Politics of yatras and social change



Politics of yatras and social changeRitesh K Srivastava

The allegations of corruption against those in power and the initial success of Anna Hazare’s Jan Lokpal campaign has ignited the nation’s fancy and voices calling for a total clean-up of the political system have become louder and louder.

Sensing that corruption today has become a major poll plank, all political parties have subsequently announced to undertake yatras with an aim to bring greater transparency in governance.

Though claims have been made that these yatras will create awareness among the aam admi and strengthen the vitals of democracy, there are political reasons too. These yatras have been timed keeping in mind the Assembly Elections scheduled to be held next year in several states, including Uttar Pradesh.



Lending credence to this assertion is the fact that as many as twelve yatras have been announced this year making it the “year of yatras” in the country’s political history. Interestingly, the announcements to hold such exercises have come not only from the political parties but also from spiritual leaders like Baba Ramdev, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar and other social workers.



However, the bigger question, which crops up in this context is: Why do we need to hold such yatras and what purpose will they serve or will they actually serve any purpose at all? What will the common man gain from these yatras and will corruption be finally eradicated? Will yatras really transform and unite the nation as they did during the times of great souls like Adi Shankaracharya, Gautam Buddha, Mahatama Gandhi and Jai Prakash Narayan.



Yatras and spiritual awakening in ancient India


The concept of holding yatras is pristine in our country starting from Lord Manu, who is considered to be the progenitor of civilisation as per Indian legends. He led his chosen followers to the northern highlands in a fleet of ships when his kingdom Tamilsangam was destroyed by catastrophic sea waves thus saving mankind from the biggest natural calamity of his times.



Approximately 2500 years ago, Gautam Buddha- the founder of the Buddhism- travelled extensively in the Gangetic plains to enlighten the minds of masses so that they could get rid of their humane sufferings through purification of soul by following his eight-fold path.



Centuries later, Adi Shankaracharya reinvigorated the Hindu religion by establishing monastic centres in four corners of India and propounded the Advaita philosophy. The great spiritual guru advocated the greatness of the Vedas and restored the Vedic Dharma (Vedic religion) to its unspoiled purity and glory at a time when chaos, superstition and bigotry were rampant.



Mass movements in modern India

With the passage of time, civilisations and dynasties changed and consequently, the doctrine and philosophy behind such movements and yatras also changed. In the early twentieth century, numerous ‘sons of the soil’ became a catalyst for social change and cultural awakening in India.
The colonial rule brought political unity in India, which was lacking for centuries. It led to the birth of Indian awakening or Indian nationalism. Social reformers, philosophers, political leaders all put their best efforts in awakening the spirit of the whole nation from deep slumber and made them realise its cultural heritage and glorious past.



The country’s struggle for freedom saw Mahatma Gandhi and other nationalist leaders spearheading mass movements and yatras which shook the foundations of the colossal British Empire. In 1930, Gandhiji began his famous Dandi March as part of the Civil Disobedience Movement, for which he was jailed. Shortly after this, Gandhi began a new campaign to improve the lives of the untouchables, whom he named `Harijans`, meaning, the children of God. After his release from prison in 1932, Gandhi devoted himself exclusively to the cause of the `Harijans` and tried to end caste disparities, discrimination and untouchability.



JP movement

Post-Independence, Jayaprakash Narayan, a firebrand leader from Bihar started the largest people’s movement in independent India, one that shook Indira Gandhi’s government in 1974.
The JP Movement challenged authoritarian rule of the Congress and gave a platform to address political dissent, public anger, the aspirations of youth, and a forwarded a vision for building a society based on peoples’ participation rather than political power.

Rath Yatras since nineties


During the nineties, newly formed BJP appeared on the national scene by playing the Hindutva card and its tallest leader LK Advani launched his first `Somnath-Ayodhya Ram Rath Yatra`. Since then he had launched several yatras aiming to bring a political revolution.



On October 11 this year, he began his sixth rath yatra, whose focus is on corruption and restoring people`s faith in democracy. Just recently, the art of living founder Sri Sri Ravi Shankar also joined the bandwagon by embarking on a three-day anti-corruption yatra in Uttar Pradesh.

The year 2011 is nearing its end and the fight for seizing control of the poll-bound Uttar Pradesh is getting harsher and harsher. Political players are considering elections as the decider before the big fight – Lok Sabha polls in 2014.



Although stakes are high for regional parties like the ruling Bahujan Samaj Party and Samajwadi Party, they are even higher for Congress as Rahul Gandhi has been devoting all his energies in revitalising the party in the state. He has also embarked on a yatra from November 14.

Interestingly, Team Anna had also conducted yatras in the state and threatened to intensify its agitation against Congress if the Lokpal Bill is not passed in the Winter Session of Parliament.
Not to be left behind, Samajwadi Party supremo Mulayam Singh Yadav’s son Akhilesh Yadav is also on a state-wide yatra to highlight what his party terms as the misrule of Mayawati. Apart from its ‘Jan Swabhiman Yatras` in Uttar Pradesh, BJP has decided to hold a series of agitations, including `jal yatras`, ahead of the Assembly Elections in the state.



In the season of political yatras, Congress is not far behind its rivals. The grand old party has announced that it will hold Jan Sampark Yatras in Uttar Pradesh. The importance being accorded to ‘Mission UP’ can be gauged from the fact that Rahul Gandhi would himself be spearheading one of the yatras, aimed to make people aware of the Congress’ development agenda.



The focus of all political parties is on the politically crucial state of Uttar Pradesh, where Assembly polls are being seen as an acid test before the 2014 General Elections. In view of this, tremendous campaigning has begun and every political party is trying to revive its vote base by basing its campaign on factors like corruption, price rise, fuel hike and capitalizing on the anti-graft sentiment among people into votes.

So clearly, these yatras are political gimmicks and raise doubts about whether these will help in finding a solution to the problems, which ail our society. If the political players are really serious on ending corruption, then they must ensure the passage of a strict anti-graft legislation in the Parliament and do all that is needed to alleviate life standards of millions of their countrymen. Otherwise, these yatras will end up as a political tool for attacking and overthrowing political opponents.