He was Prime Minister for less than a year, and at that by accident: because the other contestants squabbled furiously and pulled each other down. Yet Inder Kumar Gujral left behind a foreign policy legacy so path-breaking that it became the touchstone for the conduct of India’s relations with its immediate neighbours.
The author of the celebrated Gujral Doctrine (a set of five principles based on unilateral accommodation) died here on Friday — at age 92, after a full life and a remarkable career that saw him climb inch by inch to success, from municipal-level politician to minister, diplomat, and finally Prime Minister.
Hours after Gujral’s death, the Union Cabinet declared a seven-day state mourning. The Cabinet, which also announced a state funeral, passed a resolution that said: “In his death, India has lost a great patriot, a visionary leader and a freedom fighter.” In another honour, the Cabinet decided that Gujral would be cremated at a place near Smriti Shtal, where the former Prime Minister, Chandra Shekhar, was laid to rest.
The Gujral doctrine earned him fame, acclaim and his place as a scholar-statesman in national and international diplomatic circles. But as Manmohan Singh would remark in his tribute to the twelfth Prime Minister, Gujral was above all a “gentleman-politician” with a “liberal and humanist vision,” whose “qualities of heart and head enabled him to make his mark in every office he held.”
The same attributes were also noted by Sonia Gandhi, who in a letter to Naresh Gujral, his son and Rajya Sabha MP of the Akali Dal, said: “…the late leader had the ability to win goodwill and friendship across the political spectrum. It is these qualities and the genuine warmth of his personality that made him such a widely admired and respected Prime Minister of India, MP and ambassador.”
The Gujral Doctrine took shape when he was Foreign Minister in the 1996-1997 fractious H.D. Deve Gowda government, which was brought down by the Congress after a fight-to-finish feud between the then Congress president, Sitaram Kesri, and Mr. Gowda.
Though the bitter aftermath was not ideally suited for the elevation of the suave and sober Gujral, he made it to the high office against all expectations for two reasons: he was the least unacceptable among the quarrelling aspirants, and his excellent relations with the Nehru-Gandhi clan.