IK Gujral, the good guy of politics



The Punjabis who came to Delhi after Partition tended to be entrepreneurial. Many went on to become millionaires, amassing large fortunes and forever changing the character of India’s capital. What made Inder Gujral different was that he chose to use his considerable talents not to make money but to make a name for himself.

At a time when middle-class intellectuals were reluctant to venture into politics, Gujral bravely took the plunge. He was never a mass politician nor did he have an electoral base. But so successful was he at leveraging his talents that he went on to serve in senior cabinet posts under three different Prime Ministers before, in one of the most incredible twists in Indian political history, briefly becoming Prime Minister himself.

Gujral’s initial rise had more to do with circumstances than with any political manoeuvring. In 1966, when Indira Gandhi became Prime Minister, she set up a Kitchen Cabinet consisting of friends and advisors who shared a vaguely Left-wing point of view. These advisors were well-spoken, well-read, and generally, drawn from the non-political middle class.

Some of the Kitchen Cabinet’s members remained out of politics: Romesh Thapar stayed out of the frame, restricting himself to journalism.

Some remained civil servants: PN Haksar was once India’s most powerful man but he never sought political office.

Only Inder Gujral decided that he wanted to be a minister. Mrs Gandhi duly obliged and Gujral rose to becoming information and broadcasting minister (a far more powerful position in that era than it is today) and one of the Cabinet’s most high profile faces.

But when your power derives from one source, it is all too easy for things to go wrong. In Gujral’s case, the catalyst for change was Mrs Gandhi’s thug-like younger son, Sanjay. Shortly after the Emergency was declared, Sanjay summoned Gujral and admonished him for failing to properly project the government.

Yeh sab nahin chalega,” Sanjay is supposed to have told him.

According to Gujral, he replied, “Yeh bilkul chalega.”

Like many of Indira Gandhi’s old friends, Gujral had seen Sanjay grow up and could not believe that the young man would dare talk to him so rudely. He was convinced that Mrs Gandhi would tell her son off for his uncivil behaviour. In fact, she told Gujral off. And then she sent him off. He was sacked as I&B minister and packed off to an Ambassadorial posting.

This happened in 1975 and by all rights, Gujral’s career should have ended there given that he was a man without a base, entirely dependent on Mrs Gandhi’s patronage. It is a tribute to his resilience that 14 years later, after Mrs Gandhi and Sanjay had both died, Gujral returned to the cabinet in a post that was even more senior: external affairs minister.

How he got the job in VP Singh’s government remains something of a mystery. The most commonly accepted explanation is that VP Singh had relatively few followers (his was a minority government), most of whom had no interest in urban affairs, let alone international affairs.

Gujral neatly filled the void. But almost from the first day, he was a misfit in the government. He was routinely derided by VP Singh’s more rustic colleagues and matters came to a head when Devi Lal, the second-most powerful man in the Cabinet, told an interviewer that the government had too many effete and ineffectual ministers such as Gujral.

That phase ended in 1990, with the collapse of the VP Singh government. But Gujral did not give up. In 1996, he was back as external affairs minister in HD Deve Gowda’s government and when Gowda was forced out, Gujral put himself forward as a compromise candidate for the top job. He got it and remains one of the unlikeliest Prime Ministers in Indian history.

What accounted for Gujral’s resilience? Some of it had to do with his intelligence and determination. But he also owed his success to his fundamental decency. He was never accused of any kind of dishonesty, let alone financial corruption. He was pleasant, always warm, and eager to hug anyone at the slightest opportunity. (“What is wrong?” he asked an interviewer. “I like hugging. It is my style.”)

In the complicated world of coalition politics, his warmth, decency and lack of a political base became both advantages and weaknesses.

They were an advantage because nobody saw him as a threat and, therefore, he was always the obvious compromise candidate. But they were also weaknesses because his colleagues routinely derided him, sometimes to his face. When he was Prime Minister, for instance, he was continually humiliated by Sharad Yadav’s public rudeness.

What will Gujral’s legacy be? It is hard to say. He had hoped to usher in a new era in foreign policy, propounding the Gujral Doctrine and hoping to improve relations with Pakistan. (This is a familiar preoccupation when it comes to Punjabi Prime Ministers of a certain age.) His most famous and perhaps most notorious initiative in this area was the decision to ask R&AW to suspend all covert operations in Pakistan. He had no objection to intelligence gathering, he said. But he did not want India to fund secessionists or arm militants. To this day, Gujral remains a much-reviled figure within the intelligence community which accuses him of causing the destruction of networks built up over years.

