A top leader of India’s main opposition party plans to travel across the country as part of a nationwide campaign against corruption. The issue has made headlines in India, where an anti-corruption crusade by civil society campaigners has attracted huge public support.
As supporters chanted slogans, the Bharatiya Janata Party’s senior leader, Lal Krishna Advani, climbed atop a platform erected on a bus and set off on a 38-day journey in Bihar state.
Advani begins his journey through India at a time when there is massive anger against what is perceived as a culture of widespread political corruption.
Blaming the Congress-led government for growing corruption, the 83-year-old Hindu nationalist leader said he wants to raise public consciousness on the need to clamp down on graft. He says he wants to restore people’s faith in democracy.
Advani says he wants to spread the message in the country that “enough is enough”, and that people will not tolerate corruption any longer.
The opposition leader launched his campaign from a state that is the birthplace of a former Indian socialist leader, who also led a popular campaign in the 1970s against corruption.
Bihar is ruled by a political ally of the BJP, and the state’s chief minister, Nitish Kumar, has been widely praised for improving governance and cracking down on official corruption in one of India’s most backward states.
Advani says the time has come for all political parties to "remove despair and frustration" among common people. He says the BJP and its political allies will raise consciousness about the need for clean politics and good governance.
But he faces an uphill task. Analysts point out that it is not just the Congress-led federal government that faces charges of not being serious about checking corruption. The BJP is also accused of being soft on graft, and a chief minister of a BJP-ruled state - Karnataka - resigned in July after he was alleged to have been involved in illegal mining.
The ruling Congress Party says Advani's campaign is a ploy to force mid-term elections, which are not due until 2014.
Analysts say the anti-corruption crusade signals the opposition’s efforts to capitalize on an issue that has taken center stage in the public debate in India. One of India most politically significant states, Uttar Pradesh, is due to hold state elections next year.
In the last year, corruption has become a top public concern, and a civil society movement pressing for tougher laws to check graft has won massive support in recent months.
Some of India’s top business leaders have also joined the chorus for good governance.
In an open letter to “our leaders” on Monday, the corporate leaders said "almost every interface of the common man with public officials is impaired by corruption." They called for reforms in areas such as the judiciary, police and land acquisition.
This is the second letter by the group, whose first call for better governance in January caused some surprise in a country where business leaders have mostly remained silent on public issues.
Some see Advani’s journey as an attempt to project himself as a candidate for the prime minister’s post if his party comes to power in the 2014 elections.
The nationwide campaign, or “yatra,” he has launched is not his first. In 1990, he undertook a similar journey in support of building a Hindu temple at a spot where a Muslim mosque stood in Uttar Pradesh. The campaign was blamed for inflaming passions and leading to the destruction of the mosque by Hindu mobs.