Roll back the yatras

Autumn has arrived in north India; that time of the year when people are busy with religious festivities which include carnivals, 'melas' and 'tamashas'. Here come the yatras and yatris!

Most famous Yatri: LK Advani has carried out many a yatras but the
magic of his yatras has dissipated. File Pic

BJP has LK Advani on a Rath Yatra from October 11 across 18 states and three Union Territories. Samajwadi Party has Akhilesh Yadav travelling around Uttar Pradesh. Nitish Kumar will criss-cross Bihar for a Seva Yatra but not before he flags off Advani's yatra from his state. BJP's Rajnath Singh has his own yatra of sorts in UP (different route from Advani's).

Yeddyurappa will go on a yatra in Karnataka (he did not attend the BJP's Delhi meet to plan Advani's Yatra). Anna will undertake yatras in states that go to polls next year. His mission is to urge people to vote for only those candidates who support the Jan Lok Pal bill. Did anyone notice that Baba Ramdev has already begun his 1,00,000-km long Yatra? 

Yatra traditionally means a journey, though in common parlance the term is used to describe a pilgrimage. One of the most famous social yatras was the one undertaken in 1951, by Vinobha Bhave, for a land reform programme called Bhoodaan movement. He walked across the country persuading landowners to give up parts of their land to tillers.

Film star turned politician Sunil Dutt walked for peace, the Mahashanti Padyatra, in terror torn Punjab in 1987. Before him, former Prime Minister Chandrashekar walked from Kanya Kumari in Tamil Nadu to Rajghat in Delhi in 1983. They all sought inspiration from the historic Dandi Yatra (Salt March --1930) by Mahatma Gandhi and the various travels of Jawaharlal Nehru that find mention in his essays.

Politicians in India undertake yatras to connect with the people, because unlike the west, mass media does not penetrate most of our villages and remote areas. Mass communication is still a challenge in the 21st century.

The most famous Yatri (traveller) of post-Independence India would have to be Lal Krishna Advani. In 1990 the BJP president decided to go on a padyatra to rally support for the Hindutva cause. But the campaign manager Pramod Mahajan got a mini-bus for him and christened it a Rath.

The Ram-Rath Yatra was historic, as it resulted in the rise of Advani, as also the arrival of the Bharatiya Janata Party as a formidable political party for all time to come. But the hysteria generated in that yatra resulted in the destruction of the Babri Mazjid by zealots.

Advani later became deputy Prime Minister of the country, not PM, as he had hoped and many felt deserved, considering the huge support he had gotten for his party. The Ram Mandir never got built and Advani went on to describe the day the mosque was torn down as the saddest day of his life.

After the Ram Rath Yatra, Advani has undertaken the Jansandesh Yatra, Swarna-Jayanti Yatra, Bharat Uday Yatra and Bharat Suraksha Yatra. But the magic was dissipating with each yatra. Undeterred, he suddenly announced in September that he was going on another yatra, this time to spread awareness about corruption.

Who in India is unaware about corruption today? They live with it more than what either Advani or Anna do.

Advani's yatra is going to be packaged like Anna's but this is again where the BJP just doesn't want to learn from past mistakes. The late Pramod Mahajan would have told them that you cannot sell a product whose expiry date has already been reached.

The time of grand political yatras is long gone. Those were the 90s. Today people want to see simplicity and austerity practiced by their leaders. This is why Anna in his Gandhi attire with his simple speech and mild manner was successful. An aggressive Anna with naked political ambitions will hardly get the same response.

The next two months will see camera teams chasing the yatris across the length and breadth of India where they meet with the puzzled Aam Admi who would most certainly wonder as to why they are there, when there is no election on the horizon. Or maybe there is one? "If winter is here, can spring be far behind?"

Smita Prakash is Editor (News) at Asian News International You can follow her on Twitter @smitaprakash

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