Walk the Talk

By Shekhar Gupta NDTV 24x7 | Sunday, 23 March 2008

Transcript of L.K. Advani's interview with The Indian Express Editor-in-Chief Shekhar Gupta on NDTV 24x7’s

Welcome to Walk the Talk. And let me remind you of a coincidence: Walk the Talk started exactly five years ago to the date, on a Good Friday morning, and the guest that day was Mr L.K. Advani, the then deputy prime minister. Mr Advani is back on the programme today, this time as the Leader of the Opposition, basking in the glory of his autobiography (My Country, My Life). Mr Advani, do you remember a little conversation we had that time: you underlined the fact that it was Good Friday and linked it to the time the Janata Party broke up and you said, ‘This is the day of crucifixion, and two days later there’ll be a resurrection.’

I’ve repeated this analogy many times. I started it when I visited Kerala for the first time, after the formation of the BJP, and I could see that in the audience there were many Christians, who would understand it more precisely than the others. And I pointed out that it was on Good Friday that the formal resolution throwing us out of the Janata Party was passed, and that I regarded that as an attempt to crucify us, saying that we were communal and that so long as we were in the Janata Party, it would not grow. And we accepted that crucifixion, and when two days later, on Easter Sunday, the BJP was formally launched, I said, ‘This is the day of Resurrection.’

So if we stretch the metaphor, did you feel you were being crucified, after the electoral defeat, then the Jinnah statement. And is now the time for Resurrection.

No, that was not in any way a crucifixion. I’ll certainly say that it caused me pain.

It was an Inquisition, all right ?

I would not put it that way. I did say that in my entire political life there have been occasions like the hawala (case) also, but those were false accusations made against me by the then government, adversaries. This caused me anguish because it was my own party and my own family, ideological family, which failed to understand what precisely I had said and why.

Will you now explain this. I know it has come up many times, but we have time, so could you put it in perspective.

I would only say that, when I went to Pakistan, all that I had in mind was to carry forward the process started by Atal Bihari Vajpayee when he was prime minister. . . that we are neighbours, so why can’t we have normal relations. But even at that time, he went to Lahore, met Nawaz Sharif who was prime minister, it was a bus ride, and it became historic. But what happened was that, about the same time, his general, without his (Sharif’s) knowledge, managed Kargil. And that, naturally, hurt Vajpayeeji badly. And as Sharif later on told Vajpayeeji, he himself was taken aback (at Kargil).

In fact he said this in a Walk the Talk with me. He put his hand on his heart, and said, ‘I want to tell Mr Vajpayee that I didn’t betray him.

I’m aware of it. But this is also true: those days, the Pakistan High Commissioner in Delhi had been meeting me quite often.

Mr Riyaz Khokhar, who is otherwise known to be a difficult guy, a hawk.

I don’t know. He used to meet me, and I asked him, ‘What kind of a person is this general?’ He said, ‘I’m a foreign service man, I don’t know.’ Then I discussed it with Vajpayeeji, and said, ‘He (the general) is not a political person. He’s an army man, and who knows what his response would be to an invitation from you? It may be different from that of normal leaders.’ It was a gamble (inviting Gen Pervez Musharraf). It wasn’t a decision taken in the Ministry of External Affairs or in the PMO. It was a decision taken between the two of us. And the National Security Adviser at that time said later in an interview that it was not a decision taken at the government level, it was a decision taken by the two leaders.

And there also, you were the prime mover.

I was.

Do you have any regrets.

No, not at all.

Do you think it was a mistake.

The fact that there was desire on my part that there should be normal relations is only underlined by the fact that I did it. Because many people said, ‘You have always been against Pakistan. You have always been against Muslims. You have always been this way and that way.’ I said, ‘Well, I cannot compromise with the nation’s security and so, it was clear in my view, that if there is to be an agreement in Agra, it can be only if Gen Musharraf denounces cross-border terrorism. And if he fails to do that . . .’

You show disappointment with Gen Musharraf (on Agra) in your book. So, were you prepared, that he’s a general, he’s an unknown quantity, so let’s see what happens?

No, my first meeting with him indicated to me that he’s a difficult person so far as issues related to Indian interests are concerned. That was a conversation focused on doubt. You may recall that I had returned from Turkey and I opened my conversation with him, after the usual St Patrick’s High School and all that, with, ‘I have just come back from Turkey, and I understand that you spent your childhood in Turkey, and you can speak Turkish very fluently.’ He said, ‘Yes, that’s true, my father was posted there.’ And I said, ‘I’d like to tell you that I’d been to Turkey to sign an extradition treaty. Now, when I meet you, I start thinking what need have we for an extradition treaty with Turkey? But if an extradition treaty is needed, it is with you, with Pakistan.’ Then I added, ‘Tomorrow, of course, you’ll be discussing many things with the prime minister in Agra, but I, as a home minister, would suggest, why can’t we have an Indo-Pak extradition treaty?’ And his reply was, ‘Why not?’ He said that unguardedly, but the next sentence that I said, ‘That will mean that criminals hiding in the other country will have to be restored to the country they belong to. But I’ve also seen that countries that are friendly, those who do not want crimes to occur, even without extradition treaties, readily shift criminals to the other country.’ And I said, ‘I’d be very happy if you could hand over Dawood (Ibrahim Kaskar), who is responsible for the killing of so many in India.’ He was totally taken aback. And his first reaction was, in a way, an offensive remark. He said, ‘Mr Advani, this is small tactics.’ These are the words he used.

Minor tactics, that’s a very fauji expression.

