‘I have tried my best to deal with rotten apples in my own party’
Saffron flags exploded from sandbags and mud clusters while innumerable banners and welcome arches dotted the countryside, as the Bharatiya Janata Party worked at full throttle to give its senior leader L.K. Advani's nationwide ‘Jan Chetna Yatra' a rousing start from Bihar on Tuesday.
Mr. Advani began his anti-corruption ‘yatra' by addressing a large gathering along with Chief Minister Nitish Kumar at Sitab Diara in Saran district, the birthplace of socialist leader Jayaprakash Narayan.
The campaign is Mr. Advani's sixth since his 1990 ‘Ram Rath Yatra.'
Mr. Advani, along with Mr. Kumar and top BJP leaders, formally commenced his 40-day campaign from Chapra, with Mr. Kumar flagging off the ‘chariot' with a green flag.
“I am not conducting this [campaign] merely to criticise the Congress…I have sincerely tried my best to deal with the rotten apples in my own party as well,” said Mr. Advani, as the groovy Ab Bas (Enough is enough) anthem blasted away to a packed crowd massed on the grounds and perched on walls.
“My stress is on the low morality prevailing in politics today,” he said. “The campaign is to make people aware of the extent of corruption the country is embroiled in and its invidious effect on the common man.”
Mr. Advani's movement was uttered in the same breath by top leaders of both the BJP and the Janata Dal (United) as those launched by anti-corruption crusader Anna Hazare and yoga expert Baba Ramdev.
Justifying his choice of Bihar as the launch-pad for his campaign, Mr. Advani said a significant change in governance brought about by Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, coupled with the occasion of Jayaprakash Narayan's birth anniversary, made Chapra an apt place.
Mr. Advani was initially to begin his journey from Karamsad in Gujarat but the decision was changed because of reports of an alleged rift between him and Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi.
“I'm here to welcome Advaniji as he is here to give voice to a burning issue,” Mr. Kumar said, commenting on the anti-corruption rally.
In a thinly veiled attack on Rashtriya Janata Dal chief Lalu Prasad, Mr. Kumar said: “Some people have tried to malign the rally by dubbing it ‘communal' …since when did a campaign against corruption start acquiring a communal hue.”
It was an ironical moment when Mr. Kumar welcomed Mr. Advani, who recalled the moment when he was arrested in Samastipur district when Mr. Prasad was the Chief Minister.
In her speech, senior BJP leader Sushma Swaraj railed at the failure of the Manmohan Singh-led UPA government, saying it was entangled in no less than six scams in barely two years into office.
BJP leaders, including Mr. Advani, defended the action of the three party MPs in the cash-for-vote scam and condemned the arrest of Sudheendra Kulkarni, Mr. Advani's former aide, whom they claimed had helped to expose the scam.
‘A mere political stunt’
In Patna, Mr. Prasad hit out at Mr. Advani's campaign, saying the ‘yatra' was not aimed at eliminating any corruption but was a “mere political stunt.”
Remarking that he would never have allowed the event to take place, Mr. Prasad criticised Mr. Kumar for supporting Mr. Advani. “He is on the BJP payroll.”
The Communist Party of India (Marxist) too protested against Mr. Advani's campaign, with more than 500 of its workers from 20 districts holding a demonstration in Patna.