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RIP Gujral: A Gentleman who sought peace with neighbours

Inder Kumar Gujral, who was India’s prime minister for 11 months in 1997-98, died in a Gurgaon hospital on Friday, his family said. He was 92.

Gujral earlier served as the external affairs minister in two non-Congress governments, serving under prime ministers VP Singh and HD Deve Gowda.

He passed away at 3.27 pm, said Naresh Gujral, his son and a Rajya Sabha member from the Shiromani Akali Dal.


A politician and a gentleman: Former PM IK Gujral was known to be a gentleman and even though he had critics, there was no one who had a ill word to say about him

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

On Monday, doctors said medicines were not showing much effect and his condition worsened. On Tuesday, he fell unconscious and never gained consciousness thereafter.

He is survived by his two sons, Naresh, and Vishal Gujral.

A rich legacy
The mild-mannered, soft-spoken politician, whose personality flew against the political archetype, will be remembered primarily for his keen interest in protecting and promoting India’s external interests and the eponymous Gujral Doctrine — his mantra for India’s neighbourhood policy when he was external affairs minister twice in a decade.

The quintessential Congress member who later left the party to join the Janata Dal after differences with former prime minister Indira Gandhi over her autocratic ways, Gujral died, as quietly and gracefully as he had exited the political stage two decades ago.


In 1998 during his tenure as PM, Gujral swept a street in New Delhi to mark the 50th death anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi. File pics/AFP

In a way reflective of the man, who came to Delhi from Pakistan in the traumatic post-partition period, the Gujral Doctrine advocated magnamity towards small neighbours in the interest of regional peace and progress.

“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,” said Gujral in his autobiography Matters of Discretion.

Derided as a weak and conciliatory policy at the time when reciprocity was still the ruling mantra, the principle was nevertheless carried forward by successive governments. It helped change mindsets and improved India’s ties with its neighbours through the years.

Gujral said, “When I finally demitted office in March 1998, I had the satisfaction that India’s relations with all its neighbours were not only very healthy but also, to a large extent, the elements of mistrust and suspicion had evaporated.”

Gujral headed the external affairs ministry through two crucial periods. He helped steer India through the crises of the early 1990s, when India was making the difficult adjustment to the end of the Soviet Union, and the oil shock administered by Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait (both important oil suppliers to India).

The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) was being negotiated during his second term and his period as prime minister. Despite strong international pressure, India refused to sign the treaty as banning future tests would have closed India’s nuclear option.

Parliament adjourned over Gujral’s death
Both houses of parliament were adjourned yesterday for the day as a mark of respect to former prime minister Inder Kumar Gujral. Minutes after Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde announced Gujral’s death in the Lok Sabha, both the houses were adjourned.  

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