Lal Krishna Advani is trapped inside an image. In the art
works of professional demonologists, it is an image incompatible
with the drawing room aesthetics of left-liberal India.
So, many variations of Advani continue to dominate and divide
Indian politics. The nationalist who borrows his rhetorical
wares from the black markets of mythology to win his argument
with the present. The aggrieved Hindu who never stops returning
to the imaginary sites of cultural vandalism.
The divisive mobiliser on the right whose lasting legacy
is as a catalyst to the demolition of India’s secular
edifice. The man who has sought the true meaning of genuine
secularism, as against pseudo-secularism, at the mausoleum
of the founder of an Islamic Republic. The hawk who pretends
to have a heart. Post-Ayodhya, Advani has never been painted
This project in demonisation by the self-righteous majority
has not bothered him. That is what he says when you meet
him at 30 Prithviraj Road, his official residence.
Well, as he walks into the drawing room, which is a pictorial
celebration of his family values, you can’t miss,
in spite of that avuncular affability, the confidence of
a man who has already won the argument.
And he looks relieved: at last he has become the narrator
of his life story. Perhaps, he has been waiting for this
moment: Advani redeemed by himself. My Country, My Life
(Rupa & Co., 980pp, Rs 595) is the memoirs of a political
leader whose life runs parallel to the spasmodic evolution
of independent India. It is the testament of one of India’s
most misunderstood politicians—and the one who could
be the next prime minister.
His first encounter with the idea of the nation happened
when he, at 14, walked from a tennis ground to an RSS shakha
in Karachi. A matriculate from the city’s St Patrick’s
High School for Boys, he enjoyed books, movies and cricket.
And for this English speaking, middle-class boy whose second
language was Latin, enlisting as a swayamsevak was not a
He joined the RSS on June 20, 1942. “From that day
till now, for 65 long years, I have remained a devoted,
committed and proud swayamsevak of the Sangh.”
And it was Karachi that set the stage for another life-transforming
encounter. Every Sunday evening in his last three years
in the city, he would go to the Ramakrishna Mission Ashram
to listen to Swami Ranganathananda’s discourses on
religion and politics.
Their last conversation was about Partition and the role
of Jinnah. “Swamiji, in particular, lauded Jinnah’s
historic speech in the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan
on August 11, 1947 and said, “The true exposition
of the meaning of secularism can be found in this speech.”
In a subconscious way, this last conversation with Swamiji
was to play a decisive contributory role in my own remarks
about Jinnah when I went to Pakistan in May-June 2005.”
At 20, he would bid goodbye to the city that initiated him
into Hindu nationalism; almost a month after Independence,
a BOAC propeller aircraft would take him to Delhi. Advani’s
first yatra began as a refugee. In a partitioned India,
there would be more adventurous journeys for the nationalist
conditioned by the Sangh and the Swami. (Either of them
won’t be there to protect him when he returns to have
a rendezvous with a secular Jinnah.)
The formation of Bharatiya Jana Sangh by Shyama Prasad Mookerjee,
a formidable mind, would mark Advani’s formal entry
into nationalist politics.
“When I look back and ask myself what I learnt from
various inspiring sources, the answer I get is this: from
the RSS I received my grounding in nationalism and disciplined
service of society; Deendayal Upadhyaya inculcated within
me great idealism and a realisation of the need for purity
and probity in public life; and from Dr Mookerjee I learnt
the indispensability of value-based democracy as a vehicle
for nation building.”
Those were the days of idealism. And politics was all about
romancing the nation. It was the only rejoinder the nationalists
could offer to the Congress. He could afford to be a conviction
politician without being reduced to an ideological extremist.
The nationalist’s struggle against power reached a
critical stage when the totalitarian temptations of Mrs
G culminated in the declaration of the Emergency. The imprisonment
of Advani and other “enemies of the state” made
them the consciencekeepers of a country without justice.
My Country, My Life chronicles in anecdotal richness the
origin, rise and the inevitable disintegration of the Janata
Party, the first effective counterpoint to Congressism.
Advani tells the story as witness and participant. The Janata
experiment in power was a huge let-down. And the expulsion
of Advani and other Jana Sanghis from the Janata and the
subsequent formation of BJP set the first notation of bipolarity
in Indian politics.
The party would, of course, grow beyond Gandhian socialism
and integral humanism. It would need displaced gods as electoral
allies. Advani, the quintessential organisation man, would
semaphore them to the polling booth. BJP in power owed a
great deal to the longdistance traveller of Hindutva.
In the wake of Ayodhya, the memoirist makes a great polemical
effort to strike a balance between his individual sadness
and the mass Hindu awakening: “A group of kar sevaks
delivered their own verdict on some of the seminal questions
of Indian history, both medieval and modern.
Ram or Babar? Genuine secularism or pseudo-secularism? Justice
for all or always appeasement of some? Are Hindus to perpetually
remain divided on caste, regional and linguistic lines or
should they unite when fundamental challenges confront faith
It is not my claim that December 6 answered all these questions
in the most satisfactory manner. But it did mark a day of
Hindu awakening of truly historic import.” No one
bothered to listen to his version of the truth then. He
had already become a synonym for the savagery of the saffron.
Ayodhya was a great hurt; in so many words, he vindicates
himself, but without ceasing to be a Hindu who fights for
Still, the question remains: was BJP in power the happiest
moment in his life? The book doesn’t provide a definitive
answer. And that is not his intention either. Then remember
that My Country, My Life is the autobiography of a man who
has been defined not by power but by his struggle for or
That is why Ayodhya and his audacious appraisal of Jinnah
are much more engaging than his stint as a cabinet minister.
For, BJP-in-power was essentially a Vajpayee moment, in
spite of Advani’s hard work in mobilisation. His memoirs
come to us at a time when he is no longer the proverbial
number two but the singular leader of his party—and
its prime ministerial candidate.
And the man who emerges out of the narrative is a refined
reconciler who has the words and the intellectual means
to be a philosopher king. We have not seen him before. Will
the allies and grassroots colleagues elsewhere in the states
recognise him when he steps out of the pages into the battlefield?
Some political memoirs are projects in mythmaking. This
one is a declaration of independence from the mythology
of Advani the smiling zealot. One book that transformed
his life was Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends &
Influence People. Never challenge others in an argument
beyond a point, it taught him. With My Country, My Life,
Advani is certain to win friends and influence India without
losing the argument.