Few women would have such a positive but silent influence on Indian politics as L K Advani’s wife Kamla Advani (1932-2016) had. I have many anecdotes to recount but two of them would surely portray her benign personality which is rarely exposed to people.
In the midst of wild speculation between the souring relationship between Atal Behari Vajpayee and L K Advani, Kamla Advani got a call from the Prime Minister in the morning. “Main kal aapke yahan bhojan par aa raha hun (I am coming to your place for lunch),” said Vajpayee with an air of finality. Kamla Advani rushed out to inform her husband that the PM was coming next day.
The two-and-a-half hour lunch session lavishly supplemented choicest food for Vajpayee to smoothen the relationship. In fact the personal chemistry between Vajpayee and Kamla Advani was unique and both hardly needed any intermediary to talk to each other.
I realized this when I was doing a programme for lunch with L K Advani for Business Standard. Though I planned to take him to a south Indian restaurant at Samrat Hotel, adjacent to Ashoka Hotel, in Delhi, a day before the scheduled lunch Ms Advani called and said, “Why don’t you come over to my place. It will be better and rest assured it would be nice lunch”. I agreed.
There something happened which I did not mention in that column but can say now. In the midst of conversation Advani while describing Vajpayee, said this about his low-profile role, “I have never been ambitious so I was always happy with what I got”. I was furiously taking notes of the conversation when Ms Advani stopped me, “Ajay, don’t write this please”. “Why?” I and Advani queried simultaneously. Kamla Advani pointed out, “When you say you were not ambitious , it looks as though Vajpayee ji was ambitious and this will give a wrong message”. Advani immediately realized the potential of wrong message and agreed.
In the course of my professional career, I have normally met many leaders in their homes. And professional ethics demand that you maintain a discreet distance. In the 1990’s till turn of the millennium, Advani along with Vajpayee was the tallest leader of the BJP. Though I covered him professionally, the access to him was not always easy. And he was very controlled in his expression and well versed with nuances of the news business. Whenever I met him at his residence, Kamla Advani would come and ask, “ Has he offered you tea?”. At lunch time, she would invariably ask to join at the lunch table without bothering to look for Advani’s consent.
I can acknowledge now about Kamla ji as she was fondly called by many journalists and junior leaders of the BJP that I felt overwhelmed with warmth and personal touch. There are many leaders--ranging from Vajpayee, Chandrashekhar, Bhairon Singh Shekhawat, Somnath Chatterjee, Nana Deshmukh and Dattopant Thengdi-- to the present Prime minister Narendra Modi, who were fans of Kamla Advani’s hospitality. Advani’s daughter Pratibha Advani used to call her mother “Annapurna”. That was her apt description.