When I started reporting in India, I had the same ideas as most western journalists : secularism, as practiced by Jawarlahal Nehru, was the best policy for India, given its caste and religion differences; Islam was a peaceful religion; and there were also Hindu fanatics.
But I had been given three boons by the Lord: I spent the first seven years of my life in India far from Delhi (in Pondicherry); I read Sri Aurobindo extensively and discovered that he had a towering mind, educated in the West, but Himalayan in its breadth; & I started freelancing in the South, which is much softer, much more attuned to its culture and spirituality than northern India.
Thus, when I interviewed K.R. Malkani, then one of the spokespersons of the BJP in 1988, I went there thinking I would get a Hindu ‘nationalist’ spiel. I was surprised to find a very cultured man, who spoke softly and courteously. And funniest of all, most of the things he said made sense and reminded me of what Sri Aurobindo had written nearly a hundred years before. Thus I became, probably the only ever western correspondent sympathetic to the BJP (Mark Tully, who has an intuition of Hinduism, always remained too British and too Christian to cross that threshold).
I met LK Advani in Jaipur in 1989 and took an instant liking to him: his forthrightness, Spartan simplicity and forceful thoughts. I remember in these days, there were only 3 pillars of the BJP: Advani, MM Joshi and Vajpayee. I was never very impressed by Mr Vajpayee, though no doubt he was a consensus man and an able statesman: but both the times I interviewed him one to one, I found that he had no knowledge about the world and nothing much of interest to say. But I had a lot of admiration for Mr Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi. Both demonstrated that they had guts: MM Joshi by raising the Indian flag in Srinagar in 1992, which at that time was made fun by the entire Indian media; and LK Advani by breaking a jinx : Muslims destroyed hundreds of thousands, if not millions of temples in india, but he was the one who had the guts to destroy that one mosque, abandoned as it was. It was a symbolic message of the Hindu renaissance.
The pity is that these three kept each other neutralized: MM Joshi and LK Advani have hated each other for the last 20 years and Vajpayee made sure that Advani always remained N°2 in the BJP.
I however always though that L.K. Advani’s reputation as a fanatic hardliner and a hawk was misplaced: I have spent many moments in his home and I have never heard him raise his voice. In fact, I doubt he ever hit someone in his life: he is very much a family man, dedicated to his wife Kamla and daughter Pratibha, both of them remarkably intelligent. In fact, it often struck me that these two women were the two biggest influences in his life.
Wen the BJP again lost the last elections in 2009, I met Mr Advani shortly thereafter alone in his office & he firmly told me: “it’s time for me to retire from politics”. I believed him then: Advani is a quiet man, whatever the press says, he likes to read, think, watch films and spend quality time with his family.
Yet today, he is clearly positioning himself as the BJP PM candidate for 2014 and that is wrong. For one, he will be 87 at the beginning of his mandate and 92 at the end of it, when most of the leaders in other parts of the world are in their fifties or even forties. Secondly, he is wrecking the chances of the BJP, because, whether it is fair or not, he does not have a good image with the electorate. Thirdly, as usual, in the true tradition of Hindu disunity, he is stabbing in the back Narendra Modi, the only man who has a chance to beat Rahul Gandhi and bring the BJP back to power. Fourthly, however much I liked LK Advani, when he was Home minister and deputy PM, he did not do better than the Congress: neither did he help the poor Tibetans as he had promised, nor did he show any iron hand in Kashmir, nor did he stand up to the Chinese. In fact he did nothing except trying to project a goody image of himself and the BJP.
For all these reasons, I , who has been the one and only western correspondent friend of the BJP in all these years say:
DEAR MR ADVANI, PLEASE BE TRUE TO YOUR WORD AND STEP DOWN FROM THE BJP, SO AS TO LEAVE THE PLACE TO NARENDRA MODI, WHO NOT ONLY SHOWED THAT HE DOES THIBGS BY MAKING OF GUJARAT A MODEL FOR ALL OTHER INDIAN STATES, BUT ALSO IS THE ONLY CHANCE OF THE BJP IN THE NEXT ELECTIONS
PS It does not help that LK Advani refused point blank to help the Shivaji Maharaj Museum of Indian History, Pune. If there ever was a Museum dedicated to the Hindus, it was this one