Originally Published 2011-02-04 00:00:00 Published on Feb 04, 2011
Emotion, rather than substance, had been the vehicle of the BJP for spreading its reach. But times are changing and it would have been better if the party was talking of a new vision of India which lays out a roadmap for eliminating poverty and squalor.
Bharatiya Janata Party: Prisoners of the past or participants of future?
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has been hogging media headlines for quite some time now. Being the country's main opposition party, it is natural to be in news, but does its present pathway opens doors for its bright political future is a question that is being asked across the country, particularly in the light of the state of the ruling coalition.

It is amazing that despite the disappointment of the people at large with the UPA-II on account of the massive price rise and instances of corruption at high places, the BJP has not been able to capture the people's mind though it is claiming to have captured the soul and hearts.

The latest one has been the 'Tiranga Yatra' or 'Ekta Yatra' which ended on the Republic Day in Jammu. In its three-decade old history, the BJP has had a great faith in 'rath yatras' and 'yatras' and its leaders, particularly Lal Krishna Advani, has used this instrument to further the interests of the party as well as his own effectively.

Former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, whose image and rapport with the Indian people was one of the determinants of the party's rise to power in 1998, never had to fall back on the instrument of 'rath yatras' to either win the confidence of the people or boost his personal image across the country.

On the contrary, Advani, who has undertaken several yatras in his political career, is a great believer of this instrument and has spoken eloquently about the efficacy of this. One of his political rivals in the party, Dr Murli Manohar Joshi, had embarked on the 'Ekta Yatra' from Kanyakumari to Kashmir on December 11, 1991, but failed to achieve his intended goals.

Now that Advani's stars are on ascendancy both in the party as well as in the Sangh, the instrument of yatra to spread a political message has resurfaced. The ostensible objective of the 'Tiranga Yatra' was to give a rebuff to the separatists in J&K by hoisting the national tricolour at the Lal Chowk in Srinagar. The task of leading the yatra was given to Anurag Thakur -- the head of the youth wing of the party, namely Bharatiya Yuva Janata Morcha (BYJM). The party leaders claimed that the yatra was also aimed at strengthening the nationalist forces, rather forces of nationalism.

All the top leaders of the party were detailed for making the BYJM's yatra a success. The Leaders of Opposition in the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha, Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley, left no stones unturned to reap maximum mileage out of the event, but have they succeeded?

Nationalism can not be displayed on the collars and a show-off of nationalist symbols cannot make one a patriot or a nationalist. This has never been understood by the BJP leaders who have been trained on the question of nationalist and other similar issues by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. The spirit of nationalism or in broad terms 'Bharatiyata' asserts itself in the time of national crisis and cannot be demonstrated by the hoisting of the national flag in Kashmir or elsewhere in the country. When the nation is at ease with itself, then people at large don't have to demonstrate their patriotism. But then, the RSS continues to live in olden times when the country was fighting the British. At that time, demonstration of nationalism was imperative to rally people at large to the idea of a free India.

When the Tiranga Yatra reached the national capital on its way to its ultimate destination, I happened to witness a public function at the Constitution Club. To my surprise, only the hardcore party workers and party sympathisers were present at the function. I am sure the idea of the party leadership was not to inculcate the spirit of nationalism among own followers.

However, the Yatra ended in a fiasco as the Jammu and Kashmir State government ensured that the BJP leaders could not hoist the national flag at the Lal Chowk. Both Jaitley and Swaraj also declined an invitation from Jammu & Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah to participate in the flag hoisting ceremony.

Obviously, the objective was not the love for the national flag but to score a point. The Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha has been trying to earn brownie points over the rivals by raising issues like what legal right does the J&K State government have to detain and deport the two leaders of the opposition?

The real reason for undertaking the Yatra to Kashmir was to sharpen the communal divide by trying to tell the people that all the separatists in the troubled valley were Muslims and therefore Hindus must rally behind the BJP to save the country. The national flag was just an instrument to polarise the nation, like in the times of the Ramjanmabhoomi temple movement.

Even Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, whose appeal and popular acceptability is rising fast, disapproved of the Yatra.

Emotion, rather than substance, had been the vehicle of the BJP for spreading its reach. But times are changing and it would have been better if the party was talking of a new vision of India which lays out a roadmap for eliminating poverty and squalor.

(The author is a Senior Fellow at Observer Research Foundation)

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