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The Rediff Special / George Iype

April 28, 2004

The Yatra Man
Early days
Lal Kishenchand Advani was born in Karachi, in undivided India, on November 8, 1927. He did his schooling at St Patrick High School -- which a certain Pervez Musharraf attended many years later -- and joined the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh in 1942. He quickly became chief organiser of the RSS in Karachi.

Advani has a bachelor's degree in law from the Government Law College, Mumbai. Though not a practising lawyer, he argued his party (then the Jan Sangh)'s stand before the Supreme Court in 1974 in the Presidential reference whether election to the post of President could be held when the Gujarat assembly had been dissolved.

The family
Married Kamla on February 25, 1965, and has one son Jayant and one daughter Pratibha. Jayant is a businessman while daughter Pratibha -- the apple of her father's eye -- hosts television talk shows.

The Parivar
He was president of the Delhi Jan Sangh, precursor to the Bharatiya Janata Party, and later president of the Bharatiya Jan Sangh. He was also BJP president and, with his shrill leadership of the Ram Janambhoomi movement, is credited with the party's growth from a mere two MPs in 1984 to what it is today.

Rise to njational prominence
In 1970, Advani became a member of the Rajya Sabha. During the Emergency (1975 to 1977) he was jailed for 19 months by Indira Gandhi. In 1977 he was appointed information and broadcasting minister in the Janata Party government.

Famous for
Yatras, or political journeys by road. Again this year from March 10 he crisscrossed the country in a souped-up bus as part of the BJP's poll campaign. The Bharat Uday Yatra passed through some 121 constituencies across many of India's politically crucial states.

But his real yatra was in 1990, when Advani embarked upon his first rath yatra to mobilise support for construction of a Ram temple at Ayodhya at the site of the Babri Masjid. The events it set off culminated in the destruction of the mosque in 1992.

Again, in 1997, Advani led a Swarna Jayanti Rath Yatra in a bus that covered 15,000 km across 22 states to celebrate the 50th year of Indian Independence.

Case study
Forty-nine people, including Advani, most of them BJP leaders, were accused in the Babri Masjid demolition case. But two years ago, the special court hearing the case dropped criminal proceedings against Advani.

Present tense, future perfect
Appointed deputy prime minister of India in 2002, Advani could well become prime minister after Atal Bihari Vajpayee, assuming the National Democratic Alliance forms the next government.

He has written two books, The Prisoner's Scrapbook about his Emergency experience, and The People Betrayed on the Janata Party split. His booklet, A Tale of Two Emergencies, draws a remarkable comparison between Indira Gandhi's Emergency and Hitler's Emergency.

Advani is credited as the chief architect of the BJP's current status. He is considered a hawk on relations with Pakistan, and is a staunch advocate of Hindutva.

He is passionate about books. Asked recently what his most precious possession was, Advani replied: 'My collection of books.' His research on electoral reforms is considered unparalleled. Films, sports and music are his other interests.

Image: Rahil Shaikh

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