A gentleman prime minister

I.K. Gujral may have been PM only for a few months, but he was a quintessential politician from the start

The wave of sorrow and the outpouring of tributes after Inder Kumar Gujral's death bespeak of the respect and affection he enjoyed among a wide circle of people cutting across party lines. He, a thorough gentleman, had endeared himself to one and all. He may have been prime minister for only a few months, but he was a quintessential politician from the very start. Politics was indeed in his genes.

His father was a freedom fighter in Jhelum, now in Pakistan's Punjab, and he jumped into the fray as a student in Lahore. Migrating to Delhi after Independence and Partition, he began his political career as member of the New Delhi Municipal Committee. Those were the years when he was also a regular at that famous (and long defunct) meeting place, India Coffee House on Janpath. Whoever shared coffee and conversation with him there remained his lifelong friend.

Inder Gujral came into prominence in 1966 as a member of Indira Gandhi's "kitchen cabinet" and a year later also became a minister of state in her council of ministers. In November 1969, the year of Mahatma Gandhi's centenary, the Congress split. Soon thereafter, her minority government won a vote of confidence impressively; the two beaming acolytes walking behind her, as she left the House, were Dinesh Singh and Gujral. However, like most Indira loyalists, these two also fell from grace. Gujral's fall came on the very first day after the proclamation of Emergency, when he was minister for information and broadcasting. The moving spirit of the new dispensation, Sanjay Gandhi, rudely told him that All India Radio's performance was not up to scratch. He had the "temerity" to tell the young man to learn to talk to his elders. That afternoon he was transferred to the planning ministry and V. C. Shukla was put in charge of I&B.

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