Ram Rath Yatra entered Bihar through Dhanbad on October 19, 1990. Bihar Chief Minister Lalu Prasad Yadav asked its Deputy Commissioner (DC) Afzal Amanullah to detain Lal Krishna Advani. Amanullah was son-in-law of Syed Shahabuddin, who was also convenor of the Babri Masjid Action Committee. The Dhanbad DC, apprehending political strife, avoided detaining Advaniji. On October 23, the Rath entered Patna where the BJP veteran addressed a massive gathering amid chanting of slogans: Kasam Ram ki khatein hain, Mandir wahin banayenge! Next day, in the wee hours, the leader was arrested from Samastipur circuit house. The rest, as they say, is history.
Years later, reflecting on this exhilarating period, Advaniji said, ‘People may not have known who Advani was, but they knew it was for the Mandir.’ The Eternal Yatri, thus, summed up his political life in a sentence. He lived many lives as a Pracharak, a journalist, a national leader, a Sanatani icon, but above all a traveller who undertook many journeys for key socio-political and nationalist causes. A Sindhi Hindu Brahmin, Advaniji started his journey from Karachi in 1927, and by 1947, he was organising shakhas in the city. He migrated to Bombay after Partition, and finally settled in Delhi as a leader of Bharatiya Jana Sangh and then Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
As RSS Pracharak, Advaniji worked in Alwar, Bharatpur, Bundi, Kota and Jhalawar districts. He assisted KR Malkani with the publication of Organiser. These well-known facts which Advaniji himself has recorded extensively in his autobiography My Country, My Life (2008) is reiterated here to drive home the argument that in Sangh Parivar, pravas and yatras are fundamental to Pracharaks and Karyakartas. Pravas is for short to medium-term goals. They are meant for baithaks, dialogue, and developing synergy among different affiliates and groups. Think of Lok Sabha Pravas Yojana, a pre-election campaign by the BJP, which aims to strengthen the party’s presence at the grassroots level ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha Elections. Yatras, on the other hand, have a more specific and mobilising motivation. For instance, Shaurya Jagran Yatra was organised by Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP) recently to “re-energise” society on Hindu Dharma and to raise groups of Dharma Yoddhas. Or, similarly, Vidyarthi Parishad organised the Hindavi Swaraj Yatra to commemorate 350th anniversary of Chhatrapati Shivaji’s coronation.
Chariot and Charioteer
Advaniji took six different yatras in his lifetime. They were never meant to influence and impact the electoral outcomes. They were modes of mobilisation and a process of learning from the grassroot. They were also an outreach to expand and enlarge the support base. Finally, they were a prolongation of the tradition of pilgrimage which many greats like Adi Shankara, Swami Vivekananda, and Mahatma Gandhi have done for different intentions.
Ram Rath Yatra (1990) became one of the biggest mass movements in Bharat since 1947. Starting on September 25 from Somnath, the Rath travelled approximately 300 kilometres a day. Advaniji often addressed six public rallies in a single day with the same emphatic affirmation of Mandir wahin banayenge! However, apart from its mobilising fervour, Rath Yatra for the first-time shed light on the demographic dimension of ‘sensitive areas’. What pseudo-secularists often referred to as ‘communal harmony’ was inverted in its face to show why and how Muslims are hyper-sensitive, barbed, and violent to Hindu yatras.
Soon in 1993, Advaniji was on the roads again for strengthening parliamentary democracy. In Janadesh Yatra, four processions, starting on September 11, 1993, from four corners of the country, were organised. The veteran leader led the yatra from Mysore. Traversing through 14 States and two Union Territories, the processions aimed to seek public support against two bills, the Constitution 80th Amendment Bill and the Representation of People (Amendment) Bill, converging in Bhopal on September 25. Backed by the Communists and others, PV Narasimha Rao Government introduced these two draconian Bills with the dual purpose of banning religion from public life as well as denying political space to the BJP. The BJP stalled the Bills in the Parliament, and the debate was deferred. Eventually, the Bills were never passed.
A Patriotic Pilgrimage
In 1997, in the scorching heat of North Bharat, preparations began for Swarn Jayanti Yatra, which was to take place in four continuous phases in 59 days, from May 18 to July 15, covering over 15,000 kilometres. Those who go for a yatra today in winters wearing ‘Rs 41,000 Burberry T-shirt and expensive sports shoes’, will never realise what it meant for a 70-year-old to go for a yatra in Rajasthan in June. Advaniji counted two reasons for this yatra—both personal and political. The personal one had to do with the golden jubilee of Bharat’s Independence, which was a highly emotional occasion for him, and more than celebration, it was an occasion for introspection. The political one was to project BJP as a party committed to good governance amid the chaos of HD Deva Gowda and IK Gujral.
“We must honour all the freedom fighters,” Advaniji told a gathering of 30,000 in Chittorgarh in Rajasthan addressing them when mercury was soaring above 40. And so, he did. In Sangli, he paid tributes to Vasantdada Patil; in Satara he praised YB Chavan; in Nellore he spoke about Potti Sriramalu; in Kerala, he extended his reverence to Marxist leader AK Gopalan, and he visited Kumbhalgarh fort on Maharana Pratap’s birth anniversary. In Gujarat, the yatra was flagged from Tankara, birthplace of Swami Dayanand Saraswati.
For Security, Against Corruption
On the back of Bharat Uday Yatra (2004), with the advent of UPA Government, its failures on multiple fronts, and the rise of Maoism and Left-Wing Extremism (LWE), Advaniji bounced back with Bharat Suraksha Yatra. Launched nationwide from April 6 to May 10, 2006, this campaign consisted of two yatras – one led by Advaniji from Dwaraka in Gujarat to Delhi and the other led by Rajnath Singh from Puri to Delhi.