IK Gujral: Politician who improved India’s foreign relations

 

Even the warmest admirers of Inder Kumar Gujral would concede that when it emerged he had been chosen to be India’s 12th prime minister he was as surprised as anyone. Indeed, one recent report suggested that when he was told he had been selected to replace HD Deve Gowda, he was almost overcome by an anxiety attack.

His brief tenure as prime minister of the world’s largest democracy – he held the position for a handful of months, from April 1997 to March 1998 – is these days seen more as an historical aside amid a series of better-known names and figures that came before and after him. And yet Gujral left a lasting impression on Indian politics, in particular in regard to India’s relations with its smaller, more vulnerable and often less democratic neighbours.

During two tenures as a courtly foreign minister, the first during the brief premiership of VP Singh, and then during Gowda’s term as prime minister, he devised and formalised what became known as the Gujral Doctrine. His five-point theory, in essence, argued that India, with its size and resources, did not need to exact reciprocity in all of its dealings with the likes of Bangladesh, Bhutan, the Maldives and even Pakistan. Rather, “it can act in good faith and trust”. He also argued that no country in South Asia should allow its territory to be used to harm another.

“These principles, scrupulously observed, will, I am sure, recast South Asia’s regional relationship, including the tormented relationship between India and Pakistan, in a friendly, co-operative mould,” he declared.

The theory might have been scoffed at by the more hard-bitten politicians, used to the rough and tumble of South Asian strategic affairs. But against the odds, the ever-diplomatic Gujral secured results. Perhaps the most significant was the signing of the Ganga Waters Accord with Bangladesh, but he also improved relations with Pakistan and made a personal appeal to its prime minister, Nawaz Sharif. Gujral’s doctrine had its limitations. One of his decisions was to end covert intelligence gathering in Pakistan, a step that was criticised after the 2008 attacks on Mumbai showed up Indian limitations and failings.

Gujral was born in Jhelum, in what is now Pakistan, to parents involved in the struggle for independence from British colonial rule. He thrived as a pupil, and developed an early love for Urdu poetry and language that lasted his lifetime. As a student he became involved in politics and dabbled with the Communist party. He served as president of the Lahore Students Union, and joined his parents in jail when they threw their support behind the Quit India Movement.

After Partition, Gujral’s family moved to Delhi where he served in several positions before catching the eye of prime minister Indira Gandhi. Between 1967-76 he served in several government posts before falling out with the Gandhi family, in particular with Indira’s unchecked and unstable son, Sanjay, after she declared a state of emergency. By means of punishment he was forced from his position as minister of information and sent to Moscow as Ambassador to Russia.

In the 1980s he finally quit the Congress Party and joined the Janata Dal, when he was to serve as foreign minister in a short-lived coalition government. Among his tasks was dealing with the Kashmiri kidnappers of Rubaiya Sayeed, the daughter of the Union Home Affairs Mufti Mohammed Sayeed, and representing India when Iraq invaded Kuwait, triggering the first Gulf War. Indeed, it was while visiting Saddam Hussein in an effort to ensure that no Indians were harmed that the gentlemanly Gujral committed his most lasting controversy when he was photographed being hugged by the Iraqi dictator. He was also known as one of India’s best-dressed politicians and people often asked for the details of his tailor.

When he was forced from office after a series of controversies and lost the support of Congress party, which had been backing his government, Gujral remained in politics, but only on the sidelines. He later turned down an offer from the Congress for a party ticket, preferring to remain within the Janata Dal. He gradually removed himself from public life and retired from politics in 1999.

And yet one cause he remained committed to until the end of his life was trying to improve India’s relationships with its neighbours. One report published after his death, which followed a lung infection, said that during his retirement Gujral wrote Urdu poems, and whenever he bumped into a Pakistani diplomat he would recite one to the visiting envoy.

Inder Kumar Gujral. politician: born Jhelum, India (now Pakistan) 4 December 1919; married Sheila (died 2011; two sons); died Gurgaon, India 30 November 2012.

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
Teeth should be brushed twice a day to prevent tooth decay
education
News
Bryan Cranston as Walter White, in the acclaimed series 'Breaking Bad'
news
Sport
footballChelsea 6 Maribor 0: Blues warm up for Premier League showdown with stroll in Champions League - but Mourinho is short of strikers
News
Those who were encouraged to walk in a happy manner remembered less negative words
science
Arts and Entertainment
Princess Olga in 'You Can't Get the Staff'
tvReview: The anachronistic aristocrats, it seemed, were just happy to have some attention
News
Renee Zellweger as Bridget Jones
i100
Life and Style
tech

Board creates magnetic field to achieve lift

News
There have been various incidents of social media users inadvertently flouting the law
news

Life and Style
Stack ‘em high?: quantity doesn’t always trump quality, as Friends of the Earth can testify
techThe proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
News
Bourgogne wine maker Laboure-Roi vice president Thibault Garin (L) offers the company's 2013 Beaujolais Nouveau wine to the guest in the wine spa at the Hakone Yunessun spa resort facilities in Hakone town, Kanagawa prefecture, some 100-kilometre west of Tokyo
i100
Sport
CSKA Moscow celebrate after equalising with a late penalty
footballCSKA Moscow 2 Manchester City 2: Premier League champions let two goal lead slip in Russia
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

IT Project Manager

Competitive: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Chelmsford a...

Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

IT Manager

£40000 - £45000 per annum + pension, healthcare,25 days: Ashdown Group: An est...

Day In a Page

Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

'You need me, I don’t need you'

Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

How to Get Away with Murder

Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
A cup of tea is every worker's right

Hard to swallow

Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
Which animals are nearly extinct?

Which animals are nearly extinct?

Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
12 best children's shoes

Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London