No two rath yatras are alike, not for L.K. Advani. All his cross-country tours, beginning with the most controversial of them all — the communally divisive and provocative Ram Rath Yatra of 1990 — were designed with specific issues and electoral objectives in mind. Whether it was demanding a Ram temple at the Babri Masjid site or celebrating a rising India (Bharat Uday Yatra, 2004) or drawing attention to threats to national security (Bharat Suraksha Yatra, 2006), the Bharatiya Janata Party leader chose the time and theme of his yatras to maximise the political yield for his party and himself. Even so, the latest in his efforts to mobilise public support and enthuse party cadres, the Jan Chetna Yatra, is in a category of its own. After tailing the national movement against corruption, which was entirely the initiative of sections of civil society, and seeming incapable of taking on the United Progressive Alliance government either on corruption or the price rise, the principal opposition party has managed, through this yatra, to gain some traction on the issues of transparency and accountability in governance — and position itself for some offensive play in the winter session of Parliament.
The BJP, of course, was handicapped by corrupt elements flourishing within its fold. In Karnataka, Chief Minister B.S. Yeddyurappa, who faced serious allegations of corruption, repeatedly defied a confused BJP national leadership before events beyond the party's control forced him to quit and landed him in jail. Indeed, while touring Karnataka during the yatra, Mr. Advani felt compelled to declare that the party could not make any concession in the fight against corruption. Interestingly, he sought to take the moral high ground by announcing that all Members of Parliament of the BJP and its partners in the National Democratic Alliance would declare that they do not own, directly or indirectly, bank accounts or assets outside India. The question, of course, would be the truth behind such declarations and also the method by which they could be tested. But to the extent Mr. Advani managed to win for the BJP a position of some advantage in the anti-corruption movement, the Jan Chetna Yatra appears to have worked. Through this yatra, the BJP strongman and former Deputy Prime Minister might have just given himself another shot at the prime ministership in 2014.