National Interest: Accidentally, in history

Gujral's legacy: Indo-Pak spring that showed the way, a scary summer still unexplained

THERE was a sense of intrigue and urgency about that invitation to tea at 7, Race Course Road. It was late spring in 1997 and Inder Kumar Gujral was still new in the job of prime minister. One of his aides called late afternoon and said the PM wanted to meet a select group of editors that same evening to discuss something very important. What could it be? This was a period when our governments and prime ministers worked on daily wage. Was Gujral already fed up of the bickerings within the United Front and considering resignation?

The aides present with Gujral, A.P.J Abdul Kalam (then heading the Defence Research and Development Organisation), top MEA officials and his principal secretary, N.N. Vohra, indicated that the meeting was about something other than politics. Gujral said, "I know you are curious why I inconvenienced you at such short notice. I have called you to share a confidence that all my colleagues (officers) advised me not to. But I thought I must take you into confidence".

He said India was finally ratifying the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) and would comply with it fully. What this implied, he said, was that India had made a disclosure of the chemical weapons stockpiles it was holding. India had now also declared a transparent programme to destroy these in full view of CWC inspectors who were coming in soon to carry out verifications. He said the strategic view was that India did not need chemical weapons anymore and he was willing to answer any questions. This meeting, he said, was because he wanted us all to hear this first-hand from him. He said the top leadership of both, the Congress (his government's outside supporter), and the BJP (then widely seen as most likely to form the next government), had been taken into confidence.

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