Small tactics. My reaction was, ‘General, you are a man of the army. Naturally, your thinking is on the lines of what is the right strategy, what are the right tactics. I’m a man who has been in public life, and I can tell you that it’s not a small thing. The day Gen Musharraf decides to hand over Dawood to India, every citizen in the country will start thinking, “For the first time, Pakistan has a leader who is totally different from the earlier leaders.” You cannot imagine how you will touch the chord of every Indian.’

Did you find him capable of thinking big, thinking out of the box.

No, by that time he had recollected himself, and said with a straight face, ‘Well, Mr Advani, let me tell you, Dawood is not in Pakistan.’ I didn’t pursue it. That was not the idea.

You saw Musharraf from close then. I bet you got a lot of insight, understanding, on him, at least from people who keep track of such things, when you were in government. And you’ve seen him subsequently. Describe him in two sentences, one, what do you find remarkably good about him, and two, what do you find remarkably disappointing about him.

I would say that he’s not a fundamentalist. But he has an obsession that, as leader of Pakistan, he has to take back Kashmir. His obsession is with Kashmir. It’s still there. It’s still there because even after the January 2004 joint statement with Pakistan, made with Vajpayee, I see no attempt being made to undo the infrastructure of terrorism that has been created. That’s still there, and that is kept as a kind of a reserve.

But isn’t that now striking back at Pakistan, the same infrastructure?

Yes, I’ve always held that the Puranic katha of Bhasmasur has a relevance to all countries, all times: that if you create a Bhasmasur, you may create it targeting someone else, but that Bhasmasur will start targeting you, the creator.

Do you see, now with its current problems, with more security men being killed in Pakistan in three months than in a year in India, if we leave out the Naxalites, do you think now there’ll be a fundamental change? Or that a fundamental change will be forced on them?

I don’t know. It all depends on the thinking of the leadership. It depends upon who comes to power now. It depends upon the relations the new power set-up has with the general. And what is the attitude of the army. I remember Benazir Bhutto telling me, ‘Your country has been a successful democracy, we have not been.’ She identified two factors that have contributed to this situation: Firstly, that the Indian army is apolitical, completely. And secondly, India has a totally independent election commission. These are the two factors that have ensured the success of democracy in this country. I would say that the third factor is the culture and tradition of this country, which has not only toleration for a different point of view, but actually respects all different points of view.

But that culture, political culture, was also given to us by Jawaharlal Nehru, and we have to be grateful to him for that.

I have praised Nehru for that but I don’t think this analysis is very relevant to modern times. My own assessment is that tolerance for a different point of view is imperative in a democracy but intolerance in the field of religion is common all through the world. It is only in India, that the culture has been such, the tradition has been such, that even a person like Charvak, who propounded rank atheism and materialism, he also was described as a rishi. He was not tried. In the West . . .

He basically promoted hedonism.

Yes, in the West, even scientists have been persecuted.

Since we are on Musharraf, and terrorism, one question that has never been answered, the Kandahar hijack. Do you now regret that we made too much of a concession? Because every time you raise questions about this (UPA) government’s record on terrorism, Kandahar is brought back.

It is brought back by people who themselves suggested it. I don’t remember exactly who was present, but there was an all-party meeting after the incident, and the general advice given to the government was, ‘You decide, how to deal with the issue, the crisis. But from our side, the safety of the passengers should be the first priority.’

Did the Congress also say that?

I don’t remember that but the general . . .

But where was the need for (Union External Affairs Minister) Jaswant Singh to go on that plane?

That’s a side issue.

But that’s now become a central issue, because. . .

They have made it a central issue. He thought there would be other diplomats also there and he’d be able to answer things best there. But I have always said I was not happy with the decision . . .

Not happy with the decision to release terrorists.

Yes, I was not happy with the decision, but at the same time, the lives of 160 passengers being at stake, and the information we got, which I have mentioned in the book, that they are likely to blow up the plane, if the Government of India doesn’t . . .

Did you ever raise this question with Jaswant Singh, that where was the need for you to go? Because every time you raise questions on this government’s record on terrorism, that will be raised . . .

I don’t think I have to answer. It is he alone who can say precisely.

Have you asked him?

We’ve talked about it occasionally. But I don’t want to say anything. Let him say it, whatever he wants to say.

But looking back, would you say it was a wrong decision? It was avoidable?

I won’t say anything. I’ll only say that it would be fair for him to answer that question. Because this was not related to the decision: the decision was on whether the terrorists should be freed or not. And that was the joint decision by the cabinet committee on security.

But going on the plane was his own decision?

I wouldn’t know that. He must have consulted Vajpayeeji. But that was not an issue at all. And this was also raised by many others much later.

But in which country would an external affairs minister escort on a tiny plane . . . (terrorists being exchanged for hostages).

He was not escorting them, he was trying to bring back the passengers being held hostage. But I don’t think I’m answerable for that. If the cabinet committee on security had taken the decision, I would have been answerable, but it did not.

And you were not consulted on it (his going on the plane).

I did not know about it.

So when did you get to know that he had gone on that plane?

I came to know when he was going.

And did it raise a question in your mind then?

No, it didn’t. After all passengers (held hostage) were to be brought back from there and they were in bad shape.

The foreign secretary could have done that.

Thik hai. But it is not that kind of an issue as our adversaries have made it out to be.

But why has he not answered it yet. He can answer it in one second.

You have greater access to him than me.

He hasn’t answered it. He’s written an autobiography, but says . . . when the time comes . . . there were important issues. He said, ‘I can’t disclose it, and when the time comes, I’ll disclose it.’ So it sounds like there was a very important issue.

I don’t know. I would not know.

Was any money paid (along with the exchange of terrorists for hostages)?

Not at all. If it was, whatever the source of the funds, I would have objected. I would have been shocked. I’m absolutely sure no money was involved.