Gujral, Inder Kumar

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GUJRAL, INDER KUMAR (1919–) prime minister of India (1997–1998). Inder Kumar Gujral, political leader and global diplomat, was born in Punjab's Jhelum on 4 December 1919. Young Inder attended Hailey College in Lahore, was elected president of its Student Union, and served as general secretary of the Punjab Student Federation. Inspired by Mahatma Gandhi's satyagraha campaigns, he soon joined India's freedom struggle and was jailed by British police, together with his mother, Pushpa, during Gandhi's "Quit India" movement in August 1942. The tragic partition of India in mid-1947 forced the Gujrals to flee their home in what overnight had become Pakistan, settling down in Delhi. Inder volunteered to help care for many desperately impoverished Hindu and Sikh refugees, forced by fear to flee their homes in the aftermath of Punjab's hastily inept partition.

Modeling himself on India's first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, Gujral joined the Indian National Congress Party, devoting himself to vigorous political action and social reform. His refugee camp work in Delhi won him the admiration of those he had helped to find jobs as well as homes, and they elected him to serve as vice-president of New Delhi's municipality, over which he later presided for many years. Nehru remained Inder Gujral's role model both in politics and social activism. Like Nehru, he was inspired by Western humanism and socialist ideals, never losing his passionate faith in democratic India's capacity to create a better future for all its people, regardless of their caste or creed, their ethnicity, or their income. He also has remained a lifelong student of India's history, and, like his poet-wife Shiela, a devotee of poetry, memorizing many of the best works of Persian and Urdu poetry, as well as epic Sanskrit shlokas, and poems written in Punjabi, Bengali, and English. "India is a country of vast diversities," Inder Gujral reminded his troubled nation at one of its darkest hours in the summer of 2002—as both India and Pakistan remained at high alert due to threat of nuclear war—"of language, religion, ethnicity and historic experiences, but we have chosen to stay together as one Nation. Gandhi and our freedom struggle gave us our logo . . . 'Unity in Diversity'—not uniformity." He refused to abandon his faith in Indian secularism to any reactionary "Hindu-first" prejudice or battle cry preached by political opponents.

Inder Gujral was first elected to the Lok Sabha (the lower house of India's Parliament) in 1964, retaining his seat until 1976, when he resigned from Indira Gandhi's Cabinet, where he had served as minister of information and broadcasting and planning. Minister Gujral refused to take orders from Prime Minister Gandhi's younger son, Sanjay, who once tried to dictate which news stories he should approve or reject for publication during the "National Emergency" of 1975–1976. Gujral was again elected to Parliament from 1989 to 1991, and from 1992 to 1998. He then served as minister of external affairs in 1989 and 1990 and in 1996 and 1997, after which he also became India's prime minister, from 21 April 1997 until 19 March 1998, leading a multiparty Janata coalition government in New Delhi. Nehru and Gujral were India's only two prime ministers who served as their own foreign ministers.

Prime Minister Gujral presided over India's festive fiftieth anniversary National Day celebrations in New Delhi's Parliament at midnight on 15 August 1997. Speaking the next morning from the ramparts of Delhi's Red Fort, he reaffirmed India's faith in Gandhian nonviolence and Nehruvian secularism, promising to root out corruption at every level of government, and to resolve "peacefully through bilateral negotiations" differences with India's neighbors, including India's half century of conflict with Pakistan over the state of Jammu and Kashmir. Though his tenure as prime minister proved all too brief to permit Inder Gujral to negotiate a peaceful end to Kashmir's tragic conflict, he unilaterally launched a number of confidence-building measures with India's other South Asian neighbors, including Nepal and Bangladesh, and his creative policy of "preemptive peace and friendship," known as the Gujral Doctrine, remains his most enduring diplomatic legacy to India's polity and history.

Stanley Wolpert


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