New Delhi: Senior BJP leader L.K. Advani Wednesday said he and former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who has been named for the Bharat Ratna, shared a rare friendship, and that in their younger days, Vajpayee would often ride pillion on his scooter to have chaat at his favourite golgappawala in Connaught Place.
Atal Bihari Vajpayee and L.K. Advani
Advani also released on the Bharatiya Janata Party's website a blog he had written in May 2013, describing Vajpayee as the country's most outstanding prime minister.
In an interview to NDTV, Advani termed Vajpayee a "great consensus builder" and that his legacy of consensus building was very important for all parties.
Advani said he had written to then prime minister Manmohan Singh, saying Vajpayee deserves Bharat Ratna, the highest civilian honour, and that he would feel "grateful and happy" if the government acceded to his request. The letter listed 10 reasons for giving the honour to Vajpayee.
"He (Manmohan Singh) may have considered it or not but I feel I would not have written such a letter today. It would seem I was demanding it as our government is in place," he said.
Referring to a photograph that shows both of them hugging and smilingly, Advani said the photo, taken by his daughter Pratibha Advani, in a way captured their close relationship.
"During that period when he was prime minister, if anyone went to him with a problem either of the government or the party, his invariable answer would be 'Advani-ji se baat ho gayi? Kar lo ekbar' (Have you spoken to Advani, please speak to him once), almost every time."
"This kind of mitrata (friendship)... where can it be found, where does it exist (anymore)?" he said.
He said he would definitely consult Vajpayee and rely on his decision.
On their times together in their younger days, he recounted how they would go to watch films.
"And I remember those days, Rivoli and Regal (cinema halls), in the middle was a golgappawala. We would go there and have chaat. Those days, I would drive the scooter and he (Vajpayee) would ride pillion. I was not particular about chaat. But he (Vajpayee) would sit beside the chaatwala and eat, also golgappas."
To a question on the polarisation seen in parliament, Advani said "Vajpayee's legacy of consensus building is very important for all parties and the BJP".
He said his recent remark "would not have gone down well with some of my colleagues. I said I don't think that there is no possibility of coalition. Today, we have a single party government... does not mean that there will never be a coalition".
He said coalition was a reality that one cannot turn away from, especially in a country "where political parties and the country is so variegated, where every state of India is bigger than some nations" and parties like the DMK and AIADMK have been so dominant for many years.
He also referred to his ouster as BJP president in 2005 after he referred to Pakistan founder Mohammed Ali Jinnah as "secular".
Advani said while the BJP has been opening up to Muslims over the years, "when I was president, I was a popular president, but when I quoted Jinnah, I was ousted. It was like 'We don't want this, this is our party'."
Asked why he was not visible any more in the party, which is in power, Advani joked and said he has been interviewed by many media groups over the last few days and declined to say more.
Advani said Vajpayee's tenure at the helm was "blemishless" and he did not think the 1999 Kargil conflict and the 2002 Gujarat riots could be considered negative points.
In the blog, Advani said there have been 14 prime ministers of India since 1947 and Vajpayee's most conspicuous trait was that he had no trace of ego or arrogance even after "cardinal achievements".
"It is therefore that while talking about the balance sheet of all prime ministers since 1947, I can say that he was by far the most outstanding of all!"