Trib­ute A Man for all Sea­sons

Southasia - - Contents - – J. A

I. K. Gu­jral leaves be­hind a power vac­uum

There are many traits of char­ac­ter that bring out the great­ness in a great man (or woman). One is, how long they keep their guests or au­di­ence wait­ing.

Back in 1997, I.K. Gu­jral, then In­dia’s Min­is­ter of Ex­ter­nal Af­fairs, was sup­posed to pre­side at a me­dia con­fer­ence in New Delhi. He was re­turn­ing from a visit to the Gulf States and was driven straight from the Indira Gandhi In­ter­na­tional Air­port to the con­fer­ence venue at the Par­lia­ment House. The ses­sion was sched­uled to com­mence at 4.00 pm but Mr. Gu­jral ar­rived 10 min­utes late due to the traf­fic snarl on the way from the air­port. Once he took his seat on the dais, the first thing he did was pro­fusely and re­peat­edly apol­o­gize to the del­e­gates for hav­ing kept them wait­ing and for wast­ing their valu­able time.

As a del­e­gate from Pak­istan, this was rather strange be­hav­ior for me. I am ac­cus­tomed to a dif­fer­ent va­ri­ety of ‘great’ men. I am from a coun­try where, when the gov­er­nor of the province is sched­uled to ad­dress a sem­i­nar at 4.00 pm, his mil­i­tary sec­re­tary calls the or­ga­niz­ers about an hour later to en­quire that could the Gov­er­nor Sahib come to the venue if the guests had ar­rived? Or, where the Chief Jus­tice ar­rives two hours late and keeps the guests wait­ing at a book launch­ing and there is not a sin­gle word of apol­ogy from him.

Dur­ing the con­fer­ence in New Delhi, which was on the theme of the role of the Ju­di­ciary and the Me­dia, the is­sue of ‘po­lice re­port­ing’ for Pak­ista­nis vis­it­ing In­dia came up. My host, Mr. Upen­dra Va­j­paee, re­quested Mr. Gu­jral that the re­quire­ment of ‘po­lice re­port­ing’ for vis­it­ing Pak­istani jour­nal­ists should be waived. Gu­jral showed his keen­ness on the is­sue and promised to do some­thing about it. How­ever wellmean­ing he may have been, if he later wrote a note to the con­cerned au­thor­i­ties, it must have been bull­dozed by an­other heavy file in some of­fice in South Block.

The visa re­lax­ation for Pak­istani jour­nal­ists did not come about dur­ing Mr. Gu­jral’s ten­ure as For­eign Min­is­ter or as Prime Min­is­ter, not even in his life­time, but at least

some head­way has been made on the is­sue re­cently that ben­e­fits chil­dren, se­nior ci­ti­zens and busi­ness­men from both sides.

I may add that dur­ing my visit to In­dia for the con­fer­ence, Mr. Va­j­paee made sure that I didn’t have to ‘pay my respects’ at the spec­i­fied po­lice sta­tion in New Delhi ei­ther on ar­rival or prior to de­par­ture.

I.K. Gu­jral was a man of many di­men­sions. He was born in 1919 in Jhelum where he spent his early child­hood and later stud­ied at D.A.V. Col­lege, Hai­ley Col­lege of Com­merce and F.C. Col­lege in La­hore.

He moved over to In­dia af­ter par­ti­tion and sub­se­quently joined the Congress Party. He had a long stint spread over 50 years, serv­ing in var­i­ous key slots and ris­ing to the po­si­tion of Prime Min­is­ter of In­dia. Be­fore this, he had held sev­eral min­is­te­rial port­fo­lios un­der Indira Gandhi’s premier­ship. He also served as In­dia’s Am­bas­sador to the USSR in the days when the coun­try’s re­la­tions with the Soviet Union were at their peak. He sub­se­quently switched from the Congress Party to the Janata Dal and served as Min­is­ter for Ex­ter­nal Af­fairs both un­der V.P. Singh and Devi Gowda.

It was dur­ing his Prime Min­is­ter­ship that he launched the Gu­jral Doc­trine, a set of 5 prin­ci­ples aimed at con­duct­ing for­eign re­la­tions with In­dia’s im­me­di­ate neigh­bors.

Gu­jral vis­ited his place of birth in Jhelum along with his wife in 1982 and nar­rated rec­ol­lec­tions of the visit with a great deal of nos­tal­gia in his au­to­bi­og­ra­phy ‘Mat­ters of Dis­cre­tion’ which was pub­lished in 2011.

Be­sides pol­i­tics, Gu­jral was also a man of art, cul­ture and po­etry. Writ­ing about his days at the Hai­ley Col­lege in La­hore, he says: “It was in this col­lege that I met the fa­mous Urdu poet Faiz Ahmed ‘Faiz’ who was my English pro­fes­sor. De­spite our age dif­fer­ence, we be­came good friends and re­mained close all our lives. Un­der his in­flu­ence, I devel­oped a keen in­ter­est in Urdu po­etry. Years later, when I was the am­bas­sador to the USSR, Faiz spent many months re­cu­per­at­ing in a sana­to­rium out­side Moscow. I took this op­por­tu­nity to host many mu­sic and po­etry recital evenings at my home.”

Gu­jral’s de­par­ture at the ripe age of 92 leaves a wide gap in In­dia - and in the sub­con­ti­nent.

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