INTERVIEWS

Advani gets nostalgic, teary-eyed

By Rajdeep Sardesai CNN-IBN | Wednesday, 19 March 2008

Advani says he and Vajpayee have never been rivals or competitors. A day after the release of his memoir, My Country, My Life, BJP leader L K Advani spoke to CNN-IBN's Editor-in-Chief Rajdeep Sardesai at length about his relationship with former prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, about his memories in Pakistan and about Narendra Modi and BJP leadership.

Hello and welcome to this CNN-IBN Special. My Country My Life is one of the most significant political books of recent times written by one of the most important politicians of our generation - Mr L K Advani, leader of the Opposition and former deputy prime minister, joins us now. It's very rare that politicians while they are active in public life in this country should chose to write a memoir. What really prompted you to do this?

Prompted me or what led me really to do this I would say that my wife Kamla and my daughter Pratibha have been prodding me for quite some time - with your experiences and such a long time in politics behind you why don't you write.

Did you send an invitation to Sonia Gandhi?

Yes I did

And since your wife is the real home minister you could never say no, right?

In a way that's true.

But there were those who have suggested that this was also an attempt to recast your image in a sense. This was an attempt for you to set the record straight but also importantly in a way to recast your image.

I don't know why this is a kind of obsession with the section of the media. I remember that even my Pakistan yatra, which created such a controversy, was attributed to a conscious attempt of mine to recast my image.

Because over the years whenever there are articles written on you or the media talks about you what are the epithets used – Hinduvta hardliner, militant, loha purush - in a sense do you feel you been a victim of an image trap and to that extend this book was important for you to set the record straight?

All that I can say is that this much is true that what I am and what my image has grown into over the years is not identical. I would also say that some people some of the adversaries have consciously tried to demonize me so far as the image is concern. But for example my Pakistan yatra I had not even remotely thought of changing my image. Because that very speech, which created a controversy, had been delivered by me as deputy prime minister while I was in Delhi and it didn't create a controversy, no one commented on it.

Since you have mentioned the Pakistan yatra that's why I am raising this question because there is a feeling that post-Jinah controversy post-Pakistan yatra you mentioned it in your book you felt hurt even anguished by the kind of reaction that it evoked and somehow one felt that Mr Advani was a very different person after that. Did you sort of withdraw into in your cell in a way post that visit?

So far as epithet like hardliner, Hindu fanatic these are never been used by my own colleagues or by my own party or by my own ideological parivar. I felt anguished after Pakistan not because of these phrases but because of my own ideological parivar had failed to understand what I said. But at the same time there was no attempt on my party even on this book to change my image because still those who regard me as a hardliner they will continue to regard me as such.

I think its partly because you are a complex political figure and often we look for black and white figures. On December 6, 1992 at one stage you called it an epoch making day in the life of Indian Hindu at the same time you said it was one of the saddest day of your life. How do you reconcile these two, what many would believe, as conflicting views.

I reconcile these because I have been working with the certain plan with the mission with an objective. In the case of Ayodhya I would say it has been my objective to see that the Ram Temple is build at the place supposed to be the birth place of Ram without violating any law without any violence without any kind of clash between Hindus and Muslims and we would do it peacefully if possible by reconciliation between the two community, if possible by a court verdict, if possible by legislation. These are the ways that we suggested. So much so that even in our manifesto we said it, the party said it that we would respectfully like to shift this structure, which was a mosque at one time to another place and create ram temple there. Now these are views not of Advani these are views of the party.

So your sadness was with the violence but at the same time you believe that it was an epoch making event.

Yes.

The demolition was the epoch making event

You see the reactions which I have quoted of persons like Niraj Choudhary, like Naipaul, like Girilal – all of them. They are thinkers they have no political act to grind.

But you also say and you write in the book 'I am convinced that a befitting temple in Ayodhya is predestined' is that wishful thinking? You were in power for several years you were not able to build the temple. Do you believe that is the chapter, which should be forgotten or you believe it's still relevant?

I have also said it in this book itself. If we had won in 2004 it would have been a reality in few months perhaps.

You write in your chapter on Gujarat. You say that Narendra Modi is a victim of a vilification campaign? Do you see similarities between Narendra Modi and yourself?

No, in my case it is only allegations of the kind that 'his thinking is wrong that he is communal in his thinking; he is Hindu fanatic or Hindu hardliner'. Incase of Narendra Modi the vilification is of a worse kind because it is believed that he deliberately allowed massacres of Muslims to take place. It's not true.

So there is a different. But you are very frank when you speak about differences with Vajpayee ji about seeking Narendra Modi's resignation. You said no and Mr Vajpayee said 'well he may have to resign' Do you in hindsight got it right? Do you see therefore Mr Modi as a possible successor as someone who could succeed you as ideological mascot in the future, as a potential BJP leader of the future?

We have many potential leaders but I have little doubt that a very few of the others have proved their ability in the matter of governance and development as Narendra Modi has already proved. So he has a great potential.

You are not as candid there as you are in the book. You do believe that in that sense that Mr Modi represents an ideology that you believe has a future in this country.

He doesn't have a personal ideology of his own. The ideology is that of the BJP or I can even say the RSS and that ideology is one, which many of us share including myself.

