I was present, along with Swapan Dasgupta and a few other journalists, on the terrace of Ram Katha Kunj where the BJP-VHP leadership was assembled on December 6, 1992, appealing to unruly kar sevaks to descend from the structure's domes. I vividly recall meeting Advani in the evening after the structure had been demolished. He sat alone in a ground floor room with only a flickering candle for company. Characteristically wringing his hands in despair he bid farewell to us, urging we exercised caution on the return journey to Lucknow. By then, news of the Kalyan Singh Government's dismissal had arrived and the leader of the most spectacular mass mobilisation India has witnessed since Independence was anticipating arrest. "This is the saddest day in my life," he told us, admonishing someone who suggested that the "deed" could politically benefit the BJP.
I recall driving back to Delhi next day, stopped on the way by exultant crowds shouting "Jai Shri Ram" and "Saugandh Ram ki khaatey hain, Mandir wahin banayenge". On December 7 evening, I wrote a report titled "Control room that had no control" in the Hindustan Times, whose Associate Editor I then was. To date, I insist it was the only faithful report of what the BJP-VHP leadership did in trying to avert the denouement, without success. But that article marked the beginning of my own vilification by a section of media colleagues belonging mainly to the Leftist persuasion.
If, however, I were Advani I would not have bent backwards to answer this vilification campaign and the canards spread to demonise him as a closet Fascist. At many points in the book, I got the impression that, deeply stung by this unfair portrayal of his persona by sections of the media and academia, Advani tries a little too hard to put the record straight. As he himself explains in earlier chapters of the monograph, Sardar Patel was similarly lampooned "mainly by Communists" for his resolute championship of the nationalist perspective and for frequently cautioning Nehru who pursued hopelessly faulty policies over Kashmir and China. But that misconception about Patel has not changed even 55 years after his death: Communist historians are an incorrigible lot.
Advani skillfully brings out the visceral hatred Nehru had of the RSS and Jana Sangh, which conflicted with Gandhiji's overt appreciation of the RSS's patriotic role. Advani points out that Gandhiji addressed an RSS gathering a few days before his heinous murder. The Mahatma even blessed Syama Prasad Mookerjee, insisting on his induction into Nehru's first Cabinet and telling Mookerjee, "Patel is a Hindu-minded person in the Congress and you are a Congress-minded person in the Hindu Sabha."
Indeed, the initial chapters of the book make fascinating reading because of Advani's extraordinarily sharp memory, which enables him to recall minute details of national events and the trying circumstances in which the Jana Sangh functioned in its early years. He has faithfully recounted remarkable anecdotes relating to his childhood and early youth in once-tranquil Karachi, his travails (and long travels on camelback in Rajasthan as RSS pracharak) as a Sangh activist and later, as assistant to Vajpayee. He also details events and dialogues that shaped his own intellectual understanding of India through interactions with Guruji Golwalkar and more significantly Deendayal Upadhyay -- men whose contribution to the making of modern India has been so cruelly distorted by Communist and fellow-traveller pro-Congress commentators.
I need not go into his description of life in jail during the Emergency and circumstances leading to the rise and fall of the Janata Party -- an unwieldy experiment that, in hindsight, was predestined to fail. Advani has also harshly recalled the next, equally short-lived, Janata experiment under VP Singh, whom he does not hesitate to categorise as a hypocrite. These narratives have particular relevance to understanding how and why the Congress monolith gradually crumbled, eventually leading to the formation of the first viable non-Congress alternative in the form of the BJP-led NDA.
I was particularly struck by his recollection of the Jana Sangh's first foray into alliance politics with (hold your breath!) the Communists. In the Delhi Municipal Corporation elections of 1958, the Congress won 27 seats, Jana Sangh 25 and CPI 8. The CPI agreed to back the Congress in the House of 80 if Aruna Asaf Ali was made Mayor. This happened, but the alliance collapsed in a year and the Jana Sangh entered into a deal with the CPI, agreeing to share the Mayor's post on a one-year rotational basis (we thought the Mayawati experiment of 1997 was the first rotational arrangement!). The CPI-Jana Sangh alliance stood the test of time, Kidar Nath Sahni succeeding Aruna Asaf Ali as Mayor after the first year of the deal.
Of course, the CPI also joined various Samyukta Vidhayak Dal Governments in several States, some headed by Jana Sangh leaders, after the Congress's rout in North India in 1967. And later, it is well known that the CPI, CPI(M) and BJP supported the VP Singh regime from outside, sharing a fortnightly dinner with Janata Dal leaders by way of an informal coordinating committee meeting. Advani uses these examples to highlight his party's political flexibility, pointing out that the BJP has grown because from its Jana Sangh days it never fell into the "untouchability" trap. Every such alliance only helped the party expand further, eventually resulting in its emergence as the alternative pole of Indian politics and the country's second-biggest political party.
[My Country My Life is not just a great addition to the celebrated list of political autobiographies, but a fascinating record of post-Independence Indian politics. I recommend it wholeheartedly to every caring, conscientious and enlightened Indian.]