National Interest: Accidentally, in history

"But, Gujral sahib", I asked, "didn't we sign a treaty with Pakistan in the past (August 19, 1992) where we both solemnly stated that we did not have any chemical weapons?" Gujral just smiled.

"So you mean we lied in a serious treaty of this nature?" I persisted.

"That is the beauty of this country and its politics," Gujral said. "So many secrets have remained hidden so safely, in spite of the fact that not just great leaders like Nehru, Indiraji and Rajiv have been prime ministers, but also some lallu-panjus (very brutal Punjabi for non-entity) like me have been in the job," he said.

GUJRAL was truly an accidental prime minister. He only got the job because he was seen as apolitical and a lightweight and because the coalition could not choose another leader. So Gujral became an unlikely last choice. But he was no lallu-panju. He had more political and administrative experience already than almost anybody in that UF government. His political and ideological teacher was Indira Gandhi, under whom he served as ambassador to Moscow (the most important diplomatic posting then) and then as I&B minister. He had subsequently been external affairs minister in V.P. Singh's and Gowda's short-term governments. As almost all his obituaries would underline today, it was in these three short tenures, two as EAM and one as PM, each lasting less than a year, that he produced and cemented one of the very few original foreign policy thoughts in India since Nehru: the Gujral doctrine. He was laughed at for his "predictable" Saturday Club (as the group of mostly retired policy wonks that has traditionally met at New Delhi's India International Centre is called) woolly-headedness. It led to an open revolt by many key desk heads in the MEA establishment. At least two of them even went whispering to the top leadership of the BJP, that Gujral and his foreign secretary Salman Haidar were selling away India's interests. There were obvious, and cruelly unfair insinuations as to "why" Haidar was "particularly" soft on Pakistan and Gujral just a silly old romantic. But Gujral did not waver. His explanations did not fully convince the BJP then. But the fact remains that both his successors, Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh, embraced the Gujral doctrine, and expanded it. That is Gujral's most brilliant legacy.

... contd.

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