will be the partys chief ministerial candidate. On the yatra itself: The Ram rath yatra drew a huge response. But about issues like black money and corruption,the people are still not fully aware.
Evidently,under the yatra hype,the BJP is ill at ease with itself,at a time when the going would seem great for the Opposition the ruling Congress regime in Rajasthan finds itself firmly in the dock,facing censure from the courts and riddled by scandal.
The divide in the Rajasthan BJP has crystallised around the figure of Raje,but in a larger sense it could be read as the distance between those who belong to the traditional BJP rooted in the RSS,and the newer entrants weaned from other political streams,particularly from the erstwhile Janata parivar,under Bhairon Singh Shekhawats leadership,as political competition became bipolar in Rajasthan in the 1990s the latter are seen to be in a majority in the Raje camp. The divide is also between the legislature party,seen to be largely with Raje,and the core party organisation.
Elections in Rajasthan are still two years away,but the Jan Chetna Yatra,while ostensibly bringing the party together for its tallest national leaders programme,may have also shone the light on the fragility of that unity in a state seen to be a BJP bastion.