There was nostalgia among admirers of stalwarts Lal Krishna Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi, when the BJP unleashed the list of star campaigners for the Karnataka assembly elections. Neither are they on that list, nor have they been consulted on the southern bastion. Old timers, and even middle-aged party workers, recall the way Advani and Joshi would complete the supreme oratory of Atal Bihari Vajpayee. The former prime minister had the ability to fill the National College grounds in Bengaluru, a favourite ground of his.
Advani and Joshi had the privilege of being star campaigners of the Bharatiya Jana Sangh, and later the Bharatiya Janata Party from 1967 to 2013—a total of 11 elections. Along with Vajpayee, they have a reputation of having clocked the highest campaign miles, even as they repeatedly faced failure. Joshi recalls the way leaders like Deendayal Upadhyaya—the second party president, and a favourite icon of the Modi government—campaigned with candour, sometimes even embarrassing the party candidates. Those were the days when the party had limited funds and leaders travelled by train and in rickety cars. They slept in party offices, or in homes of party workers. Once, Vajpayee spent the night at the Ramlila ground, next to the New Delhi railway station, because it was too late to get transport to the party office.
After the coalition politics of the 1967 assembly elections reduced the clout of the Congress in north India, the Jana Sangh’s finances improved. The party came to power as part of the Janata Party in 1977, with Vajpayee and Advani becoming ministers. The party then paid special attention to the travel comforts of Vajpayee, who had been in poor health during the Emergency. The BJP saw success in Karnataka in 1983, when it won 18 seats in a hung assembly and provided outside support, alongwith the communists, to Ramakrishna Hegde. It took another six elections for the BJP to become the single largest party in Karnataka in 2004, and it won majority, with independents, in 2008. The triumvirate campaigned in all polls till 2004. Vajpayee’s deteriorating health kept him away from the 2008 and 2013 polls, but his two colleagues continued to campaign.
Vajpayee has been ailing for more than a decade; Advani and Joshi, who are fit, are following the Karnataka elections from their Delhi homes. Even state leaders are afraid to seek blessings of these old timers.
Congress chief campaigner Sonia Gandhi might not campaign in Karnataka for health reasons. She had contested and won the Bellary Lok Sabha seat in 1999, being the star campaigner in the elections and bringing the party back to power. She has been a big draw among women, tribals and dalits in the state, especially in the northern districts in the subsequent three assembly elections.