Long after he was finished with the business of partisan politics, Inder Kumar Gujral who served a brief 10-month stint as prime minister defended his ‘Gujral doctrine in his autobiography, ‘Matters of Discretion’. He wrote:”The logic behind the Gujral Doctrine was that since we had to face two hostile neighbours in the north and the west, we had to be at ‘total peace’ with all other immediate neighbours in order to contain Pakistan’s and China’s influence in the region.”
The doctrine formulated first in his tenure as an external affairs minister under HD Deve Gowda, and then perfected when he became prime minister is believed to be his most significant and controversial contribution to the national security policy framework in a career that spanned over five decades and embraced politics, diplomacy and public affairs.
Its significance lies in the insight that for India to become a global power in sync with its stature, it needs a peaceful neighbourhood. The element of controversy springs from the debilitating impact it had on R&AW’s ability to conduct intelligence operations in Pakistan. On his directions, the Pakistan special operations desk of R&AW was shut down, leading to a major gap in India’s intelligence capabilities. Analysts blame this as one of the key factors that led to the “intelligence failure” before the Kargil war commenced. But then Gujral was determined to leave his imprint on Indo-Pak relations and was completely unmindful of such controversies during his career.
He shot into prominence during the mid-sixties as one of the members of Indira Gandhi’s cabinet. He fell out with her on account of his differences with her then all-powerful son Sanjay during the Emergency. He was the minister of state for information and broadcasting. He was shunted to the planning ministry. He was replaced by Vidya Charan Shukla whose tough ways earned him notoriety in those days.
This tiff with Sanjay later proved to be a blessing in disguise, as the leftist Gujral, who became a card-holding member of the CPI during his student days and sported a Lenin-style goatee, got an opportunity to play a significant role in building durable ties with Communist Russia. Although it was Indira Gandhi who sent him to Moscow, Gujral stayed there during the subsequent tenures of Morarji Desai and Charan Singh as well.
Even with nearly four decades in politics, Gujral could never really win an election on his own. Indeed, he needed the support of the Akali Dal to win from Jalandhar — the adopted home town of his family. His father Avatar Narain Gujral and mother Pushpa had settled in Jalandhar after migration from Pakistan.