Unlikely PM, liberal intellectual passes away


Inder Kumar Gujral, India's 12th prime minister and a gentleman-politician known for his intellect and diplomacy, died at the age of 92 on Friday. He was being treated at a private hospital in Gurgaon since November 19 for a host of ailments including a lung infection. The funeral is scheduled for Saturday.

His son Naresh Gujral, an Akali Dal member of Rajya Sabha, and other family members were by his side when the end came. Gujral had lost his poet-wife Sheila last year. His brother Satish Gujral is a renowned painter. The government declared a seven-day national mourning and both houses of Parliament were adjourned for the day as a mark of respect soon after the news of his death.

Born in Jhelum town which is now in Pakistan's Punjab province, Gujral was an unexpected prime minister. He happened to head a Congress-backed rag-tag United Front coalition government from April 1997 to March 1998, after then Congress president Sitaram Kesri pulled the rug from under the feet of his predecessor H D Deve Gowda.

As external affairs minister under Gowda and then as PM, Gujral is best remembered for what is called the 'Gujral doctrine', a set of principles that promote a liberal policy towards India's neighbours. The principles won him international acclaim but also came under criticism over the years as it was seen as being soft on Pakistan in the face of cross-border terrorism. Gujral also shut down covert operations by Indian intelligence agencies in Pakistan.

He attracted flak for the famous hug he gave Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein when he went to meet him after the first Gulf War in 1991. He also courted controversy following the transfer of CBI director Joginder Singh. This was seen as a concession to Lalu Yadav, who was being probed in connection with the fodder scam in Bihar. Gujral's decision to recommend President's Rule in Uttar Pradesh after unruly scenes in the state assembly in October 1997 became controversial when the then president K R Narayanan returned the recommendation. The Allahabad High Court also ruled against the decision.

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