Actor Amitabh Bachchan with Advani at the launch of the BJP leaders autobiography My Country My Life in Mumbai. (Fotocorp)
New Delhi, March 26: L.K. Advani has had no more than a week to bask in the PR flush of My Country My Life, his 986-page magnum. The books fine print and Advanis subsequent boldspeak are already beginning to boomerang on him.
Day after day, the Congress has torn into the memoirs contents and slapped embarrassing questions on the handling of the Kandahar hijack crisis for the BJP to answer. But more worrisome for Advani is the rising inner-party rumble over familiar saffron fault-lines he has ripped open again: they concern loyalists of former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.
His barely-disguised attack on Brajesh Mishra, the influential NSA and principal secretary to Vajpayee, has left the former Prime Ministers camp more than just annoyed. Advani said in his book that he and several other ministers were opposed to the concentration of powers in Mishras hands but Vajpayee disagreed with that view. The distrust and turf-fight between Advani and (Brajesh) Mishra has always been well-known, said a senior BJP leader, To drag Vajpayeeji into this cannot be anything but an attempt to project himself as a moral dissenter and cast his Prime Minister in poor light.
Vajpayee hasnt reacted yet — and Brajesh Mishra declined to comment when contacted by The Telegraph — but a BJP leader close to the former Prime Minister tellingly said, He usually takes time to react, but his record shows he is sharp and consistent with retorts, he will pick his time.
But greater bitterness is emanating from Advanis revelations on the Kandahar crisis. His public disapproval of Jaswant Singh accompanying terrorists who were swapped for passengers aboard IC 814 hijacked to Kandahar and his claim that he wasnt consulted are being viewed as a shoddy bid to keep his image squeaky clean even at the expense of the image of the government and senior colleagues.
In a television interview following the release of his book last week, Advani had said he was unhappy with the decision to send Jaswant to Kandahar and shook off all liability. I dont think Im answerable for that. If the cabinet committee on security had taken the decision, I would have been answerable, but it did not. Asked who took the decision, Advani said, I dont think I have to answer. It is he (Jaswant) alone who can say precisely…I wouldnt know that. He must have consulted Vajpayeeji.
The assertion has clearly riven the party. Advani loyalists are making light of it. Jaswant Singh is hardly central to the handling of the crisis, said one, adding, An all-party meeting authorised the government to take any steps to ensure the safe return of passengers, all else is a matter of detail. If Advanis statement can now help to distance the top party leadership from some things that went wrong, it is probably for the best. Kandahar has been an albatross round our necks, Advaniji is just trying to get rid of it.
But others are rankled that Advani is doing the cleansing at the expense of besmirching others. Unprepared to believe that Advani — deputy Prime Minister and home minister at the time — could have been unaware of the decision to dispatch Jaswant, a BJP MP said, Advaniji is not a man who uses words loosely. In this case, he has clearly left Jaswant Singh looking poor in order that he can come out shining from the mess of Kandahar. It is an incredible claim that he was not aware, but quite clearly he has made it counting on the fact that nobody, least of all a man like Jaswant Singh, will confront him publicly.
Jaswant Singh has played to form, scrupulously avoiding public comment on revelations that reflect poorly on him. But sympathisers in the party are beginning to echo the Congresss aggression on the issue. If the Congress has asked whether Advanis comments were a case of nobody wanting to hold the ugly (Kandahar) baby, sections of the BJP wondered whether Advani was sacrificing collective responsibility at the altar of personal grandstanding. A clearly upset BJP leader said, How can such a big decision be taken without the cabinet knowing, without the deputy Prime Minister knowing? It is a ridiculous claim, and why is his putting Jaswant Singh in a corner?
Jaswant Singhs own memoirs — A Call To Honour, released last year — are unclear on how the decision to send him to Kandahar was taken. But he did hint post-publication that he had more to reveal at an appropriate time. Nobody in the BJP is betting on whether Jaswant Singh will take on Advani but the odds are more revelations could tumble out. And the knowledgeable say they could concern a hitherto mysterious chapter of the Kandahar affair: the money deal.
Advani has denied any money was paid to the hijackers. Jaswant himself left the matter open-ended in his book. He recounted that the hijackers had demanded money and the release of terrorists. He then went on to focus only on the dilemma of handing over the terrorists, choosing silence on the money bit. The money issue will come up some time or other, said a party source closely involved with the Kandahar negotiations. And who knows how that will reflect on whom.
For the moment, though, Advani loyalists are smug about the prickly spin-offs from the book. A book isnt a successful book until it creates some ripples, one said, Some amount of buzz does a book good. It may not be a buzz thats pleasing all in the BJP, although its certainly music to Rupa & Co — as publishers of both Advani and Jaswant, theyve been busy at the cash-till.