I K Gujral: A pacifist and a gentleman

Last Updated: Fri, Nov 30, 2012 15:03 hrs

India's 12th Prime Minister Inder Kumar Gujral has often been seen as a man whose ideas of pacifism in foreign policy are not in sync with the geopolitical reality surrounding India.

But the suave and culturally refined politician who had headed the United Front government from April 1997 to March 1998, by no political scheming of his own, would always be remembered for his policy of peace with the neighbouring countries that is famously called the Gujral Doctrine and often been criticised by the hardliners.

I K Gujral, who was born on Dec 4, 1919, was a freedom fighter during pre-Independence, undivided India and his family later was a refugee from Pakistan who bore the brunt of Partition of India and had to build their lives in independent India from the scratch.

But far from being bitter from the trauma of Partition, Gujral championed a policy of pacifism and friendly relations with neighbours.

As his late friend and foreign policy analyst Bhabani Sen Gupta explained: "The Gujral Doctrine aims at building a conflict-free cooperative South Asia and at the same time to build bridges of development cooperation with the neighbours of South Asia . Since one of its principal aims is to resolve conflicts, it has significant security dimensions. It believes in concepts of common security, equal security and cooperative security between and among the countries of South Asia , its neighbouring regions as well as their individual members."

Gujral wanted complete peace with countries like Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Maldives, Bhutan, Nepal.

"The logic behind the Gujral Doctrine was that since we had to face two hostile neighbours in the north and the west, we had to be at ´total peace´ with all other immediate neighbours in order to contain Pakistan´s and China´s influence in the region," Gujral wrote in his autobiography "Matters of Discretion- An Autobiography".

Gujral Doctrine recognises the supreme importance of friendly, cordial relations with neighbours.

The ideas of Gujral has often been mocked as utopian but the man himself stood by his beliefs all his life.

I K Gujral was the second Indian Prime Minister to govern exclusively from the Rajya Sabha (the upper house), first being his immediate predecessor H.D. Deve Gowda. He was in Indian National Congress party first, but later joined the Janata Dal in mid-1980s. But even before joining the Congress Party, Gujral was a member of India´s underground Communist Party, which was strongly linked to the Soviet Union.

Gujral´s government was provided outside support by the Congress but the latter finally withdrew support on Nov 28, 1997. Gujral resigned following this withdrawal, leading to a snap election.

Interestingly, during the turbulent June 1975 when an internal Emergency was declared by Indira Gandhi, he was Minister of Information and Broadcasting. On 12 June 1975, the Allahabad High Court ruled that Prime Minister Indira Gandhi used unfair means in polls of 1971 thus nullifying her election. Later, Gujral was appointed Ambassador of India to the Soviet Union.

However, former journalists recall that even during those days Gujral had not buckled before the whims of politicians like late Sanjay Gandhi, son of Indira Gandhi. So he was shifted to another ministry and later sent to Soviet Union as ambassador.

As a freedom fighter Gujral had spent times in jail. He was jailed in 1942 during the ´Quit India Movement´ of Gandhiji. Belonging to a family of freedom fighters whose parents-Narain and Pushpa Gujral- participated in the freedom struggle in Punjab (Pakistan), he participated in the movement since he was 11. He was arrested and severely beaten up by the police in 1931 for organising movement of young children in Jhelum town.

Holder of a B.Com. an M.A degrees, he had been educated at D.A.V. College, Haily College of Commerce and Forman Christian College, Lahore (now in Pakistan).

His political career started since late 1950s. Gujral was the Vice-President of New Delhi Municipal Council from 1959-64 and he became a Rajya Sabha member twice from 1964 to 1976.

During 1967-69 he was the Union Minister of State, Parliamentary Affairs and Communications and from 1969-71 he was Union Minister of State, Information and Broadcasting and Communications. He was again a minister from 1971-72 serving as the Union Minister of State for Works, Housing and Urban Development.

He from 1972-75 was Union Minister of State, Information and Broadcasting and later till 1976 as Union Minister of State, Planning.
From 1976-80 he became India´s Ambassadar to U.S.S.R.

In 1989 he was elected to 9th Lok Sabha and from 1989-90 he was India´s External Affairs Minister in the V P Singh government. In 1992-98 he was a Rajya Sabha member for the third time and during this period served as a member to Committee on External Affairs, Committee on Petitions, Public Accounts Committee, Committee on Rules, Committee on Subordinate Legislation and General Purposes Committee.

Between June-Nov.1996, Gujral was the Leader of the House in Rajya Sabha and later from April 1997 -March 1998 when he was the Prime Minister. He was again the External Affairs Minister from 1996-97.

When Gujral was the Prime Minister in 1997-1998, he was also in charge of several other departments.

In 1998 was re-elected to 12th Lok Sabha for the second term.

Gujral belonged an extremely culturally refined family, with his brother being the famous Indian painter Satish Gujral. He himself was a great lover of Urdu language and would pen Urdu couplets.

His wife Sheila Gujral, who died in July 2011, was a prominent poet and author of several books in Punjabi, Hindi and English languages.Gujral has two sons, Naresh and Vishal Gujral. His elder son, Naresh, is a Member of the Rajya Sabha. His niece, Medha, is married to singer Anup Jalota.

His published books included A Foreign Policy for India (in English); and Mazameen-e-Gujral (in two parts). Matters of Discretion - An Autobiography was released in 2011.

Gujral was India´s accidental Prime Minister in a way, but despite deep criticism of his pacifism, his ideals significantly contributed to India´s foreign policy.

(Text by Sujoy Dhar)

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