IK Gujral: The one-time PM who sought better relations with neighbours

Last Updated: Fri, Nov 30, 2012 12:49 hrs

Former Prime Minister IK Gujral passed away at 3:30 pm in Medanta Hospital, Gurgaon on November 30, 2012. Gujral died due to a prolonged illness. He had been critical since November 19.

Born on 4 December, 1919, Inder Kumar Gujral was only the second Prime Minister to govern exclusively from the Rajya Sabha.

Gujral was elected as the 12th Prime Minister of India from April 1997 to March 1998 under tumultuous circumstances.

Gujral got into politics very early, during his college years, but it was only in 1975 that he came to hold a post of high regard when he was made minister of Information and Broadcasting. After a spell under the party, he left the Indian National Congress and joined Janata Dal.

In the 1989 elections, Gujral was elected from the Jalandhar parliamentary constituency in Punjab. The then Prime Minister VP Singh took him under his cabinet and made him minister of External Affairs.

That year, as the External Affairs minister, Singh sent Gujral to Srinagar to clear the negotiations with the kidnappers in the case of the kidnapping of Rubaiya Sayeed.

In the 1991 mid-term parliamentary elections, Gujral contested from Patna constituency in Bihar against Samajwadi Janata Party (Rashtriya) candidate and the then-Finance Minister Yashwant Sinha. However, the election was countermanded following complaints of large-scale irregularities. In 1992, Gujral was elected to Rajya Sabha and remained a key Janata Dal leader.

Following the 1996 elections, when the United Front government was formed at the center under the premiership of HD Deve Gowda, Gujral was again named minister of External Affairs. During this second tenure, he put forward his 'Gujral Doctrine' -- which called for better relations with neighbours.

The Congress party was supporting the United Front government from outside, but decided to withdraw support, which led to its collapse in April 1997. To avoid mid-term elections, a compromise was reached. The Congress party agreed to support another United Front government under a new leader, provided its concerns, such as not being consulted before taking important decisions and being marginalized, were addressed.

The United Front elected Gujral as their new leader and he was sworn in as Prime Minister on 21 April, 1997.

The biggest controversy during his tenure came during late October that year when his government took the big decision of recommending President's rule in Uttar Pradesh, following unruly scenes in the state assembly on 21 October, 1997.

The BJP government headed by Kalyan Singh sought vote of confidence when the violence and unruly scenes took place in the assembly. However President KR Narayanan refused to sign the recommendation and sent it back to the government for reconsideration.

The Allahabad High Court also gave a decision against President's rule in UP.

The elections were held in 1998 and Gujral contested again from Jalandhar constituency in Punjab with the support of Akali Dal.

The Akali Dal, though a part of BJP-led coalition, opted to support Gujral because during his Prime Ministerial tenure, Gujral declared that the central government will share the expenses on stamping out terrorism in Punjab along with the state government of Punjab.

That move helped ease the strain on Punjab's economy and its ruling class and thus drove Akali Dal to support Gujral. Gujral defeated Umrao Singh of the Congress by over 131,000 votes.

In the 12th Lok Sabha, Gujral actively opposed the BJP-led coalition government. In a Lok Sabha debate in 1998, he voiced his concerns on the government's handling of the nuclear tests at Pokhran.

He also opposed the government's decision to impose President's rule in Bihar. But Gujral supported the then Prime Minister Vajpayee's visit to Lahore in 1999 and signing of the Lahore Declaration with Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

Later that year when the BJP-led government sought a confidence vote on the floor of the Lok Sabha following the withdrawal of support by the AIADMK, Gujral took a stance against the government.

He did not contest the 1999 elections and went on to retire from active politics. In 2004, his son Naresh Gujral unsuccessfully contested with an Shiromani Akali Dal seat from Jalandhar, Punjab constituency in the Indian General Elections.

Gujral was a member of the Club of Madrid, an independent non-profit organization composed of 81 democratic former Presidents and Prime Ministers from 57 different countries.

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