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Last Updated: Saturday, 25 November 2006, 18:12 GMT
The other side of LK Advani
The BBC's Hindi Service is beginning a series of interviews to discover the unknown side of India's newsmakers. Here, the service's India editor Sanjeev Srivastava reflects on his first interview with one of the most controversial people in Indian politics, LK Advani.

LK Advani
Mr Advani has been trying to shed his hardliner image

He was widely regarded as the most powerful person in a country of over one billion people until only a couple of years ago.

But the power he wielded is just one side of Lal Krishna Advani's persona.

There is also perhaps no other Indian politician of his generation - and Mr Advani is 79 - who evokes such strong passions. He is equally reviled by his critics and revered by his supporters.

His critics see him as a symbol of aggressive Hindu nationalism. A man who led a divisive campaign for building a Hindu temple in the northern town of Ayodhya.

But in the eyes of his supporters he remains the "iron man" of Indian politics who brought Hindu nationalism to the centre stage of national polity which propelled his party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), to power in Delhi.

But my self-imposed brief was to interview Mr Advani only on non-political issues - to find out about his interests and hobbies and flesh out his passion for books, films and music.

Dale Carnegie's book How to Win Friends and Influence People is remarkable and taught me how to become a good listener

It is always interesting to meet Mr Advani because there is an element of mystery to him.

He never really opens up and gives the impression of always being very measured and restrained in his responses.

He has become even more media-shy since his visit last year to Pakistan where his lavish praise for Pakistan's founder, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, landed him in trouble with Hindu hardliners within his party and he was forced to give up the post of the party president.


But the guard does slip occasionally and there have been times when he does get provoked and allows you a peep into what is really going on inside him.

I was pleasantly surprised that he was not just willing to co-operate in our attempt to discover his "other side", but actually enjoyed the interview in an almost child-like fashion.

When the BBC asked him about his school days in Karachi, he not only mentioned his love for cricket and how he sometimes even skipped school to watch an important match, he also did a surprisingly delightful impersonation of a great cricket commentator of that era.

Indian batsman Sachin Tendulkar
Mr Advani's favourite cricketer is Sachin Tendulkar

I must say he would have become a pretty decent cricket commentator had he not chosen to address another audience.

He names Sachin Tendulkar as his favourite cricketer.

"When one speaks of cricket, the obvious name that comes to mind is Sachin. He has been an integral part of Indian cricket for such a long time - and that is, in itself, a remarkable achievement.

"There have been other batsmen who have also done well and gained popularity, but Sachin and our captain, who is known as The Wall (Rahul Dravid), are both outstanding."

Mr Advani also shares his love for Bollywood films with us.

A fan of suspense thrillers

Speaking about younger actors, Mr Advani praises Rani Mukherjee and Hrithik Roshan but says his all-time favourite is Bollywood superstar, Amitabh Bachchan.

"It's like Sachin Tendulkar. There may be several great players but with Sachin it is his consistency which makes him a truly great player.

"It is the same with Amitabh. There are several good artistes, but to be such an exceptional actor as to stay at the top for all this time? I can't think of another who can match up to him. There is no doubt Amitabh is a class by himself."

Hollywood films engage him equally.

He is a fan of suspense thrillers, he says he has seen all of Alfred Hitchcock films. He also likes seeing horror movies and recalls going to see a movie with his uncle in Mumbai in 1957.

"I was determined to see the House of Wax after reading a newspaper report about how a film-goer at Mumbai's Strand Cinema had suffered a heart attack and died after watching the 3-D horror film.

Mr Advani is also a voracious reader and his admission that Indian religious epics like the Ramayana and Mahabharata have had a great influence on his life does not come as a surprise.

But when he lists his other all-time favourite books, the choice does seem rather unconventional.

"When I was still in school one of my teachers gave me Dale Carnegie's book, How to Win Friends and Influence People. It is a remarkable book and taught me how to become a good listener."

Alfred Hitchcock
Mr Advani says he has seen all of Hitchcock's films

Recently he has been most influenced by books written by German psychiatrist, Dr Brian Weiss, who writes on the theme of reincarnation.

"His books like Same Soul, Different Bodies, Many Lives, Many Masters and Only Love is Real are all great reading.

"The author practises regression therapy, hypnotises his patients and then works out a link between their present troubles with their previous life experiences. It's amazing and makes you believe in this theory of rebirth and reincarnation."

'Frugal eater'

Mr Advani does not say it but he is clearly hurt by the way his party colleagues have sidelined him since his remarks praising Jinnah last year.

But he prefers to keep a straight face.

Even at 79 and despite leading such a hectic political life, Mr Advani is still quite fit.

"Many people ask me how I remain so fit. The secret is I have been a frugal eater since my childhood."

Maybe the fitness talk is a reminder to those who wish to write him off.

There is another interesting comment he makes about age when he says that "all Indian parties talk about encouraging the younger generation. But nowhere are the old forced to retire".

Mr Advani doesn't believe in looking back.

When we ask him if he has any regrets or whether he would choose not to do something if given a chance to live his life again, his response is: "It is not in my nature to regret about the past. What has happened in the past I don't think about it. Even if the result is not always satisfactory. One has to keep looking forward."

Audiences across Delhi and Mumbai can listen to the full interview at 1200 IST on Radio One FM 94.3 or in a BBC Hindi Service shortwave radio broadcast at 2000 IST on Sunday. It can also be found via bbchindi.com. The programme is called Ek Mulaqat

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