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Rush to be in good books
- Birthday beeline for Advani’s party after chill

New Delhi, Nov. 9: The moon was missing, there was no Prime Minister or President in attendance, and the chaat stalls lining the lawns of 30 Prithviraj Road did not quite match up to the haute cuisine served at a sit-down dinner in the garden of another Lutyens bungalow two winters ago.

Lal Krishna Advani’s 80th birthday party last night may have lacked the grandeur and elegance of the one hosted by the late Pramod Mahajan to celebrate Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s thousandth full moon (‘Sahasra Chandra Darshan’) — but no one was complaining.

For, if Mahajan’s ode to Vajpayee in January 2006 had the strains of a requiem, the Diwali-eve bonhomie at the leader of the Opposition’s residence had the makings of a resurrection.

You could call it the Return of the Prodigal Father. The GeNext leaders he had once groomed and who had distanced themselves from their political progenitor in the wake of the Jinnah controversy all made a beeline for his residence on Thursday.

Arun Jaitley and Sushma Swaraj, Rajnath Singh, Venkaiah Naidu, Ravi Shankar Prasad and Ananth Kumar. Even Yashwant Sinha and Murli Manohar Joshi — never members of the LKA fan club — were at their cordial best.

For the evening’s Diwali Milan, many faces that had disappeared from the former Deputy Prime Minister’s durbar in recent years made a beaming reappearance.

For some time now, there have been whispers that the RSS has quietly signalled that Advani’s post-Jinnah probation in the cold is over. The presence of ex-acolytes (and the “intellectual” followers of some of those acolytes) gulping down gol gappas last night seemed to confirm those rumours.

Now that the old men in Nagpur had decided to back Advani’s long-held desire to shed the two prefixes – “former” and “deputy” — to his designation, it was time for all parivar climbers to return to the new centre of power.

If the occasion brought bitter rivals (Vasundhara Raje and Jaswant Singh to name just one pair) face to face, it also seemed to have spawned something of a wannabe literary club.

In 1990, when Lalu Prasad Yadav famously arrested Advani and kept him in custody in a guest house in north Bihar, Mahajan -- who was his companion on the rathyatra -- let it be known to the media that his boss had a fondness for chocolates.

For several birthdays thereafter, friends and colleagues and Delhi’s legion of hangers-on sent boxes of chocolates as gifts.

But the word has now got around that the way to Advani’s heart is not through his sweet tooth but via his library. So Advani – who claims to be a bookworm and a film buff – was flooded with books on his 80th birthday.

Vasundhara is believed to have gifted him Hillary Clinton’s autobiography and her husband Bill’s latest best-seller, and Ravi Shankar Prasad a tome on the many manifestations of Ma Durga. Advani has received around 50 books in all and hasn’t had the time to unwrap them yet, a source said.

Advani’s favourite childhood reading was Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People (gifted to him by his first RSS mentor). It is not known if the latest additions to his bookshelf include another self-help manual titled How To Win Elections and Become Prime Minister. But, then, Vajpayee hasn’t switched to prose from poetry.

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