Throughout his long life, former Prime Minister Inder Kumar Gujral never missed an opportunity to do good for Punjab and Punjabis.
His major contributions to his homeland included the establishment of Jalandhar Doordarshan in 1975, waiver of Punjab's debt to the tune of Rs. 8,500 crore in 1997 and the setting up the state-of-the-art Pushpa Gujral Science City at Kapurthala in 2005.
"He was a simple man and lived all his life for the sake of values. He never hesitated from opposing then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi for the Emergency and stood for the freedom of the Press. He hated goonda elements in politics," the former PM's son, Naresh Gujral, told Hindustan Times. Naresh is a Rajya Sabha member from the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD).
During his stint as the information and broadcasting minister in the 1970s, Gujral made tireless efforts for bringing a doordarshan kendra to Jalandhar. He believed that the medium of television would provide a platform to showcase the talent of Punjabis.
When Gujral became the Prime Minister with the Congress' outside support in 1997, Parkash Singh Badal returned to power in Punjab after a gap of nearly 17 years. The years of militancy had taken a heavy toll on the state's economy and Punjab was reeling under central debt amounting to Rs. 8,500 crore. Punjab repeatedly presented its case to the Centre for debt waiver, arguing that the entire nation should bear the burden of fighting terrorism, but to no avail.
Much to Punjab's joy, Gujral, after becoming the PM, announced a complete loan waiver in 1997.
The Akalis termed the loan waiver as a huge political win and even cashed in on it in subsequent assembly and parliamentary polls.
To reciprocate Gujral's gesture, Badal did not field a candidate against him when he (Gujral) contested on the Janata Dal ticket from the Jalandhar Lok Sabha seat in 1998. The SAD ensured that Gujral won by a huge margin.
In 2004, Naresh Gujral unsuccessfully contested on the SAD ticket from the Jalandhar Lok Sabha seat. Later, Badal ensured that Naresh was nominated to the Rajya Sabha in 2007.
'He was a votary of scientific temperament'
"Punjab would remain indebted to former Prime Minister Inder Kumar Gujral, who always worked for inculcating logic and scientific temperament among people," said RS Khandpur, director general, Pushpa Gujral Science City (PGSC).
"His death is a personal loss for me as he stood with me during the setting up of this prestigious project," said Khandpur, adding that "he helped to get assistance and clearance from various ministries and departments."
"He motivated us to keep Science City open seven days a week. He was very keen on propagating scientific temperament among the young generation," Khandpur added.
Science City, set up over 72 acres, faced opposition from several political leaders as it was built at the cost of the international airport project, which was later shifted to Amritsar (by upgrading the airport there to the international level).
Then Prime Minister Gujral laid the foundation stone of the project on October 17, 1997, and dedicated it to his mother, Pushpa Gujral, who was a freedom fighter. It was opened to the public on March 20, 2005. Since then, more than 25 lakh visitors have visited Science City, as per PGSC officials. It has become a popular destination for students as well as tourists.
Former President APJ Abdul Kalam Azad visited Science City thrice to interact with students on science-related issues.
"The project is intended to makes science accessible to people. Science City is both a children's edutainment centre and a family entertainment centre," said Khandpur.
"We owe a lot to Gujral Sahib. He has given us a mission to work on. Thousands of students participate in science and technology competitions organised by us every year. It speaks volumes about the success of Gujral's dreams," he added.