Poor Mr Advani
In the last four years, perhaps after his own Jinnah episode, Mr Advani has retreated into himself, writes Karan Thapar.india Updated: Sep 07, 2009 13:09 IST
This is a lament. I grieve for LK Advani. No man of 81 deserves to be demolished by his own misjudgement or the deliberate revelations of once-close colleagues. The beauty of age should be the calm, passionless relinquishing of ambition, desire and striving. This has been denied to Mr Advani.
I don’t know if it was a lapse of memory or a misguided attempt to exculpate, but why did he not clear up the confusion his autobiography or his interviews created about the decision to release terrorists for hostages during the Kandahar hijack? He’s allowed the issue to fester when all that was necessary was a simple clarification.
Yet this is not the only lapse that’s today proving so expensive. Why did he not speak in Jaswant Singh’s defence, even if he knew the majority at Simla would overrule him? And why did he not meet Jaswant Singh to explain or, at least, ease the blow of expulsion? It was the least a 30-year association called for.
Had he done so, I doubt if Jaswant Singh would have poured out his anguish in tittle-tattle interviews. These spiteful stories may not enhance Singh – although no one holds them against him — but they have certainly diminished Mr Advani.
This is not how I want to remember him. Instead, my mind goes back to the past to re-discover the L.K. Advani I learnt to respect.
We first met in 1990. He was Leader of the Opposition and I an unknown journalist about to launch a video magazine. I gingerly asked for an interview for our pilot expecting a resounding refusal. To my surprise he agreed. Later, after people mislead him about the outcome and he snubbed me, he rang to apologise. I’ll never forget what he said: “I was wrong and I apologise. At my age it’s no excuse that I was misled”.
This story encapsulates two of Advani’s finest qualities — his willingness to make time for inexperienced but determined journalists and the strength to say sorry when he realises he’s wrong.
Over the years that followed I must have done a dozen interviews with him. Many, if not most, were aggressive. There were even a few he considered ‘hostile’. But he never held that against me and, except right at the end, he never refused to give another.
Way back in 1993, Mani Shankar Aiyar, who had seen an Advani interview on Eyewitness and thought I had got the better of him, telephoned to compliment and then added: “You’ll never get another interview from this man. Don’t even try.”
Mani was totally wrong. What he did not realise — and, at the time, I did not know — is that Mr Advani does not shy away from tough questioning. In fact, it used to bring out the best in him.
Alas, all that is past. In the last four years — perhaps after his own Jinnah episode — Mr Advani has retreated into himself. I don’t know what he’s like with others but from the interviews he’s given me I can tell he’s changed. He even walked out of the last one, something he’s never done before despite worse provocation.
Yet he instinctively had the right response the day the election results were announced. His decision to step down was graceful and decorous. I can’t recall any other Indian politician similarly raising his personal stature at a moment of painful defeat. If only he had not changed his mind.