Inder Gujral was a gentleman in politics. He had rivals but no enemy. His humility was his greatest asset. When late Jyoti Basu offered him the position of prime ministership on behalf of the giant front of different political parties, he said there were better persons than him. Jyoti Basu replied that in their opinion he was the best choice.
Even though his tenure as the prime minister was short, nearly a year, he sought to implement the Gujral Doctrine which he had propounded as the foreign minister. What it meant was to travel an extra mile to accommodate the viewpoint of neighbouring countries. In Pakistan and Bangladesh, he is known as a friend and both countries feel that Gujral’s days were the best during which they found that India did not behave like a Big Brother.
Gujral believed that the Prime Minister was the leader among the equals and gave full authority to his ministers. He jealously guarded his office. When asked whether the prime minister should be under the ambit of Lokpal, he categorically said ‘no’. He said the prime minister was privy to so many things that he should never be put in the dock so long as he was in the office.
Not many people know that he had started business at Karachi nearly one year before India was partitioned. When Pakistan’s constituent assembly met, he helped his father, Avtar Narain Gujral, in framing Pakistan’s Constitution. Avtar Narain was a member of the assembly because all MLAs of undivided Punjab were automatically members of Pakistan’s constituent assembly.
In Delhi, he began his political career as a Congress member in the New Delhi Advisory Committee which helped the then territory’s top administrator.
Gujral remained in the Congress party for several decades and was considered a member of Mrs Indira Gandhi’s kitchen cabinet. He served as a minister of Information and Broadcasting. This was when he clashed with Sanjay Gandhi who tried to give him instructions on how to deal with the press during emergency. Gujral said he was his mother’s minister and not his errand boy. Gujral was shifted to the planning commission where PN Haksar was already hibernating.
Mrs Gandhi recognised Gujral’s merit and sent him to Moscow as India’s ambassador. It was credit to his outstanding work when the non-Congress Prime minister Morarji Desai requested him to continue in his position. He did not go back to the Congress when he returned from Moscow.
Those were the days when the Sikhs felt alienated. Gujral constituted a Punjab Group which was able to narrow the distance between the Congress government and the Akalis. The Punjab Group persuaded the Akalis to give up their anti-Centre stance but the Congress was far from convinced. Gujral was the most dejected person but he did not give up his work towards conciliation. The effort was frustrating but rewarding as it was from Gujral’s heart. The Sikhs would miss him the most.
- Kuldip Nayar is a senior journalist.