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  • WHY LK ADVANI IS A TRULY SPECIAL POLITICIAN FOR ME

    Posted On February 11, 2024

    By Karan Thapar

    I have no doubt the BJP politician I have got to know best – and through him his family – is Lal Krishna Advani. There was a time when I had clearly won his confidence and, on odd occasions, he would even accept my advice. In the process, he allowed me a glimpse into the secret inner workings of Indian politics.

     

    Now that he’s been conferred the Bharat Ratna I want to recount my first interview with him. It captures the qualities that make him a truly special politician. Someone who is frank and forthright in his speech but also willing to acknowledge mistakes and, even, apologize for them. I know of very few other politicians in India like him.

     

    The interview happened in 1990 when Advani was Leader of the Opposition and I an unknown journalist recently returned to India. It was intended for the inaugural episode of the Hindustan Times’s Eyewitness. The interview took place on a pleasant December afternoon at his Pandara Park residence. It wasn’t very long, probably just ten minutes. Here is an excerpt from our discussion.

     

    KT: “If you had the power would you want to make India a Hindu country? Officially a Hindu country?”

     

    LKA: “I believe this is a Hindu country like England is a Christian country. Nothing more, nothing less.”

     

    “A lot of people will think you’re playing with words. What therefore is the meaning of Hindutva? You stand for Hindutva, don’t you? You’re in favour of it?”

     

    “I stand for nationalism, pure and simple. But I do believe nationalism denuded of its Hindu content is meaningless. That’s all.”

     

    “Let’s be very specific. Are you for a secular India or a Hindu India?”

     

    “Unequivocally and unreservedly. I stand for a secular India …”

     

    “That’s where the problem comes Mr. Advani. Most people perceive a sharp contradiction between Hindutva, which you’re in favour of, and secularism, which you’re also in favour of. You’re trying to bridge something that most people think isn’t bridgeable.”

     

    “It’s like Lokmanya Tilak, like Gandhi. It’s not like Nehru …. Or Sardar Patel whose conception of secularism was like what I believe. In the last four decades it’s electoral expediency that has distorted perspectives.”

     

    “What about your attitude to India’s hundred million muslims? Would you accept personally that they are an inalienable part of this country?”

     

    “Absolutely. Absolutely. Unreservedly.”

     

    “Am I to believe then that personally you would be completely against the VHP’s claim that some 3,000 muslim mosques should be demolished and temples built in their place instead?”

     

    “I’m opposed to it.”

     

    “Totally?”

     

    “Totally.”

     

    Read that again, if necessary, and notice the firmness of the questions and the candour of the replies. I don’t believe a similar conversation would be possible today with any of Advani’s successors. They simply wouldn’t tolerate it. They’d walk away.

     

    However, what followed the interview was even more telling. When I next met him, I asked Advani what he thought of the interview. He tersely said he’d been told it was a travesty. Then he abruptly turned and walked away.

     

    Stunned by his behaviour, I sent him a VHS of the interview and asked him to see it for himself. I was confident that he had been misled.

     

    Weeks, actually months, went by without any response. I gave up expecting one. Then, suddenly, late one summer evening the phone rang. It was L. K. Advani.

     

    “Karan, I have just seen the interview and there was absolutely nothing wrong with it. I was clearly misinformed. However, I’m too old to make that excuse and I’m afraid I behaved badly when we last met. I’m ringing to apologize.”

     

    This unhesitating willingness to accept a mistake is, perhaps, Advani’s greatest quality and immediately attracted me to him. Again, there are very few Indian politicians – perhaps a handful – who are strong enough to admit mistakes and apologize unreservedly. Whatever else you may think of him – and I accept others have different views – it takes a good man to do this.


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