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
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
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

Tradewind Recruitment: English Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: My client is an excellent, large partially ...

Tradewind Recruitment: Science Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: I am currently working in partnersh...

Tradewind Recruitment: Year 3 Primary Teacher

£100 - £150 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Year 3 Teacher Birmingham Jan 2015...

Ashdown Group: Lead Web Developer (ASP.NET, C#) - City of London

£45000 - £50000 per annum + Excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Lead Web Develo...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee