‘Here was Gujral; when comes such another?’ : The Tribune India

IK Gujral birth centenary

‘Here was Gujral; when comes such another?’

After Mahatma Gandhi's call for "ahimsa" and Atal Bihari Vajpayee's slogan "insaaniyat and jamhooriat", the other ideal that has emerged from India and ignited hope for humanity based on a vision of a world without conflict is the famous "Gujral Doctrine".

‘Here was Gujral; when comes such another?’

Strong bond: Gujral never saw a conflict between his patriotism and his strong espousal of the cause of his home state, Punjab.

Harsimrat Kaur Badal

Harsimrat Kaur Badal
Union Minister for Food Processing Industries

After Mahatma Gandhi's call for "ahimsa" and Atal Bihari Vajpayee's slogan "insaaniyat and jamhooriat", the other ideal that has emerged from India and ignited hope for humanity based on a vision of a world without conflict is the famous "Gujral Doctrine". Visualised and articulated by the late Prime Minister Inder Kumar Gujral, the doctrine is rooted in the ancient and original Indian vision of "Vishwa Kutumbukam"(the whole world is one family). It summed up not just a political and diplomatic approach but also the whole persona of the author himself. 

Suave, humble and cultured to the fingertip, Gujral sahib was the quintessential conflict resolver, a diplomat "to the manner born." And better than any career diplomat, he understood that diplomacy was far more than mere stratagem or political guile; it was the most civilised way of addressing and resolving conflicts that, left unattended, could sprout a harvest of hate and, consequently, war.

That the Gujral Doctrine was sired by the first Punjabi to adorn the Indian prime-ministerial office was no surprise. Punjab has for centuries been the melting pot for major civilisations and religions of the world. It was here that Alexander the Great was first seriously confronted and challenged. The Greek warrior-emperor was so impressed by what he saw that he ended up befriending scholars and seers from the land of the Vedas. What is common between Alexander's experience on the one hand and the Gujral Doctrine on the other is that both were rooted in a new world vision based on peace and international understanding, and that both emanated from the verdant landscape of Punjab.

Typically, Gujral sahib's elevation to the top post in a political climate of chaos was also of a piece with his persona: he was the consensus choice of political parties of divergent philosophies. This symbolised the persona of Gujral sahib, always a man of consensus who could miraculously find a common ground even between sworn enemies.

By the time he formulated the Gujral Doctrine, which till now holds the key to the resolution of international conflicts, especially among neighbouring countries, IK Gujral was already the first name that would come to anyone's mind while talking about matters of foreign policy.

And yet, despite his unimpeachable reputation as a global leader, acceptable even to adversaries, Gujral sahib never allowed himself to be cut off from his roots. Punjab remained his first love, no matter where he went. In the 1980s, when his home state was literally in flames and fear had silenced almost all voices of sanity, Gujral sahib stepped forward as a responsible son of the soil and interacted not only with leaders and opinion-makers, including teachers, writers and lawyers, but even the rural masses. He was the first leader from the national level to dare to address gatherings of Sikh students in the sensitive city of Amritsar, pleading for peace in the wake of the army assault on the Golden Temple. 

In one such address at Khalsa College, Amritsar, just a few weeks after that assault, Gujral sahib won the hearts of the Sikh youth when he said, "The country need not preach patriotism to us the Punjabis. If anything, they need to come to Harmandar Sahib to take elementary lessons on patriotism from the Punjabis, especially the Sikh youth."

Gujral sahib never saw a conflict between his fierce patriotism on the one hand and his strong espousal of the cause of his home state, Punjab, on the other. His personal relations with almost all Akali leaders — from the days of Sant Fateh Singh and, later, Sant Harchand Singh Longowal and Gurcharan Singh Tohra — always exuded cordiality, warmth and understanding. He knew that the Akalis were being treated unjustly and that their struggle for a federal India was not only peaceful and democratic but also pitched firmly within the ambit of the Constitution. He backed the Akali demand for more financial powers to the states, as also for the preservation of the heterogeneous religious, cultural, linguistic and regional character of India to promote "unity in diversity." 

Although he enjoyed enviable and unmatched respect among every Akali leader, his bond with the tallest Akali stalwart and the five-time Chief Minister of Punjab, Sardar Parkash Singh Badal, was of a nature seldom seen among two tall public figures, and that too from the same state. There was something unbelievably sentimental in the voices of the two whenever either of them spoke about the other.

Apart from Gujral sahib's intense love for his state, it was his emotional bonding with Sardar Badal that finally saw Punjab emerge out of the crippling burden of a special term loan of Rs 8,500 crore. Punjab had been burdened with this unbearable loan during the years of militancy when the state was governed directly by the Government of India under successive Congress regimes. The Centre would take away all the revenues from Punjab and yet put all the fiscal costs of fighting militancy on the poor and suffering people of the state. The problem itself was the creation of the Centre's own failures and machinations in the first place. 

When Gujral sahib became Prime Minister, Sardar Badal requested for a meeting, suggesting that he would send the state's demands in advance, which the PM could get examined and processed by Central departments before the meeting. That was exactly what was done. When the meeting started, the special term loan of Rs 8,500 crore was the first to come up for discussion. But even before any discussion could start on the subject, Gujral said, with a flourish of his hand, "Waived. Move to the next item." That was that. A meeting that was scheduled to last the whole day was over in 20 minutes flat. 

Later, in an aside with the PM, Badal remarked in an emotional tone: "Punjab owes nothing now to the Centre. But it owes a lot to its own son, Inder Kumar Gujral." Gujral Sahib held Mr Badal's hand in both hands and quipped, "Punjab never owed anything to anyone. Punjabis fought the nation's war and paid for it with their blood. It is the nation that owes a debt to Punjab."

Today, when Gujral is no longer with us, his state still looks back on those years with great warmth and a touch of sadness. The Doctrine which became known by his name still remains the best formula to address issues not only of international nature but also domestic and, to some extent, even of a personal nature. Apart from summing up a political and diplomatic approach, the Gujral Doctrine is also a recipe for a new approach to life. There is huge legacy for his competent son Naresh Kumar Gujral to promote.

To sum up, "Here was Gujral; when comes such another?"

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