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Following Advani - No speed limits

Pankaj Upadhyaya | March 16, 2004 20:55 IST

Umerga is around 95km from Solapur in southern Maharashtra. Among the first things a search for the town on the Net throws up is a list of Doordarshan transmitters. Umerga has a low-power transmitter. Colleagues in Solapur warn -– it will be extremely hot; you won't get anything to eat. It didn't raise the prospect of a very pleasant journey. But when you are travelling in a cavalcade led by Deputy Prime Minister Lal Kishenchand Advani's bus, 95km is just a blur. On the kind of roads you and I would struggle to do 40km/hour, Advani does 80km/per hour. The road is cleared of all traffic. Pedestrians are barricaded. Escort cars lead the way.

Complete Coverage of Advani's Yatra

The road to Umerga is narrow and lined by dried, wilting trees. The heat is oppressive. This year also rains have failed this part of the world. There is little vegetation in the fields. Most look like they are still waiting for a shower.

Chava takes Advani by surprise

Outside the venue of Advani's rally in Umerga there is a group of young men carrying banners written in Marathi. Everybody, including Advani, thinks they are there to welcome the yatra. But they are not. They look mighty angry and move threateningly towards the bus raising slogans -– something to do with reservations. The Black Cats swing into action and the protestors are dispersed. Soon, they organise themselves again and start moving towards the rally venue. Now the anti-riot squad moves in, a mild lathi-charge follows and the protestors -– kicking a screaming -– are bundled into a waiting van. The road is littered with chappals and torn pieces of clothing lost to the struggle.

Click Here for the Yatra Route Map

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A colleague tells me the angry men belonged to Chava -– a militant Maratha group struggling to have the community added to the Other Backward Classes list. Advani, however, is led to believe that the protest was against the derogatory remarks against Maratha king Shivaji in Joseph Lind's banned book. Advani gives a long spiel on how it is against the Indian culture to ban a book and how banning a book only makes it more sought-after in the market.

Chava is Marathi for a lion cub. So much for all the anger and the lost shirts and chappals.

Naidu eager and waiting

By late evening on Tuesday Advani will reach Hyderabad, where Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu, BJP leaders tell us, is awaiting eagerly for the deputy prime minister's arrival. Naidu may just become the first chief minister to join Advani's Bharat Uday Yatra. No wonder he is BJP's favourite ally in the National Democratic Alliance government. Why the party's new friend in Tamil Nadu, Jayalalithaa, did not think it fit to see Advani off at Kanyakumari, where he started his yatra, is still a mystery.

After spending two days in Andhra Pradesh, Advani re-enters Maharashtra briefly on March 19. He then moves to Madhya Pradesh, where, rest assured, another chief minister will be awaiting his arrival.

Crowds and votes

The two Advani rallies I was witness to in Maharashtra -- Solapur and Umerga -- were both very well attended. The crowds were responsive, especially to his Congress bashing. Will these crowds translate into votes for the BJP? It's a difficult question. But if you are looking for a reliable answer, check the rediff poll:

Will the yatra translate into votes for the BJP? And while at it, why don't you also cast your vote?


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