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Who's the big draw? Advani or his bus

George Iype in Kanyakumari | March 11, 2004 04:44 IST

It is not difficult for Deputy Prime Minister Lal Kishenchand Advani to draw crowds during election meetings. But this time, he may face some competition; from a bus.

People appear to be curious about the state-of-art bus in which he will be crisscrossing the country on his Bharat Uday Yatra 'to connect' with the people.

Unlike his earlier yatras, in 1990 and 1997, this time his vehicle has not been redesigned to look like a rath (chariot).

"This is not a rath but a bus in which I am traveling to see the common people," Advani said on Wednesday as he got into the luxury Swaraj Mazda bus, specially designed and painted in the BJP's colours for the arduous 33-day long journey.

Click here for the yatra route map

The bus was specially blessed after it reached Kanyakumari on Tuesday. A group of Hindu priests in the temple town of Kanyakumari conducted a pooja to ensure a safe journey.

The bus had been the subject of several rituals even before it had left its owner, Dilip Singh Judeo. Before he sent it across to the southernmost corner of India, the firebrand BJP leader from Chhattisgarh had conducted a series of rituals that included sacrificing a goat and spraying the milk of 101 coconuts all over the bus.

Judeo has been using the Ashvamedha Rath, as he refers to the bus, during the assembly elections in Chhattisgarh last year.

For the past many days, Union Minister of State for Surface Transport and Highways Pon Radhakrishan, who is the BJP MP from Nagercoil, and other BJP leaders from Tamil Nadu and Kerala had been frantically preparing for the Advani road show.

Their efforts seem to have paid off as hundreds lined up on National High No 47, between Nagercoil and Thiruvananthapuram, to see the bus and its traveler.

"I have seen Advani many times. But today I came to see this bus. It is not as attractive as I thought it would be," Karuna Thampi, a farmer in Marthandan town in Tamil Nadu, said adding it would have been nice if the name of the yatra, Bharat Uday Yatra, was written in all Indian languages on the bus.

Owing to security reasons, people were not allowed to get too close to the bus. Many local BJP leaders wished to get into the bus to have a look at the 'high tech facilities on offer'.

"We have strict orders to ensure nobody touches the bus," a local police officer said. A National Security Guards team has been camping in Kanyakumari to look into the security of Advani and the bus.

"I wanted to peep inside but the security people did not let me. But seeing the bus itself gives me the feeling that the BJP will easily return to power," said Bala Swaminathan, a local BJP functionary.

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The curiosity is well worth it. The air-conditioned bus has a capacity for about 12 persons apart from four drivers who would be at the wheel by turns. It has plush sofas, a conference table, microphones, a public address system and a chemical toilet. It is equipped with a fax machine, a laptop with Internet connection and a telephone to enable Advani to keep in touch with day-to-day developments.

Has Advani been using these high tech gadgets? "No yet. He has just begun his journey and things have been very hectic so far," said a BJP media coordinator.

The vehicle has facilities for playing DVDs, VCDs and CDs. What will Advani be watching? "Mostly, re-caps of his own rallies every day to get an idea of his performance and the response," the BJP media coordinator said.

The windows are made of a special glass, which will enable the people and Advani to see each other. The most important feature of the specially designed coach is a hydraulic lift that would take the deputy prime minister to the roof of the bus from where he would address meetings enroute.

Harish Dagur was at the wheel when the bus was flagged off. "I am driving it for the first time. It is indeed a great vehicle," said the BJP municipal corporator from Indore, who was specially requested by the party leadership to drive the bus.

Is it capable of traveling the 7,872 kilometres that Advani will cover in 33 days? "It is. If it fails, we have made arrangements to ensure that the yatra continues without interruptions," said Dagur.

BJP leaders said that an alternate coach would be quickly made available in case the bus breaks down.

Follow Advani on his yatra

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