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Modi, Mahajan vying to make Advani yatra a success?
K G Suresh in Pune | April 11, 2006 18:04 IST
The generally positive response to Lal Kishenchand Advani's Bharat Suraksha Yatra both in Gujarat and Maharashtra has baffled both the Sangh Parivar, which has kept away from it, and the party's own managers, who are wondering whether there was an undeclared race between Narendra Modi and Pramod Mahajan to make Advani's tour a success.
The leader of opposition himself appeared a bit baffled by the crowds and told a public meeting at Bhosari in Pune Monday night that he was not expecting such huge crowds in the scorching heat.
"People told me that the timing of the yatra was wrong and that in Congress-ruled states it would be difficult to get the crowds. But the experience in Gujarat and Maharashtra have proved otherwise," he said.
Advani said he was not bothered by media reports of poor turnout as the "people concerned" (United Progressive Alliance government) were getting the message. The meetings in pre-dominantly tribal and Congress bastions of Talasari and Charoti witnessed large attendance of local people while residents were seen waiting along the yatra routes at Kamahet and Vadgaon as the Advani juggernaut rolled down rural Maharashtra.
Advani loyalists were quick to claim that the crowds were proof that his popularity has not diminished after his resignation as party chief in the wake of the Jinnah controversy with some even asserting that it was actually a vindication of the moderate line being advocated by the veteran leader.
However, his critics attribute the response to the influence of local party satraps, Chief Minister Narendra Modi in Gujarat and national party general secretary Pramod Mahajan in Maharashtra.
Modi, once the poster boy of Sangh Parivar, has been cosying up to Advani ever since dissidence began troubling him.
Advani, who was the then party chief, defended the embattled chief minister in the wake of the Gujarat riots even as then prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee spoke of Raj Dharma.
Later, when Advani got into trouble in the wake of the Jinnah controversy, Modi was among the party leaders who backed him to the hilt and during the current yatra has pulled all stops to ensure that it was a grand success in the state.
"You cannot sustain audience interest if the chemistry does not work. Crowds in India are unforgiving and they booed even a great player like Sachin Tendulkar," said party general secretary Ananth Kumar, who is also the incharge of the yatra.
As for the crowds in Maharashtra, observers said Mahajan and his brother-in-law state BJP legislature party leader Gopinath Munde have left no stone unturned to convey to Advani that even without any government machinery to back, they can match Modi, who remains a rival to Mahajan in the party's second generation leadership.
Asked about the difference between the response to this yatra and his previous Ram Rath Yatra, Advani said, "The issues are different. So would the response be. But at that time too, the media reports had sought to play down the crowds. It is now only that comparisons are being made."
Whether it is competition or curiosity, the 78-year old veteran is enjoying the response even with throat trouble caused by the scorching heat. However, that did not stop him from addressing an average 15-18 public meetings a day.
He is also not bothered about the response in the coming days. "Wait for Karnataka," promises Ananth Kumar as the yatra gets set to enter his home turf on April 13.