LK Advani relishes the Gujarati kadhi and aam ras as much as campaigning in Gandhinagar, a seat he is contesting for the sixth time. A frugal eater and an unrestrained campaigner, at 86 he is still the untiring yatri.
Its a sweltering 42 degrees Celsius when the BJP leader steps out of the apartment in the posh Prahlad Nagar of Ahmedabad, where he camps during his stints in the state, to canvass in an open jeep through the Sabarmati assembly segment of Gandhinagar. “I can say that the BJP will get its highest ever tally this time and the Congress the lowest ever,” he says as he gets set to leave after a simple home-cooked Gujarati lunch, a 15-minute nap and a glass of milk.
A familiar ritual for him and the inhabitants of Gandhinagar, where he is greeted with rose petals and garlands, the campaign winds through the lanes lined with people. Yet, like every election, this too has a distinct flavour. “Zyada chinta nahi hai (there is not much worry). There is not much suspense,” he says when asked how different it is from earlier elections. This is also the message he conveys to the electorate, as his cavalcade halts once in a way.
“This is the first election when people already know the outcome. The Congress will be defeated and BJP will come to power with Narendra Modi as Prime Minister,” he says from a mike. Several hands go up waving a victory sign. Flanked by his daughter Pratibha and son Jayant, he stands all through the three hour-long continuous journey. “I never see him tired. I find it difficult to keep pace with him sometimes,” says Pratibha. But, for Advani, after after six decades in politics, six major yatras since 1991 and the sixth election in Gandhinagar, campaigning comes naturally.
Deepak Chopra, Advani's long-standing private secretary and friend who has been with him through his yatras, says age has never come in his way.
In the midst of campaigning in his seat and across the country, Advani manages to snatch some time for his other interests—books, films or music. He has just finished reading Sanjaya Baru’s “Accidental Prime Minister: The making and unmaking of Manmohan Singh”. He says the book vindicated the general perception about the Prime Minister. “Its not deliberately a critical book but it confirms the general view prevalent among the people that it was the Congress President (Sonia Gandhi) who was running the government, not the Prime Minister,” he says.
Once an avid cinema goer, he now watches films mostly at home. “The last I saw was Lincoln,” he says. But before that he had read Doris Kearns Goodwin’s “Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln”. Among his favourites are some of the old war films like “Bridge on the River Kwai”and musical classics like “Sound of Music” and “My Fair Lady”. Among the more recent Bollywood blockbusters, he liked Aamir Khan’s “Three Idiots”.
“Dada loves music and he listens to it in the car,”says Pratibha adding that he like songs of “Tare Zameen Par”, the AR Rahman number “yuhin chala chal rahi” from the film “Swades”, Mohammad Rafi’s “Zindagi ka saath nibhata chala gaya”from Dev Anand starrer “Hum Dono”and Lata Mangeshker’s 1961 rendition “jyoti kalash chalke” from Meena Kumari starrer “Bhabi ki chudiyan”.
Advani misses Atal Bihari Vajpayee, his companion and accomplice in politics and love for cinema. “I miss him in all ways. He was a remarkable leader. We worked closely for all these years,” he says.
Asked about the highest point in his political career, he talks of the challenging times first. “In the 1984 elections, the BJP touched its lowest point in its life. Correspondingly in 1989, seeing the party leap from 2 to 86 seats, that year became a turning point in the political history of India and the world when the cold war came to an end the Soviet Union collapsed.”
Pratibha says she saw him most agonised when he was accused in the Hawala scam. “I saw him gloomy and gave him a poem “footprints”. He had tears in his eyes but he said he was fine,”she recalls. That poem still hangs on the wall in his room.
Of his two major passions, his son has inherited the one for cricket and daughter for films. Jayant, who is into the advertising and packaging field, is not averse to joining politics. “I have an interest and if I were given an opportunity I will accept it,”he says.
Jayant, who along with his wife Geetika, has been campaigning here for his father over the past five days, says “people have seen 12 years of Narendrabhai’s leadership in Gujarat and as a result of his administrative abilities there is huge expectation that he will be able to replicate at the national level what he has done in the state."
For Pratibha, a zoology student who took to television and films, politics has always been part of life. “So, I never thought of actually being there. Dada has never said do this or do that... just like he has never stopped us from eating non-vegetarian food,”she says. Advani had turned vegetarian at the age of ten.
Refuting that he nursed Prime Ministerial ambitions, she says “for a person who keeps just Rs 100-200 with him, how can he be after power?
As Advani chats with a couple of reporters, the question comes up—what role would you like after elections? He just puts his palms together apparently seeking to be spared the query. He has already made it clear in his earlier rally that he was ready for any role the party gives him.
As of now, he is focusing on the election. If he was reluctant to fight from Gujarat it does not show and if the local cadres were upset with him for staying away from Modi's anointment as PM, it does not reflect in their standing by him in Gandhinagar, where he is pitted against Congress's Kirit Patel, a former state minister.
Anandiben Patel, a senior minister in the Modi government, exudes confidence that Advani will win with a margin of over 3 lakh votes if the voting percentage crosses 60.
As the sun sets, the crowds still throng onto the streets for advani's road show. But, its time for the senior leader to call it a day and prepare for another campaign in anothercorner of the country.