Political pundits and BJP-watchers have written off L.K.Advani. They think that he has written himself out with his Jinnah gaffe and he does not really a key player in the party. But the man himself is full of beans as it were. He has announced on Thursday his intention to set off on a 'yatra' against corruption. Advani's zest for yatra remains undiminished despite the fact that after his 1990 Ram Ratha Yatra, which created controversy, triggered riots in its wake at several places and it is believed that it put the party among the front-runners for office.
The 1990 yatra was troublesome. It did increase the number of BJP MPs from about 80 to around 120, but it communalised the atmosphere and culminated in the demolition of Babri Masjid on December 6, 1992. Advani's expression of regret and even remorse -- “It is the saddest day of my life” -- may be deemed hypocritical by his staunch critics and sincere by his shrinking number of loyalists. But taking those words on the face value, the Ram Rath Yatra was not really a success.
What improved the position of the BJP in 1996 and 1998 – and the party could never muster even a simple majority on its own, and could not even cross the 200-seat mark – was the projection of Atal Bihari Vajpayee as the prime ministerial candidate, breaking the RSS-BJP tradition of hiding behind collective leadership.
Though Advani's liuetenants and the Hindutva enthusiasts considered him the architect of BJP's political success, Advani himself was aware of his limited appeal. That is why, he supported Vajpayee who was in the shadows – it would be a mistake to see Vajpayee as cold-shouldering the temple agitation – and projected him as the face of the party. It paid dividends in terms of winning over allies and the formation of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) in 1998.
Advani was not the man to be deterred. He struck out on his own in 2004 when he declared in an interview to a private television news channel that the Leader of the Opposition was the shadow prime minister in the Westminster model, thereby hinting he was in the run for the top office. The BJP did not get the numbers, so Advani's gambit was not put to test.
But the man keeps himself in the running through the yatra, and he is at it again. He has declared that this time round it has nothing to do with either the Uttar Pradesh assembly elections next year or with the next Lok Sabha elections whenever they are held. He means to keep his political machinery well-oiled. He seems to believe that winds of change will help if he is ready to profit by them.
The party is content to let him have the run though it still does not know what to do with him. The top brass in the BJP – leader of opposition in Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj and leader of opposition in Rajya Sabha Arun Jaitley – are beholden to him. But they were distinctly uncomfortable with his Jinnah stand, which is a bugbear for the party's ideological boss, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). Whether this is a story that can be firmly pushed into the background, or whether the RSS puritans have forigven Advani remains to be seen.
Whatever may be the outcome of the Advani's latest yatra plan, it cannot be denied that here is an octogenarian who seems to say never say never.