When Advani brought Trivandrum to a grinding halt


Onmanorama's 'Election Yarn' series unravel the threads of history and delve into captivating tales.
The year was March 1989. It would take another year and a half, for L K Advani to take out his game-changing 'rath yatra'. The BJP was as unfamiliar a party as, say, the Apna Dal Sonelal, now. Like Apne Dal now, it had just two MPs in Parliament.

And anyone, who had heard of A B Vajpayee or Advani in Kerala at that point, had to be an enthusiastic reader of newspapers, or a top quizzer. It was in such a period, that a chemistry teacher, named P Ashok Kumar, was made the party's Lok Sabha candidate in Thiruvananthapuram.
There was no way Ashok could have won. His opponents were the incumbent Congress MP A Charles and the legendary poet O N V Kurup, the CPI candidate.

Since he had nothing to lose, the chemistry teacher thought big. He managed to fly down to Thiruvananthapuram his party's two MPs, its only big leaders: Vajpayee and Advani.

And Advani right away gave a demonstration of his daredevilry. He wanted the one-kilometre stretch from Overbridge to East Fort, the busiest stretch in the capital city, to be flooded with party workers. Both traffic and police were shut out, as Advani addressed workers, from a raised platform erected bang in the middle of the busy road, in front of the Pazhavangady Ganapathy temple.

It would have been in the newspapers, that came out the day after the mighty traffic obstruction, that Kerala got its first good glimpse of L K Advani.

Vajpayee's behaviour was no less shocking, but in a Gandhian sense. It was the candidate himself who picked the future Prime Minister from the airport. Along the way, Vajpayee said, he wanted to have a cup of tea. Before Ashok Kumar could think of a decent place, Vajpayee got down at the next bunk shop at a place called Vallakkadavu. There, he had a cup of tea with a crowd of locals, who had no idea who the person was. Vajpayee paid for the tea, Ashok's and the driver's too.

Vajpayee was then taken to the lodging, where he was to stay the night. The place was a modest one, and the room had just a bed, a foam bed, and a wooden desk and chair in a corner. Vajpayee looked a bit uncomfortable though he didn't say anything. Ashok was confused.

But when Ashok returned late in the night, to tell Vajpayee of the next day's programme, he was in for a surprise. It was a tired and sleepy Vajpayee who opened the door. Behind Vajpayee, Ashok could see the bedsheet spread on the bare floor, and one of its ends folded up to function as a pillow. Now, realisation hit Ashok. It was the foam bed, a sign of comfort, that had caused Vajpayee some irritation earlier.

As Ashok was about to leave, Vajpayee had a piece of advice. "There should be no personal attacks on your opponents. It is even okay if you say a couple of nice things about them," he said with a smile. After a pause, the future PM said: "I know one of them is a great poet. Give him respect."

When the results came, Ashok lost, big time. So did ONV. But nationally, the BJP seats shot up from two to 86 that year.

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