By the end, however, Gujral had become more pragmatic in his attitude towards Pakistan. For instance, when president Musharraf arrived in Delhi, on his way to Agra, for a summit with AB Vajpayee, Gujral took offence at Musharraf’s manner (“he is talking as though he can dictate terms to us”) and presciently forecast the collapse of the summit.

But his real legacy may be one that he had never intended to bestow upon future generations. His career demonstrated that even within the cesspool of Indian politics, it is possible for a decent human being with no political base to rise to the top. And as Gujral proved again and again, a good man is hard to keep down even when he has no electoral muscle behind him.

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  • Anonymous

    Who gives a F***K about adarsh and what not.Folks MANU SANGHVI married with two sons , 27 and 24 starts with ******** with a Lawyer and then full blown F***K by Singhvi. My prediction Mamata will pull the plug , mid term election , A COUNTRY FULL OF RAPIST , mamata will at least assure a CLEAN goverment

    [Reply]

    Anonymous Reply:

    Shan,

    Why have you stopped visiting Mr. Sharma’s blog? We all are missing you
    there.

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  • Tanu Mittal

    Skyfall was really the fall of James Bond and the bond movies.A lot was expected from this movie and of all i was eagerly waiting for it.phew!!it was terrible , horrible and worse till the end.The bond movies are idealistic & the expectation arose more with this year release.Though reviews were ok but the general view shared by the public was not good.It was a total bore movie ,actions were lacking in the whole movie & our James bond Daniel Craig seemed to be tired & old .This movie seemed to be a liitle old fashioned with no techno savvy Bond as if its a 18th century movie.Where was the heroine in the whole movie ..definitely we must say all the glamour ,bold & beautiful were lacking and in all it was a heroine less movie!!This movie did not match the standard of legendary bond movies!!!

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    Kushal Reply:

    Yay! So I’m not the only disappointed one, Tanu. Thanks for the validation.

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  • Abhiroop

    We have the History of English in the B.A. syllabus? I totally want to do it then.

    I saw Skyfall last week and it was the first time I’d been inside a theatre since early 2009 when I watched Dilli 6. I remember fondly the first Bond film I saw, the Pierce Brosnan starrer Tomorrow Never Dies, when I was 10, a few days before my 6th standard final exams were to start and oh what a high it was to have watched what I later found out was an A rated film!

    And eh. Men read porn?

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    Kushal Reply:

    We HAD it in Calcutta University in the late 80s, Abhiroop. I can recommend some books if you’re interested.

    And sorry, I made a mistake. Men don’t READ porn, they watch it.

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  • Deb

    Me too (to your last sentence). And this movie contributes to what you say in the title of your post i.e. ‘Breaking the Bond’ (with the quintessential Bond fan, that is).

    It’s so refreshing to get an honest opinion from you, when all the reviews (and comments/articles) are going all ga-ga about the so called ‘humanization’ and ‘layering’ and other sorts of blah-blah of Bond. Well, who wants a more ‘humane’ Bond!! (perhaps the kind of people who don’t watch Bond movies in the first place?). I think it all started with the first film with Craig as Bond, ‘Casino Royale, with Bond beaten to a pulp. Something unthinkable in Bond movies of yore, even as he took his fair share on the chin, but always had the last laugh in any encounter.

    Bond movies are perhaps the last bastion of escapism, away from all the realism, like a good ol’ ‘dishum-dishum’ Amitabh movie of the 70s/early 80s, with rather more technical wizardry. And great one liners, the swagger, martinis,… (even if you discount the hot bods). So to deprive Bond fans of all this (in a spurious quest to cater to the tastes of so called ‘politically correct’ viewers) is sacrilege, no less. It somehow… enervates Bond, robs him of the very charm which drew most viewers.

    Me, I’d rather watch an ‘Agent Vinod’ (or, on a bad day, ‘Ek Tha Tiger’), who seems to be an able successor to the original Bond.

    PS: The “unnamed operative” with Bond in Istanbul later metamorphoses into Ms. Moneypenny, M’s assistant, at the end of this movie.

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    Kushal Reply:

    Hooray! Another dissident! Thanks Deb. BIG grin.

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  • h.mani

    He was a unmatigated disaster for India,to put somebody who came from former Pakistan as P.M.,he single handedly dismantaled RAW, We as People will even appoint Musaruff as P.M. if he somehow become Indian Citizen,haven’t we already appointed KGB Ex as most powerful politician in India?

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  • jay

    Frigging shameless fellow who was the cause of thousands of deaths in India and indirectly led to Kargil War and Mumbai massacre amongst other things. This fellow should have been eliminated long ago for the harm he did to mother India.

