Theatre directors will tell you that as important as an actor’s entrance is his exit. To leave a lasting impact it has to happen with style. Translated into politics that probably means with grace.
I’ll never forget John Major’s parting words in 1997 when he lost the British election: “When the curtain falls it’s time to leave the stage. Tomorrow I intend to watch cricket.” His political innings may be forgotten but Major’s charm and composure in defeat is unforgettable.
Such an end, it seems, is to be denied to LK Advani. It hardly matters whether fate, or his own folly, contrived to reach this denouement. Ultimately, that’s a detail. What’s tragic is that a great career should fade away in this unfortunate manner.
This is why I’m determined to remember Mr Advani very differently. Today, when his achievements are forgotten and his future under question, I want to share with you why I admire and respect him. No doubt our politics differed but he taught me a lesson I value enormously: no one is too big to say sorry.
The story goes back to our first meeting in 1990. Mr Advani was the leader of the Opposition. I was the producer of a small and as yet unknown video-magazine Eyewitness. He gave me an interview which went off without a hitch. Afterwards he invited me for tea and introduced me to his wife.
However, when we next met, six weeks later, he was indifferent, even cold. “What’s the matter?” I presumptuously asked. “I’m told the interview was a travesty” he bluntly replied.
I hardly knew what to say. The interview had been shown as recorded. If he was happy with the recording what did he find objectionable about the final version? So I sent him a VHS and asked if he had made a mistake.
Months passed without response. Mr Advani, I said to myself, is too high and mighty to bother about little journalists. I resolved to put him out of my mind.
Then, on a hot summer’s night in the middle of 1991, the phone rang. “It’s LK Advani”, the voice on the other side began. “I’ve seen the interview and it was exactly as recorded. I’m sorry I was misled. That shouldn’t have happened. I’ve rung to apologise.”
It was the start of a ‘friendship’ that I valued and enormously benefited from till, foolishly, I ruined it. Over the years that followed Mr Advani gave me more interviews than perhaps anyone else. I got his first as home minister and several as deputy prime minister. More than that, I was always welcome when I called. Mrs Advani and Pratibha made me feel special.
Alas, it all unravelled in 2006 when I did an interview Mr Advani didn’t like. He asked if I would re-do it. I refused. I thought journalistic integrity required a firm stand forgetting I’d only got the interview because I was considered a ‘friend’.
Thereafter our relationship was never the same. Mr Advani continued to take my phone calls and was always courteous but the old link had snapped.
Today I realise I was wrong. Maybe even arrogant, which is worse. And so it’s my turn to apologise. It’s taken me seven years but the memory of Mr Advani’s phone call, made 22 years ago, has given me the strength to say sorry.
Alas, I’m aware it’s now too late. This time, however, I’d really like to be wrong.
Views expressed by the author are personal