It isn’t often that journalists, especially the bold-faced names, descend from their ivory towers to admit they may have hurt a politician’s feelings. It’s even rarer to hear them say ‘sorry’ for having done so. But twice in the past week, the interviewer Karan Thapar has found the inner reserves to publicly do so, and on both occasions to the same man: L.K. Advani.
In a profile published in The Hindu, Thapar spoke of the break down of his friendship with the BJP leader and former deputy prime minister, whom he has interviewed a number of times for his BBC and CNN-IBN shows.
“But after one interview, soon after his Jinnah remarks [in 2005], Advani was not happy and wanted Thapar to re-shoot the show. Thapar saw no reason to do so, and despite many requests, chose to be a ‘rigid, honourable journalist’ and telecast the footage.
“‘Since then,’ Thapar says, ‘the trust has gone. We did an interview in 2009 too, but after eight minutes he said he did not want to do it.’
“Looking back, Thapar wistfully says, ‘I saw it purely as a journalist, but the fact is that there was another relationship with him and his family, which I had used for my journalism. I had called his daughter to fix me an interview with him as soon as he took over as home minister. She did it.’
“It was in that backdrop, of past intimacy and informality, that Advani may have made the request. Almost seven years after the incident, Thapar is not sure if he made the right call in hurting a person he respected otherwise, bringing home the dilemmas journalists covering the powerful often face.”
In his weekly column in the Hindustan Times, Thapar went a step further:
“Over the years that followed Mr Advani gave me more interviews than perhaps anyone else. I got his first as home minister and several as deputy prime minister. More than that, I was always welcome when I called. Mrs Advani and [daughter] Pratibha made me feel special.
“Alas, it all unravelled in 2006 when I did an interview Mr Advani didn’t like. He asked if I would re-do it. I refused. I thought journalistic integrity required a firm stand forgetting I’d only got the interview because I was considered a ‘friend’.
“Thereafter our relationship was never the same. Mr Advani continued to take my phone calls and was always courteous but the old link had snapped.
“Today I realise I was wrong. Maybe even arrogant, which is worse. And so it’s my turn to apologise. It’s taken me seven years but the memory of Mr Advani’s phone call, made 22 years ago, has given me the strength to say sorry.
“Alas, I’m aware it’s now too late. This time, however, I’d really like to be wrong.”
With Advani now in the eye of the BJP storm following the elevation of Narendra Modi as the chairman of the BJP’s election campaign committee, the apology couldn’t have come a day too soon.
Photograph: courtesy Hindustan Times