On October 10, a day before veteran ‘yatri' L.K. Advani was to start his 40-day journey — the sixth in a political series that began in 1990 — he said that the “ethical decline” of the United Progressive Alliance began in July 2008 when the Manmohan Singh government sought a trust vote in the Lok Sabha and won it by bribing MPs.
Bharatiya Janata Party leaders may not have had very high expectations from Mr. Advani's journey — some saw it as a demonstration of the veteran warhorse's prime ministerial ambitions, others as a move that could allow the party to appropriate the anti-corruption agenda set by Anna Hazare — but none of them could have anticipated the string of political disasters that has plagued the ‘yatra'.
The expectation was that together with the 2G spectrum case, the Commonwealth Games scandal and the Adarsh society scam, the ‘cash-for-votes' scandal would be showcased in his Jan Chetna Yatra to show the complete moral decline of the UPA. ‘Ab Bas' — enough is enough — was the chosen theme song. And the joke doing the rounds of the party was that ‘enough is enough' could easily be a fit description of this sixth Advani ‘yatra'.
On October 10, Mr. Advani noted: “There were 19 MPs who cross-voted. They were given bribes and were made to cross-vote [in defiance of their party whips].” Corruption had helped UPA I to survive.
However, far from focussing on corruption in the UPA, certain events have, unfortunately for the BJP, turned the limelight on the opposition party itself. Not soon after the ‘yatra' entered Madhya Pradesh, a scandal broke out in Satna, where journalists were handed out envelopes containing cash, presumably to ensure favourable coverage for the Advani ‘yatra' as the veteran leader was to enter Satna the next day. The fact that he was forced to switch to a helicopter to avoid bad roads in M.P. — a State governed by his party for the better part of a decade — was also a poor advertisement for the BJP's ability to deliver on governance.
Finally on Saturday, as the journey entered its fifth day, a court in Bangalore sent the former Karnataka Chief Minister, B.S. Yeddyurappa, to jail, along with a former Minister S.N. Krishnaiah Setty, on corruption charges.
Only a few weeks earlier, the party leadership was forced to sack Ramesh Pokhriyal as Uttarakhand Chief Minister and replace him with B.C. Khanduri as corruption charges against Mr. Pokhriyal mounted and could no longer be ignored.
Against this backdrop, Mr. Advani's anti-corruption ‘yatra' appeared to have lost all moral ground even before his ‘rath' rolled out from Bihar on its more than 7,000 kilometre-long journey.
As for the ‘cash-for-votes” charge made by Mr. Advani, even as the trial continues in court, two former and one sitting MP of the BJP have been sent to jail, along with the former political aide of Mr. Advani himself, Sudheendra Kulkarni.
Though cross-voting took place during the 2009 confidence motion, records maintained by the Lok Sabha secretariat state that the number of MPs who defied their party whips was 15, with both the government and the opposition benefiting almost equally from the cross-votes, and not 19, as Mr. Advani said.
As many as seven MPs — six from the Samajwadi Party and one from the Congress — defied their party whips to vote against the government and with the Opposition. The flow of cross-votes in the opposite direction was almost the same: eight MPs in all — four of the BJP, one each from the Biju Janata Dal, the Janata Dal (United), the Telugu Desam Party and the Janata Dal (Secular) — defied whips to vote for the government.
BJP leaders admitted privately that all four of their MPs who defied the whip that day — Brijbhushan Sharan Singh, H.T. Sangliana, Manjunath Kunnur and Somabhai Patel — were known to be disgruntled and were on their way out from the party. They had not been expelled earlier as that would have allowed them to retain their seats.
Similarly, cross-voting by Congress MP Kuldip Bishnoi came as no surprise as he had, for all practical purposes, ceased to be a member of the Congress, having joined the political outfit set up by his father Bhajan Lal. The rest of the cross-voters were from the SP, which had become a divided house.
If all these MPs had voted in line with their party whips, the result of that vote in 2009 would have been 274 to 257 in favour of the government, instead of the actual result of 275 to 256. While the charge of MPs being bribed should still be investigated, the Lok Sabha secretariat's data does undercut a foundational claim of Mr. Advani's yatra: that bribery ensured the Congress victory in Parliament that day.