The Passing of Giants
IK Gujral and KC Pant belonged to the rare breed of politicians who put the nation before their careers, remembers
THE EVIL that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones.” Today, as our lives get steadily more enmeshed in a never-ending present, Shakespeare’s aphorism has become even more important to remember. Two people to whom India owes a great deal passed away in the second fortnight of November. They were Krishna Chandra Pant, fondly known by his friends and admirers as ‘Raja’, and Inder Kumar Gujral, who felt most comfortable when people simply addressed him by his first name, Inder. Inder was 92, and had been fading slowly. Raja was 81 and at the peak of his mental powers when, on the morning of 15 November, he sat down in his favourite chair, drank his morning tea, and simply went to sleep.
Death is an occasion for mourning. But it is also a time for remembering the life that has been lived. Both these fine men have left us a lot to remember. And a lot to celebrate. Gujral was India’s prime minister for only eight months, but in that short period, he left an indelible stamp on our foreign policy. Today, the world remembers him mainly as the creator of the Gujral Doctrine. Mark Tully summed it up in The Guardian as follows: “At its heart was the highly significant recognition that India must treat its neighbours more generously, and in particular, no longer insist on reciprocal measures.” That, of course, was the core of the doctrine, and Gujral applied it within weeks of becoming prime minister to settle the thorny issue of how to share the Ganga waters impounded by the Farakka barrage with Bangladesh. He did this in a manner that recognised not only Bangladesh’s legal rights as the lower riparian State, but also its far greater need for these waters.
In doing so, he not so much set a precedent — for that