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  • Anonymous

    “Good guy of politics”? I guess the Radia-Sanghvi brand of “good” – I guess. That was the man who sat firmly in Russia during emergency and supported Indira Gandhi and cultivated and supported the Gandhi brand of politics to the nadir of Indian history. Right you are Vir Sanghvi, in your world.

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  • Star Canopus

    Mr Gujral was a principled and urbane intellectual as well as a generous, large-hearted Punjabi.

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  • Ramesh Kumar

    GUJRAL HAS NOT LEFT ANY POSITIVE IMPACT ON INDIAN POLITICS.BUT SURELY HIS ERA WAS AN ERA OF KITCHEN CABINETS ,WHEN PEOPLE CHOSE TO BE QUIET OR COMPROMISING FOR GAIN.
    IAM SURE CONGRESS WILL MAKE A SAMADHI FOR HIM. .ARE WE DIFFERENT TODAY? MAY GOD HIS SOUL REST IN PEACE.

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  • Sumit Bose

    Ponder over this; this (journo) Dalal waxes eloquent over another Dalal of Mrs Gandhi, but he drew the line for his dalali and he would not do dalali for her son! And wonder of wonders, this dalal terms this departed soul as a “good man”. This person was one more misguided pseudo-secularist and was an unrepentant “candle-light holder”. I wonder if he chose to be a candle-light holder just for protection against Islamic terrorism unleashed upon India and wonder if he would yet be holding impotent candle-light vigils, if his near and dear ones were victims of Islamic terrorism?

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  • http://www.facebook.com/rahul.diddi Rahul Diddi

    IK Gujral was a friendly, urbane ambassador to the Soviet Union when I was a student there. He loved life and adapted to Moscow’s conditions by being the only Indian ambassador who enjoyed skiing in Moscow’s cold winters. He was very friendly to us students. I have very fond memories of the few meetings I enjoyed with him in Moscow.

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  • Sad sad sad

    It is truly sad, and an evil portent for my beloved country, that a self acknowledged goonda like Bal Thakeray is mourned publicly and in the press, but the passing of a true gentleman like Mr Gujral is hardly even in the news.

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  • Suparna Salahuddin

    suave, intellectual, well-spoken and a think -tank, no doubt. Had more potential in foreign policy diplomatic areas. His potential could have been well-utilized if he stayed back in adviser’s team of Prime-minister. His decision for taking up prime-minister ship was a wrong step.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/selman.khan.3 Selman Khan

    He Was indeed a Good Guy.When the anouncement of his becoming the PM was made I happened to be in Okhla just near his house in Maharani Bagh in G block.I went to congratulate him and found I could cooly go to his house with no Bheed around his sardarji secretary made me comfortable in a room where where Gujaral saheb came offered Barfi. Perhaps the crowd was waiting at his official residence.

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  • Anonymous

    ” was Mrs Gandhi’s thug-like younger son, Sanjay”
    Should not section 66 A of the IT act 2000 be invoked.

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  • Guest

    Anyone who stood up to Sanjay Gandhi at the height of his extra constitutional authority must have been a brave and honorable man.

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  • vijay !

    Ik Gujral was a big disappointment as a PM. Just when narasimha Rao had managed to match ISI with RAW, Dawood with Chotta Rajan, Syed Gilani with Altaf hussain…. IK gujral surrendered everything for eating Kababs with Nawz Sharif.

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  • vip- mop mop sweep sweeps

    I am just assuming if it sfact on foreigners then citizens of INDIA should thank Foreigners can at end of day can think, All you have been doing over decades afeter the independence in SOUTH EAST CONTINENT is bully bicker, act lazy and act nothing but fight and mud sling oneach other. Most of the politicians have failed in performing or delivering on right moral duties to serve citizens. Corruption, lack of vision how to run show, align priorties how to mange right population control and take robust moves to educate warn and alert people on their obligations towards the state and force feed in their conditioned braions by Babas that rights come with full responsibilty under citizens charter. Takers kahin ke and all in the name of Bhagwan by divering foolish ignorant mans attentions from all the right tasks.

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  • Babu Khan

    Shut up hey ****

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  • KP

    As usual,a very interesting view on BRICS bank by Mr.Pramit.The Soft power trumpcard could prove to be a game changer for both India and china

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  • Reader

    What a horrible, unsubstantiated piece of opinion. The argument is so shallow.

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  • balaji

    india should go forward more and more in all financial sectors of world like world bank/bricks banks , as it is unavoidable for progress/devlopment of country/world in future world …..

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  • Javed

    his advice to indian congress politicians doesnt work at all, so he thinks he should try obama

    what BS

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    Anonymous Reply:

    That’s really good one. I doubt whether anyone takes this writer seriously.

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    engricn Reply:

    i agree mohan

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  • vijay !

