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Mainstream, VOL L, No 51, December 8, 2012

Tribute to I K Gujral

Wednesday 12 December 2012, by SC

Four days before his 93rd birthday, former Prime Minister Inder Kumar Gujral breathed his last at Gurgaon’s Medicity Centre on November 30, 2012, suffering from multiple ailments aggravated by lung infection that could turn fatal in advanced age. He left behind his two sons, Naresh and Vishal, their respective spouses, Anjali and Ragini, and their children besides IKG’s brother, celebrated painter Satish, and his wife Kiran. His wife, Shiela, had predeceased him some time ago. Apart from grieving relatives, there were countless friends and admirers in all political parties as well as professionals in different walks of life who sincerely mourned his passing for, above all, he was a politician with a difference—a thorough gentleman who never raised his voice and could endear himself to whoever came in touch with him.

But Gujral’s enduring contribution was in the field of foreign policy—he was not just the country’s 12th Prime Minister for less than a year (from April 1977 to March 1978) but also the External Affairs Minister in the short-lived governments of V.P. Singh (1989-90) and H.D. Deve Gowda (1996-97) — wherein he propounded what has come to be known as the ‘Gujral doctrine’, a pioneering and path-breaking policy-perspective based on five principles emphasising unilateral accommodation of the interests of the neighbouring states, that is, simply put, the need for India to walk the extra mile with its neighbours without expecting any reciprocity. No wonder he had to encounter stiff, and at time, fierce, resistance from hawks entrenched in the Indian security establishment, bureaucratic apparatus and political class but he did not waver in his commitment to the cause of building bridges across South Asia, and especially promoting friendship, harmony and cooperative interaction with Pakistan, even though his close friend, distinguished veteran journalist Kuldip Nayar, has disclosed that towards the end of his life Gujral was disillusioned with the Pakistani leadership due to its innate anti-Indian approach that, he felt, did not undergo any alteration over the last 65 years.

Many regarded Gujral to be a wishy-washy intellectual given to utopian idealism. They were unable to comprehend his deep attachment to the core Indian values of peace and cooperation with all countries the world over. It is his attachment to these values that helped him to consolidate the bonds of friendship with the erstwhile USSR where he had spent several years as the Indian ambassador in Moscow in the seventies and eighties of the last century. He was sent there by the then PM, Indira Gandhi, behind whom he stood like a rock during the Congress split in 1969 but also who turned against him (though not directly) when Gujral refused to follow the diktats of the extra-constitutional authority (epitomised by Indira Gandhi’s son, Sanjay) during the Emergency. Thus from the I&B Ministry (which was then under his charge) Gujral was first shunted out to the Planning Commission and then despatched to Moscow where he functioned as the Indian envoy. It speaks volumes of Gujral’s contribution in strengthening Indo-Soviet ties that when the Janata Party came to power in 1977 the Morarji Desai Government allowed him to continue in the same capacity and did not accept his resignation that he had tendered following the change of guards at the Centre. As a recognition of his services in furthering India’s relations with Russia, members of the Centre of National Glory of Russia conferred on him the St Andrew International Award, that is, ‘Dialogue of Civilisations’.

This journalist was privileged to discuss several issues of national and global import with IKG on different occasions. He once said that Indo-Pak relations (which happened to be close to his heart) need to be nurtured without any fanfare, and disclosed how—unlike the final outcome of Vajpayee’s apparently fruitful talks with Nawaz Sharief following the former PM’s famous bus-ride to Lahore, his own indepth exchange of views with the same Pakistan PM had yielded something more substantive in terms of developing personal rapport which at various times had helped to defuse tensions. On another occasion in 1990, when he came out of his room in South Block to see off this reporter, Gujral saheb pointed to a portrait of Jawaharlal Nehru by his brother Satish hung outside his room and exclaimed: “I want to tell everyone not to forget the past, the achievements we recorded under Panditji.” He also pointed out after the fall of the UF Government presided over by him that he had the rare opportunity to work in the Cabinet with a colleague like Indrajit Gupta whom he described as one of the best Home Ministers the country has had since independence. During his days in Moscow when one was able to view him from close quarters as an Indian correspondent posted there, one found him exceptionally hospitable; his house was open to one and all but what one can never forget was the courtesy he extended to one of his best friends from Pakistan, Faiz Ahmed Faiz, who regaled those present at the Indian Chancery one evening with his unparalleled Urdu poems.

Gujral started his political life as a student leader in Lahore (he was born in Jhelum, now in Pakistan, on December 4, 1919) and associated himself with the Students Federation. For a brief period he worked in the CPI there. He also suffered imprisonment during the ‘Quit India’ movement. On coming to India after partition, he joined the Congress under Nehru’s magnetic influence, and never looked back. However, he later joined the Janata Dal headed by V.P. Singh in 1980.

He espoused secular democracy alongside socialism throughout his life. He utilised his policy towards neighbours to reach a long-term mutually beneficial agreement with Bangladesh on the sharing of Ganga waters in 1996. Three years ago his memoirs—Matters of Discretion: An Autobiography—came out. Therein he had narrated various important aspects of his life and activities.

I.K. Gujral was a close friend of the Mainstream family and enjoyed a special rapport with N.C. As a token of our tribute to his abiding memory we reproduce here IKG’s contribution in Mainstream Annual 1991 based on the Dr Parulekar Memorial Lecture (organised by the Sakal Trust) that he delivered in Pune on September 25, 1991. This happened only three months before the collapse of the Soviet Union, a country with which he had developed an intimate relationship during his fairly long stint in Moscow; it was by then clear that that state and its people were on the throes of momentous changes accompanying an uncertain future.

S.C.

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