I.K. Gujral, former Indian prime minister, is dead

Last Updated: Fri, Nov 30, 2012 15:50 hrs

New Delhi, Nov 30 (IANS) Inder Kumar Gujral, who became prime minister by a quirk of fate and ruled India for 11 months in 1997-98, died Friday at age 93, prompting warm tributes from India and abroad.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh led the nation in saluting the gentleman politician whose Gujral Doctrine exhorted India to be generous towards its smaller neighbours.

He passed away at 3.27 p.m. in a Gurgaon hospital, his son Naresh Gujral, a Rajya Sabha member from the Shiromani Akali Dal, told IANS.

Gujral was admitted to Medanta Medicity with lung infection Nov 19 and was on ventilator. A team of nine senior consultants led by Naresh Trehan kept a close watch on him.

But medicines did not help. On Tuesday, he fell unconscious and never gained consciousness thereafter.

He is survived by sons Naresh and Vishal Gujral, till recently a professor in the US, and three grandchildren. His younger brother is the famed artist and sculptor Satish Gujral. His wife Sheila predeceased him in July 2011.

The foreign minister in two non-Congress governments of V.P. Singh and H.D. Deve Gowda, Gujral became India's 12th prime minister at the head of a rickety centre-Left United Front coalition on April 21, 1997.

Even his admirers admit that he got the top post only because some of the coalition's more senior politicians undercut each other's prospects after Deve Gowda stepped down.

Gujral gave way on March 19, 1998 to Atal Bihar Vajpayee. After one year or so, he retired from electoral politics.

In Dhaka, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said Gujral was a "true friend of Bangladesh".

She recalled Gujral's contribution to the Ganga water-sharing treaty and strengthening of relations between Bangladesh and India.

At home, tributes poured in from all shades of political opinion.

Manmohan Singh called him "an outstanding public figure" who "served our country in various capacities with dedication, honesty and patriotism.

"In his death, India has lost an eminent son whose absence will be felt for all times to come."

Vice President Hamid Ansari said India had "lost an intellectual, a scholar statesman and a gentleman politician whose liberal and humanist vision was rooted in the teachings of ... our freedom movement".

Defence Minister A.K. Antony recalled that Gujral "was instrumental in coming out with bold ideas for conflict resolution in our immediate and extended neighbourhood".

Recalling her family's deep association with Gujral, Congress president Sonia Gandhi said he displayed a deep understanding of both national and international affairs, and enjoyed warm relations with everyone.

"It is these qualities and the genuine warmth of his personality that made him such a widely admired and respected prime minister, cabinet minister, MP and ambassador," she said.

BJP president Nitin Gadkari called him a versatile politician and a thinker. "Gujral was a staunch nationalist and a great patriot who had a thorough knowledge of international affairs."

Since retiring from active politics in 1999, Gujral wrote his autobiography "Matters of Discretion" (Hay House) and was an active figure in the strategic and literary circles.

He retained an abiding interest in Indian foreign policy and spoke widely about India's place in the world and ties with its neighbours.

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