Another complexity that perhaps comes through this book in your character. You are born in Pakistan you write very feelingly about your school and college days in Karachi and yet in later years in public life you are seen as someone who is tough on Pakistan, how do you reconcile this? Are you comfortable with the idea of Pakistan today or does it still trouble you?

The idea of Pakistan does not trouble me in that way. I have said it in Karachi itself when I was asked 'are you in favour of undoing partition'. I said history cannot be turned back we have arrived at a time when both Pakistan and India are sovereign entities but the policies of Pakistan can be perhaps corrected.

You see Pakistan as the enemy country in that sense because you write in the book about Agra, you write about Kargil and one senses that you felt betrayed by Pakistan for example you believe Musharraf lied on Dawood Ibrahim being in Pakistan. So do you believe in that sense Pakistan is the enemy country that Pakistan is not comfortable with the idea of India?

Pakistan is certainly not comfortable with the idea of India and particularly with India democratic secular progressing and growing economically and other ways as it is that makes Pakistan uncomfortable with India but at the same time I do not rule out the possibility of Pakistan and India building up close relationship not of hostility as presently exist but of close relations as relation between two neighbour should be.

Not getting back Dawood Ibrahim as home minister. You write about it. Is that a big regret.

I have mentioned it very candidly in that because cross border terrorism has not started in 1947. It has started in the past few decades.

Do you believe there is still potential for the two countries to come closer together?

Certainly. Had it not been that I would have not advised Vajpayee ji to invite Musharraf to Agra. I did it.

You mentioned Mr Vajpayee is a running thread through this entire biography. It's a remarkable relationship that you share. 50 years two of you have really taken this political movement forward. Your relationship, you said in the book, is based on mutual trust and respect. Do you sometimes feel lonely today that Mr Vajpayee now has taken virtual political sanyas?

I did feel that very strongly and emotionally last evening.

When he was not there at the function.

And when I met him this morning again and presented the book to him.

You get very emotional and I can see the tears welling up in your eyes but do you therefore feel that the media has misread this entire relationship over the years. They have created some kind of antagonism between you and Mr Vajpayee. Because you do mentioned your differences.

Assessment of politics makes main observers media disbelieve that two leaders of merely equal stature in public life can be anything but competitor and rivals. We have never been rivals. I have always respected Vajpayee ji as my leader ever since I came in contact with him. And he also has always trusted me as a colleague.

Today you are in a situation where you are the prime minister in waiting in a sense of the NDA coalition their leader would you still like Mr Vajpayee to be there to contest elections, still be there with you.

I would be happy if that happens. But as I have seen him even today this morning that may be difficult but I do remember that I first announced his name in 1995 that if our party comes to power and if we get a majority our Prime Minister would be Vajpayee. There were several people firstly who criticised for saying so others who were skeptical if I am sincere about it and Vajpayee ji himself spoke to me after the meeting and he said mujhse to puchna chahiye tha. Mujhe puche bina kaise kiya ghosna. ' (You could have asked me? Without asking me how could you announce that?)

So despite the differences that come through this book at times that you had with him on specific policies that mutual trust and respect has never gone.

Never gone.

Defining moment for you in these 60 years. One moment that stands out for you.

I would think that several defining moments. Firstly at the age of 14 when I joined RSS in Hyderabad centre not in Karachi. The second defining moment I would say that when I decided to go on my Rath Yatra from Somnath to Ayodhya. And then it may not be called a defining moment but I think it gave me great strength of character when after being charged with Hawala I decided to resign and to announce that I will not go back to Parliament until I am cleared by a court of law.

You at this function had invited several Congress leaders, not a single one of them turned up. There seems to be a new bitterness and acrimony in Indian politics. Are you seeing this perhaps back to the Emergency days in a sense where there seems to be a bitterness between the Opposition and the Government. Does that trouble you today as someone who has seen Indian politics over the years?

It does trouble.

Are you willing to reach out to Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh and say lets leave the bitterness behind, lets talk across the table whether it's the Indo-US nuclear deal or whether it's a simple book function.

In fact when by chance I happened to meet Rahul at the VIP lounge at Pallam and he came and had a brief conversation with me and with conversation he just put a plain question to me 'where are we moving towards, where are we heading towards I am not talking about the long run but in the immediate' and I replied to him in a very casual manner that only a few days back when I had the met the Prime Minister I had said to him that following the UP verdict of the Assembly the feeling has been growing in political circles that the two mainstream parties are shrinking and caste based parties and regional parties are occupying that space. This is not a happy development. And Rahul himself asked me what should be done about it. And my answer in a very normal manner was the minimum that needs to be done is that the mainstream parties should not regard each other as enemy. But they should regard each other just as political opponents political adversaries.

To start with the forward of the book where Atal Bihar Vajpayee says his best is yet to come. I have to ask you that question. Do you see that as the final chapter in a sense of the book is being Prime Minster the last ambition of a lifetime of public service.

That forward is something which I described yesterday as though he is not here but obviously the forward that he has written is an ashirvad for me.

So is that the last ambition?

I would not say it has ever been my personal ambition but I do believe now that people have seen 6 years of the NDA rule and now they have also seen the UPA Government nearing completion of its 5-year term, the comparison between the two governments, the manner in which these two governments acquitted themselves and the manner of what was achieved in that period and what has been lost in this period – the contrast itself is sure to make the country give a new mandate to the NDA government.