July 29, 2021


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Atal-Advani’s friendship was made by the English


Vinay Sitapati, Political scientist and journalist
If Atal Bihari Vajpayee was a speaker molded by Syama Prasad Mookerjee, then LK Advani was a resident of the cosmopolitan world of Karachi. Deendayal had noticed this specialty of Advani and this was the reason why Advani was brought to Delhi after the 1957 elections. His job was to assist the new MP, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, to mingle with the English-speaking elite in Lutyens’ Delhi. This was their first interaction, which laid the foundation for their six-decade relationship. Advani came to stay at Vajpayee’s official bungalow on Rajendra Prasad Marg near Parliament and started spending time with the new MP. He was accompanied by 22-year-old NM Ghatate, who hailed from the RSS elite. Ghatate’s father was a leader of the RSS and the Hindu Mahasabha. The Sangh Parivar had great respect for his family. So it was only natural that when Ghatate came to Delhi from Nagpur to study law in 1957, he was asked to meet the new Jana Sangh MP. Vajpayee and Ghatate became close friends while Vajpayee and Advani were getting acquainted with each other. Advani later moved to live in a modest room near the BJP office at Ramlila Maidan, but he would meet Vajpayee daily. Advani also continued to assist Vajpayee in research on speeches. He also worked with the Delhi unit of Jana Sangh. He saw how the party of Hindus allied with the Left in 1958 for the Delhi Municipal Corporation elections. Advani, accustomed to viewing politics in fixed molds, was now learning to adjust to others. Gradually, Vajpayee’s association began to affect Gambhir Advani. After that election defeat, both of them went to see Raj Kapoor and Mala Sinha’s film ‘Phir Subah Hogi’. The film’s political themes, the main song written by Sahir Ludhianvi, were critical of Nehru’s unfulfilled promises of India, but this is unlikely to have been the reason why he chose the film. Chances are high that both were enjoying that evening with each other.

Advani and Atal (file photo)

Advani was ‘Netra’
Film was entertainment for Vajpayee, but passion for Advani. In 1960, KR Malkani, editor of the Organizer, asked Advani to write reviews of some films for the magazine. He used to review Hindi films under the name ‘Netra’, but politics reached here too. ‘Netra’ expressed its dissent over Nehru encouraging British filmmaker Richard Attenborough to make efforts to make a film on Gandhi’s life. (The 1982 film won eight Oscars) Netra saw it as a neglect of Indian filmmakers. For the first time, Advani was getting a salary of Rs 350 per month. Advani was also allotted a small house in RK Puram under the quota of journalists. This was Advani’s first real home after leaving his bungalow in Karachi 13 years ago. R Rangarajan of the Indian Express was his neighbor. Every morning, Advani would go to the RSS headquarters in Jhandewalan by scooter and Rangarajan to his office, sitting behind him till Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg. Rangarajan’s historian son Mahesh Rangarajan says that his roles changed later when his father bought the car. Advani would now travel some distance with him by car and then take a bus to Jhandewalan. The third general elections were to be held in February 1962. Vajpayee again contested from Balrampur. In front of him was Congress candidate and freedom fighter Subhadra Joshi. Nehru’s speeches had the effect that Vajpayee lost the election. Deendayal once again appeared to save his career. He gave him a Rajya Sabha ticket to ensure Vajpayee’s continued presence in Parliament.

Advani to be the chairman
By the early 1970s, the pairing of Advani and Vajpayee had become unbreakable. The eloquent Vajpayee would have liked the calm Advani’s company. Both would watch the film together and enjoy pani puri. Apart from mutual personal preference, Vajpayee had political implications in preparing Advani. A Jan Sangh leader of that time says- ‘Vajpayee chose Advani because he spoke good English. He was credible and was known as someone who could never win the Lok Sabha elections. Advani later told a colleague, ‘I was politically junior to many people and I was not even a speaker of public meetings, which is the most basic requirement for any mass leader and party president, but Vajpayee told me that you would get it. Advani became the president of the party after Rajmata refused. Its public announcement was to be made in February 1973 in Kanpur. This was perhaps the most important convention for the party. This was the end of Madhok and the beginning of the Vajpayee-Advani control. In 1973, the Kanpur session of Jana Sangh was held from 9 to 11 February. As with all conventions, elaborate but very simple arrangements were made. Senior leaders also had to stay in camps or rooms with the rest of the leaders. This arrangement was made by the local traders sympathetic to the Jana Sangh. Madhok was persuaded to attend the session, which he later termed as a trap. In the meeting, Madhok claimed he had been told- ‘Muslims don’t like you, don’t want to join Jan Sangh because of you, you have to resign to bring them into the party’.

(Sitapati’s book ‘Jugalbandi, BJP before the Modi era’, courtesy Hindi translation publisher Hind Pocket Books)

Disclaimer: The views expressed above are those of the author.