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'I give credit to Nehru for strengthening democracy'

June 07, 2003 22:50 IST

Lal Kishenchand Advani

I started reading books when I was a teenager. At that time I was living in Hyderabad, Sindh, now in Pakistan.

I was 14 years old when I joined the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. The first question put to me by Rajpal Puri, then prant pracharak (RSS provincial head) of Sindh, was whether I liked reading books.

Since I was very much interested in reading, he gave me Dale Carnegie's How to Win Friends and Influence People. In those times and at that age it was an extremely impressionable book. Today it may not impress me, but it did impress me then.

Almost at the same time, I read a book by Veer [Vinayak Damodar] Savarkar titled The First War of India's Independence. It left a deep impression on me. It was about the first uprising of Indians against British rule in 1857. It was brought to me by a friend from Lahore. He purchased it from a shop which exclusively sold old books. His gesture touched me because he spent a whopping Rs 27 for the book, a high price in those days.

It was a costly book because it was out of print and it was proscribed by the British government.

After school, I joined the science faculty but didn't pursue my studies. In 1942, I was in D G National College in Hyderabad, Sindh. Because of the freedom movement, our college used to remain closed for long periods. I got a rare chance to access the entire spectrum of world literature. All those months I remained in the library reading the literature created by classical writers. Authors like Alexandre Dumas, Charles Dickens and Jules Verne, I was able to read extensively. Dumas was a French author who fictionalised historical events and I enjoyed reading him.

Around 1947, I was living away from home. My home was a RSS office where I was very active. When Partition took place I was 20 years old. My passion for reading was increasing.

I migrated to India only after Partition, on September  10, 1947. I flew from Karachi with my friend Murlidhar. When I arrived here [in post-Partition India] I knew only English and Sindhi. After 1947 I started learning Hindi and reading Hindi authors. I gave up my studies in engineering and joined the law college in Mumbai.

Between the age of 18 and 22 Vivekananda's books and sayings influenced me a lot. In Karachi I used to listen to Swami Rangnathdas's lectures on Vivekananda regularly.

I vividly remember one event of 1947. Immediately after Partition I visited Mumbai for the first time in my life. My host in Mumbai asked me, "What will you like to see?" He recommended the Elephanta Caves. I said, "Take me to Veer Savarkar." Since his book had impressed me deeply, I was keen to meet him.

Savarkar was living in Shivaji Park. I met him for 30 minutes but memories of the meeting have remained with me. Savarkar asked me about Sindh, how Hindus were treated there, and he inquired about their well-being. He was an outstanding and dynamic personality, a great patriot.

Another author whom I liked was Kanhaiyalal Maneklal Munshi. I read Munshi's novels like Rajadhiraj, Patan ni Prabhuta, and Jai Somnath. He wrote in Gujarati, but his translations were available in Hindi and English.

I found a deep influence of Dumas on Munshi. Munshi's novels were also based on facts of history. When I was leading the Ayodhya movement and when it became powerful, I went to the Parliament library to re-read Munshi.

One of his books, Pilgrimage to Freedom, recounts how he became interested in the Somnath temple. If you remember, when Independence came, all the states of India were given an option to accede to India or Pakistan. The nawab of Junagadh opted for Pakistan, but the people (more than 80 per cent were Hindu) opposed it.

A people's movement, called arzi hakumat, was initiated under the leadership of Shamaldas Gandhi, nephew of Mahatma Gandhi. He freed Junagadh from the clutches of the nawab, who panicked and fled to Pakistan.

Sardar Patel, then home minister, was sent a telegram by Shamaldas Gandhi and S N Bhutto, then diwan of Junagadh and father of Z A Bhutto, the late prime minister of Pakistan. When the message was received from Bhutto, diwan of the nawab, that he had invited the Indian army into Junagadh, the Sardar's face was beaming. Munshi said, "Jaya Somnath!"

Donald Smith's magisterial volume India as a Secular State (1963) is another book which I should mention. The book debates Nehru's secularism and Gandhi's secularism. To put it simply, it is argued that Gandhi was a believer and he thought all religions should be respected. Nehru was a non-believer who believed all religions are false and the State should not identify with any religion. Nehru's views were the views of an atheist. I believe what Gandhi believed. Respect all religions.

I have read Nehru's Discovery of India too. As a critic of Nehru, I found it okay. But I certainly give credit to Nehru for strengthening democracy in India after Independence. As Dr Shyama Prasad Mukherjee contributed from our side, from Congress side Nehru contributed immensely.

These days I am able to read [mainly] at night or when I am travelling. Now, I have a full-scale library at home with more than 8,000 books. Books are still an important part of my life.

Another book I liked was Stephen Covey's The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. One of the points the book makes is that for self-improvement or to become effective or efficient, you need not just sweet talk or remembering birthdays. All these sophisticated things are fine, but what matters is basic honesty. Inner characteristics make you effective. Basic earnestness counts for more than anything else. So true.

On Pakistan, I liked reading Mary Ann Weaver's Pakistan.

I do read contemporary Western novelists as well. My favourite is Jeffrey Archer. I have read John Grisham, but I don't find him consistent. Kane and Able is the best one from Archer.

Recently I have read many books relating to September 11.

On globalisation I read recently Thomas Friedman's The Lexus and the Olive Tree.

But my all-time favourite book is Rajaji's Mahabharata.

Like many book lovers, I don't surrender to books when I am depressed or when I am not in a good mood. I just withdraw within myself. Sometimes I do feel like not talking to anybody and resort to reading. But even when I am not in a proper mood, I rarely express anger because I regret it later. It hurts me too. In such a situation I do tell my family members, "Mujhe padhna hai."

But frankly speaking, most times, to avoid expressing my feelings or displeasure, I go off to sleep.

As told to Sheela Bhatt on board a flight from New Delhi to Hyderabad

L K Advani