March - April 2004
Bharat Uday Yatra was the fourth major yatra nationwide undertaken by Shri L.K. Advani. This explicitly election-oriented road campaign took place in March-April 2004 in the run-up to the elections to the 14th Lok Sabha. These elections had been advanced by about five months from September-October to April-May 2004.
Why were the elections advanced? As the Government of Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee entered the last year of its five-year term in September-October 2003, the BJP certainly found the situation encouraging. The Prime Minister’s popularity was at an all-time high. The economy was on the upswing. The steadily swelling foreign reserves had, for the first time, crossed the psychologically significant barrier of $100 billion, a far cry indeed from the time in 1990 when forex reserves were so low that India had been forced to mortgage its gold to tide over a severe balance of payment crisis.
Another national accomplishment was when India’s GDP growth in the second quarter of 2003 was recorded at 8.4 per cent. It belied Sonia Gandhi’s taunting criticism of the NDA government’s economic policies in her speech while moving a no-confidence motion during the monsoon session of Parliament, in which she had made fun of the target of an eight per cent GDP growth, likening it to ‘Mungeri Lal ke haseen sapne’ (pipe dreams of Mungeri Lal1). The fruits of many bold decisions and pioneering initiatives taken earlier, such as construction of a nationwide network of world-class highways, were becoming visible. The telecom revolution had taken off in a big way, thanks to a bold policy reform in 1999. And because of the stunning progress in the information technology sector, India was being hailed as a ‘Software Superpower’.
Throughout the period between 1999 and 2003, the main Opposition party, Congress, did not appear to be quite vibrant. Indeed, the BJP won impressive victories in the assembly elections held in October 2003 in three big states where the Congress had incumbent governments—Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan. The BJP’s success in these three states gave its leadership the confidence to consider advancing the elections to the 13th Lok Sabha, due in September 2004. According to Shri Advani, “Our confidence was further buttressed by media reports and opinion polls which predicted a comfortable win for the BJP-led NDA, if elections were held in the first half of 2004.”
On the recommendation of the Prime Minister, President Dr A.P.J. Abdul Kalam dissolved the 13th Lok Sabha on 6 February. Shri Advani writes in his autobiography: “As far as the BJP and the NDA were concerned, two issues needed to be settled: The plank on which we would seek a renewed mandate; and the nature of our campaign. The first question was easily answered: Atalji’s proven stewardship. The people had seen and hailed him as a visionary leader who not only provided stability but had taken India forward on the path of progress and global prestige. Thus, the NDA would seek a mandate for Atalji’s continued leadership of India. The answer to the second question, regarding the nature of the campaign, had to take into account an important factor: because of the two knee operations that Atalji had undergone in 2002, his mobility had become somewhat restricted. Therefore, I had to shoulder a major responsibility of the campaign. My colleagues suggested that my campaign should be in the nature of a nationwide road journey. This suggestion, which I readily accepted, was crystallised in the form of the Bharat Uday Yatra, a thirty-three-day-long, 8,500-kilometres drive covering, in two stages, as many as 121 Lok Sabha constituencies in sixteen states.”
Seeking a renewed mandate
The yatra was flagged off in Kanyakumari on 10 March and reached Amritsar on 25 March. Five days later, it resumed from Rajkot and culminated at Jagannath Puri on 14 April. Shri Advani writes: “Bharat Uday Yatra brought me immense satisfaction, reinforcing my conviction from the experience of previous yatras that, for a genuine mass contact programme, there is nothing better for a political leader than a road journey. It enabled me to talk to the people, meet them, and establish that special emotional connection which is the soul of democracy. The response to the Bharat Uday Yatra was almost uniformly good. I addressed hundreds of meetings in which I expounded my views on the various issues that the election had thrown up.”
Shri Advani’s speeches during the yatra had a common theme: “This election is all about who should lead India, and with what vision. The Congress has nothing to offer to the country on both counts. On the contrary, Atal Bihari Vajpayee has shown both leadership and vision. He has also proved that India need not depend only on the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty for stable governance and able leadership. Our government has done much in the past six years, and the results of our performance are there for the people to see. But there is a large unfinished agenda, which can be summed up in one slogan: To make India a Developed Nation by 2020. The realisation of this slogan requires good governance, stability and continuation of Atalji’s leadership.”
Shock defeat in the elections
The NDA suffered a shock defeat in the elections. The people voted for a hung Parliament, in which no single party or pre-poll alliance secured a majority on its own. However, the Congress
emerged as the single largest party with 145 seats (out of the 400 seats from which it contested). The BJP could win only 138 seats (out of the 364 constituencies from where it contested). The difference was, apparently, marginal. But the party’s tally had come down from 182 in 1999. The fall in the NDA’s strength was even more debilitating: from 304 in 1999 to 186 in 2004. In contrast, the number of MPs belonging to the Congress and its pre-poll allies was 216. A Congress-led Government of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) came into being, with outside support from sixty-two MPs belonging to the CPI(M) and three other Left parties.
Criticism of ‘India Shining’ and ‘Feel Good Factor’
Two phrases ― ‘India Shining’ and ‘Feel Good Factor’― got inadvertently associated with the Bharat Uday Yatra. In the months before the yatra, the NDA Government had launched an advertisement campaign on the theme of ‘India Shining’ to highlight India’s achievements in the economic field. Around the same time, an ad campaign by a corporate house popularized the phrase ‘Feel Good Factor’ to reflect the upbeat mood in the country.
Although Bharat Uday means ‘India Rising’, and not ‘India Shining’, the media projected the Bharat Uday Yatra as ‘India Shining Yatra’.
After the NDA’s defeat in the elections, many commentators criticized the ‘India Shining’ campaign and identified it as one of the contributory factors. Conceding this point, Shri Advani writes in his autobiography:
“The phraseology of ‘India Shining’ and ‘Feel Good Factor’ hurt us. These phrases, though valid in themselves in a particular context, were inappropriate for our election campaign. There was indeed a ‘feel good’ atmosphere in the country over the past one year, prior to the 2004 elections, on account of a combination of factors: accelerating economic growth; sound macro-economic management; a good monsoon yielding an all-time high food production; praise for India on account of her shining achievements in sectors such as IT; a sharp dip in incidents of cross-border terrorism; the long-hoped for turnaround in the situation in Jammu & Kashmir and the North-East; and anticipation of a new chapter of peace and cooperation with Pakistan. However, by making the ‘Feel Good Factor’ and ‘India Shining’ the verbal icons of our election campaign, we gave an opportunity to our political opponents to highlight other aspects of India's contemporary reality — poverty and uneven development, unemployment among the youth, problems faced by farmers, etc., which questioned our claim.”