Inder Gujral’s demise removes the last of the stalwarts of the 70s-80s era. He was an accidental prime minister — being there at the right time, the right moment, for the concatenation of political forces to hoist him on to the gaddi. His ‘Gujral Doctrine’ was inspired more by sentiment — he was born in Gujerat, in northwestern Punjab, and hence was received in Pakistan always as a returning son — rather than by realpolitik. Realpolitik considerations, I have always argued, are better basis for strong relations with Pakistan. If you cut out sentimentaility, the picture is less clouded by personal experiences and emotional pull. The means Gujral suggested actually are the very things that can work — having asymmetrical trade and commercial relations with all neighbours including Pakistan will immediately give the states in the near-abroad a stake in India’s wellbeing and future, and vice-versa — as I have argued in all my books. But, vis a vis Pakistan there’s a need to address that country’s insecurity on its terms. This will essentially require denaturing the Indian army’s strike corps element by recomposing it as I have suggested in my writings the armoured and mechanized forces and the three strike corps establishment — and using the manpower and financial component thus freed up to raise, eventually, three offensive strike corps for the mountains against China, and by taking such measures as removing the liquid-fueled Prithvi missiles from their forward-deployed stance (which would neither compromise nor weaken Indian security, because India has the 700km Agni-1 to cover Pakistan). This is the hard kernel of rapprochement with Pakistan. Whether Gujral appreciated this military aspect or not, is unclear to me despite my having talked with him a number of times. It is, however, fair to say as a short-term PM of a ragtag coalition regime he lacked the political punch to implement such a military policy. Hence, his Doctrine was toothless and achieved little, as I rfemember writing at the time.
But as a person, he was delightful. Indeed, the first time I interacted with him in any meaningful way was in December 1982 when he, K. Subrahmanyam, and I were invited by the Pakistan Govt to partake of än event billed as the ‘First International Conference on Peace and Security in South Asia’ under the aegis of the then recently founded Institute for Strategic Studies, Islamabad, run by Brigadier Noor Hussain. Subbu was the ‘clever Tamil brahmin’ the mainly military and foreign office audience were wary of — their apprehension turning into anger as Subbu lampooned their pretensions as a ‘martial race’. I was the young, smart-alecky type invited, presumably, because of my views about how to deal with Pakistan that differed from that of the Indian establishment (which difference in views still persists). But it was Gujral who was the centre of attention, always surrounded, engulfed in waves of West Punjabi warmth, speaking thir lingo, joking, pumping hands, and backslapping his way through the two-day affair. He was the last of the Wagah candle-lighters — in spirit, for sure — in the political class.