'Advani went by the book, by files, by advice given by his babus. He may be well read and articulate and a pleasant conversationalist, but none of that makes for the kind of creative politician that Vajpayee was.'
'This is the kind of observation about the Vajpayee premiership that, more than the promise of espionage or Kashmir gossip, made writing A S Dulat's book a satisfying experience,' says Aditya Sinha, who co-wrote Kashmir: The Vajpayee Years with the former R&AW chief.
One political personality etched in Amarjit Singh Dulat's Kashmir: The Vajpayee Years is the then home minister (and later also deputy prime minister) Lal Krishan Advani.
Such is the affection between them that in his memoir My Country, My Life, Advani mentions Dulat on one page: 'I learnt that Dulat, who was in regular contact with the leaders of various groups in Kashmir, had given some Hurriyat leaders the impression that the government was prepared to look at solutions to the Kashmir issue outside the ambit of the Indian Constitution.'
This is a lie, and it was meant more as a potshot at Dulat's boss, National Security Advisor Brajesh Mishra; it was no secret that Advani resented that Atal Bihari Vajpayee allowed Mishra to run the government on his behalf.
When we were putting down the material for Dulat's book, I asked him if he was going to answer Advani's charge. My interest was that the book should generate a couple of controversies so that it could sell a few copies (little did I know that an hoary topic like IC-814 was going to generate the controversies). I wanted to provoke Dulat into tearing into Advani.
'Let him say what he likes,' Dulat remarked. 'I'm not doing this book to settle scores.'
After Dulat left the Research and Analysis Wing and joined the Prime Minister's Office as advisor, his office was in South Block, diagonally across the road from Advani's office in North Block.
He had paid Advani regular visits as R&AW chief, but after he joined the PMO he did not go unless he was invited. Senior Intelligence Bureau official (and future NSA) Ajit Doval was extremely close to Advani in those years, even though he had not yet become IB director (he did so during UPA-I).
Doval had worked with Dulat over the years and urged his former colleague to cross the road and meet with Advani. Dulat relates the conversation in his book, basically telling Doval that he would, of course, go if he were invited over, but not on his own, as it would annoy his boss.
In fact, one of the breakthroughs that led to the Agra summit was created by Advani, as Dulat tells it (Advani remains modest in his memoir). After Kargil, Pakistan was 'in the doghouse' in Delhi and its high commissioner, Ashraf Jehangir Qazi, kept a low profile.
Qazi and Advani came face-to-face at a function and Qazi tried to duck out, but Advani loudly asked him why Qazisaab was turning away. Advani showed the high commissioner great warmth, and they developed a relationship in which, as some say, Qazi was treated as a member of Advani's household.
Advani and Qazi reportedly held 20 secret meetings, facilitated by television anchor Karan Thapar. ('Ashraf Qazi... said Advani was a wonderful human being so long as you pandered to his vanity,' Dulat writes on page 226-227.)
This link was used to extend an invitation to Pervez Musharraf to the Agra Summit in 2001. Ironically, as Dulat points out, the Pakistanis believed that it was Advani who prevented an agreement at Agra; and in Dulat's assessment it was because the Pakistanis 'put all their eggs' in the Vajpayee basket without giving any importance to Advani -- even though Qazi and Advani had a relationship.
The failure of the summit was a huge regret for Vajpayee and Brajesh Mishra, the latter quoted by Dulat as saying that they had come ever so close to clinching a deal.
Dulat takes great delight recounting Advani's relationship with his prime minister. He says it wasn't that the two had differences; it was that they were different people, Vajpayee being a 'Chanakya' and Advani being a 'straight arrow.'
If ever tension built up between the PM and his deputy, Vajpayee would either invite Advani over for lunch, or invite himself over to Advani's house. Dulat says they didn't speak about anything in particular over lunch, but that time together served effectively to defuse the tension: '...they simply allowed their chemistry to work things through,' he writes (page 265).
But Vajpayee did pull a fast one on Advani. According to Dulat, this was in October 2003, a year after the successful 2002 Jammu and Kashmir assembly election; Vajpayee had taken a year to deliberate his next move on the Kashmir policy. There was a high-level meeting in which Vajpayee surprised everyone by announcing his decision to talk to the separatist conglomerate, the All Parties Hurriyat Conference.
When Jaswant Singh asked who would talk on the government's behalf, Vajpayee said: 'Advaniji, of course.'
It was the first that Advani was hearing of it. But whatever Advani's feelings about talking to separatists may have been, he jumped into the job and would have continued had the NDA not lost power in 2004.
It is this dialogue which made Vajpayee so beloved by many in the Kashmir Valley, and which gives an opening to any government who wishes to pick up that thread again.
One description that Dulat made of Advani, which I think has been scrubbed from the book -- frankly, it is difficult work to re-read a book that you yourself have spent months writing, particularly if there's been some scrubbing by an anxious espiocrat -- was that Advani was the best foreign secretary India never had.
It is a backhanded compliment. Dulat writes that Advani went by the book, by files, by advice given by his babus. He may be well read and articulate and a pleasant conversationalist, but none of that makes for the kind of creative politician that Vajpayee was.
This is the kind of observation about the Vajpayee premiership that, more than the promise of espionage or Kashmir gossip, made writing Dulat's book a satisfying experience for me.
Image: Lal Krishna Advani during the release of the BJP's manifesto in the 2009 general election when he was projected as the party's prime ministerial candidate. In the background is a photograph of former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Photograph: B Mathur/Reuters