Daily Recco, April 6: My Country My Life, a tall leader’s memoir
One of the tallest leaders and founders of the BJP, LK Advani, recounts his racy political career in the memoir written straight from his heart. A worthy read on the party’s foundation day.
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An honest autobiography is never easy to write. Especially so, when the writer is a seasoned politician, a former Deputy Prime Minister, co-founder and one of the senior-most leaders of what would go on to become the world's largest party (in terms of primary membership). A leader whose life is marred by many controversies, and celebrated with an equal number of accolades. A man who has as many adoring fans as his harshest critics. When a politician is in power, an autobiography becomes a part-manifesto. When a memoir is penned after he has scaled the peak of his career, the account is more of rectifying and diluting the past mistakes. And this is where LK Advani’s autobiography, My Country My Life, takes the cake.
My Country My Life: A heartfelt account.
The book was released on March 19, 2008, and has sold more than a million copies. The account spanning a little over a thousand pages opens with the leader’s early life in Sindh, how RSS shaped him as a person and his political career, the rise of the Jan Sangh, the formation of the Bharatiya Janata Party, and of course, the much-anticipated account of the Rath Yatra and Musharraf-Vajpayee-Agra Summit.
The earliest sections are full of fond nostalgia, about his home, his school and his life as a boy in Karachi that he lovingly describes as his favourite city. When most boys his age would be frolicking about, the awkward teenager was influenced by nationalism. His calling was decided then. He went on to join as the swayamsevak (volunteer) of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), and was equally influenced by the philosophies and teachings of Swami Vivekananda, that he heard through Swami Ranganathananda, the then head of the Ramakrishna Math in Karachi. His zest and zeal for the RS led him to be promoted very soon as the pracharak (full-time worker).
And then came the bloodbath. A very poignant account of the blood-soaked partition that led the 20-year-old to a sense of displacement (as it did for millions of Indians) as his beloved Karachi was left behind in Pakistan. The journey from Sindh to Rajasthan was fraught with many challenges and emotions that eventually shaped him to be the hardy and tough leader he was to become. He went on to become the pracharak in Matsya-Alwar — one of the worst-hit regions of the communal violence. Besides eulogising the RSS for the community and rehabilitation work, Advani focuses a large portion of this section in defending the RSS against allegations in Mahatma Gandhi’s murder, stating categorically that the RSS and Gandhi shared a “mutually respectful relationship”.
His rise in national politics, and becoming Vajpayee’s political aide (and lifelong friend) at the behest of Pandit Deendayal Upadhyaya is the next section. Advani minces no words in criticising Indira Gandhi’s draconian regime and the Emergency that would stop at nothing to retain power. The section — Entry into National Politics — especially thirty-odd pages when he describes India under Emergency makes for an unnerving-yet-fascinating read. “The dissent within the (Congress) party, which is the spirit of democracy, was not welcome. And the position and authority of the party's supreme leader would not be challenged by anybody. Sycophancy and the cult of personality generally seen in dictatorial regimes had infested the Congress organization,” he writes.
In the section delving in the Ram Rath Yatra that resulted in independent India's biggest mass movement, the author elaborates on his stand on secularism.
The book went on to become a bestseller in the non-fiction category. But that is not why you should read it. On the foundation day of BJP, the party he co-founded and nurtured, read the book to understand history from the perspective of the man who is considered to be among the most misunderstood politicians of India, no matter your political views.