Unlikely PM, liberal intellectual passes away

FP

Gujral resigned after the Congress withdrew support in the wake of the Jain Commission report.

Notwithstanding the tumult of national politics, Gujral led a life of dignity and was prepared to pay a price for its sake when needed. When Congress president Sonia Gandhi offered him a Rajya Sabha ticket, he declined it politely as he believed his political affiliation was not in conformity with the high position he had held as the prime minister of the country. He chose just his intellectual pursuits over a membership of the upper house.

Gujral belonged to a family of freedom fighters and was jailed in 1942 during the Quit India movement. He authored half-a-dozen books, including an autobiography, Matters of Discretion. A member of the capital's high-heeled Punjabi aristocracy, he steered a distinguished political career with care and caution.

Gujral came to Delhi after partition and was nominated vice president of the New Delhi Municipal Council in 1958. He was elected to the Rajya Sabha in 1964 due to the patronage of Indira Gandhi. Three years later, in 1967, when she became prime minister, she made him a minister of state for parliamentary affairs and communications. He gradually became a part of Indira Gandhi's kitchen cabinet. But his fortunes slipped following the Emergency in 1975.

As the information and broadcasting minister at that time, he could not match the expectations of Sanjay Gandhi and was moved to the planning ministry. When his Rajya Sabha term ended a year later, Indira Gandhi packed him off to Moscow as India's ambassador. He left the Congress in the mid-1980s and returned to politics by joining the Janata Dal. He served as the foreign minister twice — first in the V P Singh government and then under Gowda.

Sophisticated and soft-spoken, Gujral was unlike the typical politician. "I am now in the tenth decade of my life. I have witnessed many vicissitudes over the years. I have interacted with a wide variety of human beings — from the noble to the despicable and from the straightforward to the devious. I can now say, with conviction that I have exercised discretion to the extent possible throughout my life," he wrote in his autobiography.

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