    Taliban in Afghanistan would be the same Taliban of IC 814 period. America in Afghanistan meant thAt evil jehadis from afghanistan were spent and killed in fighting USA.

    SO if you wish well fro India you should pray that US sticks out in Afghanistan as it also periodically bombs Pakistan our enemy with drones. If this is doen for another 10 years, the concept of Jehad and Islamic superiority over minorities and other religions will die out. After all how many je3hadis will keep beleiving that they are going to janat…

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  • Anonymous

    “Obama: What a let-down he’s been?”

    Says ZIa Haq…Why? Because Obama did not spare Zia’s hero Osama.

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  • Faulitics

    Haha..Vali Nasr is a Muslim originally from Iran. Of course he is stabbing his own country in the back and supporting openly radical and Islamist regimes like Iran and the Taliban. Valid Nasir is to the US what Zia is to India. These communal types have only one loyalty and that is to their religion. Obama did one really good thing. He took the war to the home turf of zia’s “brothers”, the Islamists. He is droning them to hell as they richly deserve it.

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    engricn Reply:

    but there is no hope to win.

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    Abhi Reply:

    Let us do an HT poll on “Am I a Muslim or an Indian First’ on Zia!

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    co Reply:

    why so much hate? why!!

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  • momn doter

    I was waiting for his next post, for I thought it would be about row over vande matram walkout. Instead he goes to US, for which I dont give a rat ***.

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  • Anonymous

    White House got lessons from Indian Politicians ruling and opposition. Now both ruling and opposition parties are silent on corrpution issues once China introduced human rights case on corruption cases. To stop the mentality of indian politicians approaching other nations for various instances is that, Politicians like Mr. Palani Chidambaram have the facility of viewing public places and reading public thoughts and so on … and waits for appropriate time to make presentation in the parliament, before that, many common public are killed and even professional like news readers heads are done. Which is day to day professional work from chennai. Which i have written to our hounarable president of india to take appropriate action action against criminal who possess illegal technology development. Without stopping this it is difficult to monitor social networking sites even after bringing data handling data storage rules and regulation. Present scenerio, China introduced human rights against corrpution, tamil nadu politicians who were in corrpution list came out, human rights is open for sri lankan issue and all of them will seek US Government for support. Atlast China will be left over nothing.

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  • Anonymous

    Zia shows why muslims will remain laggard for foreseable future. It is the ostrich burying its head in the sand scenario.Rather than see things for what they are worth , No turn your head or eyes from uncomfortable truths and turn to , yes you guessed it the OBSCURANTIST REGRESSIVE MEDIEVAL DOCTRINE.Rather than advice Iran to junk religion become a secular republic WITH FULL FREEDOM ie, RIGHT TO PASS LAWS THAT IS ACCORDANCE WITH MODERN REALITY AND SHOWS TWO FINGERS TO THE BOOK. Rather than advice TO SQUEEZE PAKISTAN DRY so that it will realise that to survive IT HAS TO JUNK ARMY AND ALLAH and by extension the vicous virus that is Taliban.
    Next Zia will advocate SIMI be exonerated and allowed to spread terror Dawood Ibrahim allowed to return to india and no terrorist charges against him

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  • engrich
  • engricn

    Bankim Chatterjee’s provocative books gave birth to extremist Hindu
    groups who translated his thoughts into reality. Anadamath written by
    Chatterjee in 1882 was the first manifestation of militant spirit of
    Hinduism against Muslims. Abominable Vande Matram, the hymn of Mother
    India was part of this book which became the national anthem of Bengali
    Hindu nationalists. Later it became the national anthem of India.
    Chatterjee’s book preached hatred against Muslims of India and
    instigated the religious sentiments of Hindus to rise against them,
    terrorize them into submission and merge them in Hinduism or annihilate
    them. He portrayed them as interlopers in the land of Hindus

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    Abhi Reply:

    “Chatterjee’s book preached hatred against Muslims of India”
    Which do you think came first? Muslim’s hatred of ALL other religions or Hindu’s hatred against moslims? Even to day, Modi will wear a scull cap gladly if the moslim who asked him to wear it will wear a tilak.

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  • Anonymous

    Mr Zia

    Time you started realising that Obama has been good for INdia. he bombed the Pakistnais, killed a few thousand jehadis, bottled up the jehaids and Taliban in Afghanistan.

    If you are an Indian look at the world thru the prism on what is good for India and NOT what is good for Muslim Brotherhood.

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    Anonymous Reply:

    Zia can not think anything beyond Islam. His kind of people are great threat to secular society.

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    Anonymous Reply:

    Very sad. I wish he develops a pro India vision rathr than seeing what is good for Muslims in Serbia and karachi.

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