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The untold Advani story

By KARAN THAPAR Hindustan Times | Friday, 28 March 2008

Perhaps, this is self-indulgence, but I’m going to elaborate on a little footnote in history. Now that L. K. Advani has mentioned it in his memoirs and spoken of it in interviews, I feel I can tell the full story. LKA was not “the hidden hand” that sabotaged the Agra Summit of 2001. He was its architect. How do I know? I helped set it up, although I wasn’t “the intermediary” Advani generously calls me.

The story goes back to 1998. At the time, Ashraf Qazi was Pakistan’s high commissioner and a close friend. Eager to establish a personal rapport with the NDA government, he asked if I would help. George Fernandes was my initial choice and I set up a few meetings, usually over quiet dinners at my home. They worked magnificently. Fernandes and Qazi became friends and learnt to trust each other.

“I’d like to meet Mr. Advani,” Ashraf announced one day in early 2000. George Fernandes arranged the meeting and I was asked to drive Ashraf to Advani’s Pandara Road residence. It was fixed for 10:00 p.m. No one else was informed.

Ashraf had no idea how long the meeting would last. “Don’t go far,” he warned. “I’ll ring your mobile as soon as it’s over.” I sat outside in the car expecting him in half an hour. He stayed 90 minutes.

Over the next year, there were perhaps twenty such clandestine meetings. The vast majority were at night. I was the chauffeur and the guards at Pandara Road were only given my name. Soon, a routine was established. The two As would disappear into Advani’s study. I would sit with Mrs. Advani and Pratibha. When their conversation was over, they’d join us for a cup of tea.

The only person who stumbled upon this — but I don’t think he worked it out — was Sudheendra Kulkarni. In those days, he was Vajpayee’s speech writer. His association with Advani was yet to begin. At the very first meeting, he walked in, unannounced, to deliver papers, but fortunately, didn’t stay. Two weeks later, when the second meeting was underway and I’d parked under a streetlight in Khan Market, Sudheendra, emerging from a Chinese restaurant, recognised me.

Perhaps, this is self-indulgence, but I’m going to elaborate on a little footnote in history. Now that L. K. Advani has mentioned it in his memoirs and spoken of it in interviews, I feel I can tell the full story. LKA was not “the hidden hand” that sabotaged the Agra Summit of 2001. He was its architect. How do I know? I helped set it up, although I wasn’t “the intermediary” Advani generously calls me.

The story goes back to 1998. At the time, Ashraf Qazi was Pakistan’s high commissioner and a close friend. Eager to establish a personal rapport with the NDA government, he asked if I would help. George Fernandes was my initial choice and I set up a few meetings, usually over quiet dinners at my home. They worked magnificently. Fernandes and Qazi became friends and learnt to trust each other.

“I’d like to meet Mr. Advani,” Ashraf announced one day in early 2000. George Fernandes arranged the meeting and I was asked to drive Ashraf to Advani’s Pandara Road residence. It was fixed for 10:00 p.m. No one else was informed.

Ashraf had no idea how long the meeting would last. “Don’t go far,” he warned. “I’ll ring your mobile as soon as it’s over.” I sat outside in the car expecting him in half an hour. He stayed 90 minutes.

Over the next year, there were perhaps twenty such clandestine meetings. The vast majority were at night. I was the chauffeur and the guards at Pandara Road were only given my name. Soon, a routine was established. The two As would disappear into Advani’s study. I would sit with Mrs. Advani and Pratibha. When their conversation was over, they’d join us for a cup of tea.

The only person who stumbled upon this — but I don’t think he worked it out — was Sudheendra Kulkarni. In those days, he was Vajpayee’s speech writer. His association with Advani was yet to begin. At the very first meeting, he walked in, unannounced, to deliver papers, but fortunately, didn’t stay. Two weeks later, when the second meeting was underway and I’d parked under a streetlight in Khan Market, Sudheendra, emerging from a Chinese restaurant, recognised me.