Long written off as a political force, K N Govindacharya made a strong comeback this week, bringing together a million people -- most of them farmers -- on the platform of alternative development.
In a one-man show of strength, his ten-day conclave on development strategy, dubbed Kalburgi Kampu, hosted over 50,000 delegates and boasted a footfall of one lakh people a day.
On Christmas day, former President A P J Abdul Kalam addressed an estimated 1.5 lakh people in the 75-acre campus at Gulbarga in Karnataka. Baba Ramdev attracted a similar audience on December 30.
For those who may have wondered what Govindacharya has been doing post-BJP, the answers were evident at the Kalburgi Kampu. Crafting his own version of green politics, based on participatory democracy, public welfare and environmental goals, he has set up a countrywide network of NGOs and farmers' organisations.
Politicians were conspicuously absent. AICC general secretary Digivijay Singh and Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge had consented to attend, but both pulled out in the wake of the AICC's stern resolution against the RSS, perhaps for fear of association with an event organised by a former pracharak.
If Govindacharya was untouchable for the Congress, he was equally taboo for the BJP. One minister each from Karnataka and Bihar did show up, but they are known to be personal friends. Not one central BJP leader put in an appearance, although most had been invited. Chief Minister B S Yeddyurappa did visit the spot before the event, apparently to ensure all possible aid from the local administration.
Two members of the RSS brass -- former chief K Sudershan and Dattatreya Hosabale (no 5 in the hierarchy) -- attended.
Spiritual leaders arrived in force, among them Yoga guru Baba Ramdev and Ramchandrapuram Math's activist Shankaracharya Raghvendra Bharti, but there was no sign of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad or any other sangh affiliate. Sustainable development activists like Anupam Mishra, Subhash Palekar, Narain Reddy and Devendra Sharma held centre-stage.
The sheer scale of the conference showcased the organisational skills that served Govindacharya so well during his stint as BJP general secretary. The sculptures in the Vijaynagar style scattered over the 75-acre venue reflected the rich architectural heritage of Gulbarga.
The kitchens served over 50,000 people at every meal. Artistes performed through the day. Visitors thronged the 500 stalls and children's science exhibition. Sessions continued until late evening.
The event was organised under the banner of the Bharat Vikas Sangam and the next step is the setting up of 400 district units of the BVS, doubtless with the aid of present and former RSS activists. Although Govindacharya's relationship with the RSS has been blow hot-blow cold and his "sabbatical" from the BJP is now in its 11th year, he commands a dedicated following among the rank and file.
Strategies to make farming an economically viable profession, water conservation, health and sanitation in rural areas, creation of a knowledge society and empowerment of women were the principle themes.