Gujral, last of the wagah candle-lighters

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.

About Bharat Karnad

Senior Fellow in National Security Studies at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi, he was Member of the (1st) National Security Advisory Board and the Nuclear Doctrine-drafting Group, and author, among other books of, 'Nuclear Weapons and Indian Security: The Realist Foundations of Strategy', 'India's Nuclear Policy' and most recently, 'Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet)'. Educated at the University of California (undergrad and grad), he was Visiting Scholar at Princeton University, University of Pennsylvania, the Shanghai Institutes of International Studies, and Henry L. Stimson Center, Washington, DC.
This entry was posted in Asian geopolitics, India's Pakistan Policy, Indian Army, Indian Politics, Pakistan, Pakistan military, South Asia. Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to Gujral, last of the wagah candle-lighters

  1. Shaurya says:

    The key question and a popular story of the Gujral doctrine was that he ordered RAW to shut down activities in Pakistan. To what degree is this story true?

    • True, Gujral did issue cease and desist order to RAW on intel ops in Pakistan. This decision has since been reversed, but it hobbled a well-oiled RAW set-up for a generation and is taking time to recover.

  2. satyaki says:

    Bharat Sir,

    1) Did Gujral wind up even intel gathering (as opposed to covert action) ops in Pak ? B Raman insists that the ABV as well as MMS govts have refrained from restarting covert ops.

    2) In any case, however well intentioned such a decision was, does it not amount to some sort of treason in effect ?

    3) In case RAW has been given the go ahead for covert ops, will it be able to match the ISI in efficiency 10-15 years down the line ?

    • 1) On the basis of Pak charges alone that India is assisting the Baluch nationalist movement catch fire, one would have to conclude that approval for restarting covert ops within Pakistan was obtained a few years back. So, I’m not sure of Raman’s contention. 2) On intel matters, it is an executive decision. 3) Matching ISI efficiency — well, the stuation is this: because of the big mohajir element in Pakistan — among whom many retain family relations in India, it is relatively easier for RAW to pump up efficiency. But, of course, the years lost have stayed lost and is a cost India has to bear.

  3. Maverick says:

    Dear Dr. Karnad,

    I agree that the Gujral Doctrine disfavoured some things, but I suspect there was a pragmatic calculation at work.

    It is easy to forget that the epidemic of Islamist thought was at a peak in IKG’s time at the helm and for years now we have been hearing how extremely hard it is to penetrate such ideologically driven entities.

    Then there is that peculiar paradox that besets Pakistan. Yes Pakistan is populated by an excess of trouble makers – but if it is too unstable, then there is a risk that it will implode into a serious refugee crisis (a la East Pakistan/Bangladesh) – if it is too stable then there too much coherence in the anti-India views (ex. Khalistan/Kashmiri terrorism).

    And there appear to be two sets of instabilities, the first that are internal and the second that are externally imposed. I am not convinced that it is possible to predict exactly how these interact or even to claim that any visible discomfort has more to do with one or the other. There is also no way to argue that “doing something” doesn’t strengthen the very coherence of anti-India views that one is trying to reduce.

    On the balance I feel it is hard to ignore that the much reviled Gujral Doctrine is founded in an inescapable pragmatism about the reality of Pakistan. Pragmatism is hard to swallow sometimes – I don’t always like what it drives us towards.

    I also point out that the even the ABV administration’s way of dealing with the Masood Azhar/IC-814 situation emphasized the pragmatic element over the impulsive. And the MMS govt. did the same thing after 26/11.

    If there is a debate – it should be about flavours of pragmatism and any underlying assumptions.

    I think Sri. Raman’s statements are a deterrent – a way of telling the folks at Aabpara Chowk – “there is lots more to come… if you ask for it” – so far they haven’t asked for it.

    Yours Sincerely

    • Were you to hark back to my writings one of my contentions to go guarded on Pakistan is precisely because we wouldn’t want that country to implode, even less assist in its implosion even inadvertently. But this gives a free pass to the terrorist outfits and their ISI minders and only heightens the dilemma for GOI, because it can’t be seen to be doing nothing after some atrocity or the other. Damn difficult tree we are up.

      • Maverick says:

        Dear Dr. Karnad,

        I think we need a different flavour of pragmatism when it comes to coping with terror export from Pakistan. We have to be willing to accept certain consequences that accompany action and find them more acceptable than the consequences of inaction.

        I feel that our current paradigm of pragmatism does not support such thought.

        There is some hidden threshold right now which predisposes GoI to declare the consequences of inaction are less than those of action.

        The frustrating part for me is that I cannot pinpoint where exactly this barrier lies.

      • Great take! The problem with a different kind of pragmatism — an unwillingness to accept the cost of inaction — cannot be easily squared with the belief rooted in the mind of the Indian politian that the politically conscious and aware Indian Muslim voter conflates his community’s interest with the state handling Islamic militancy with kid gloves. That’s the bottomline Indian politics seem unable to escape.

  4. satyaki says:

    Bharat Sir,

    Is it time that people from the strategic community (like yourself for instance) start engaging/educating Kejriwal’s group about our country’s strategic necessities ?

    At present, given that group’s opposition to Kudankulam/Jaitapur and its aggressive taking up of “environmental” issues, it appears headed in the direction of becoming a leftist party: except that unlike the old fashioned communist parties, this will gather some middle class support as well.

    Th worry is this: we took a long time to partially get out of this “sacrifice national power building for the greater good of the world community” kind of stupidity. Any political traction the Kejriwal group gains may again (inadvertently or out of design) thrust us back fully into this same mode: for instance, AAP in power might well work to disarm our country of its nuclear arsenal (given that it appears headed towards developing leftist leanings).

    There is a chance that this may be averted if AAP is educated /allows itself to be educated into advocating a stance supportive of pursuit of national interests: kind of the way the French Socialist party, while being leftist, swears by France’s nuclear deterrent.

    The reason I feel this has to be considered is that AAP appears to be different from the traditional political groupings: and frustration with the existing parties combined with its media presence may help it gain political traction….

  5. satyaki says:

    Bharat Sir,

    Please do sound out Kejriwal and co: hope they see the possibility of a leftist stand at home combined with an uncompromising approach to national interest (incl. a non negotiable commitment to a credible deterrent). Though the presence of Prashant Bhushan in that party appears discouraging…but a try has to be made…

  6. Maverick says:

    Hello Sir,

    It could be an electoral calculation but I wonder how many Indian Muslims would react poorly to a Pakistani Jihadi organisation being taken to task – especially if the alternative is that Indian Muslims are subjected to harsher security measures.

    There is also the example of the Sikhs. The Sikhs are not as important a political segment as Muslims – their numbers are too small to constitute a significant swing vote. But even when it came to dealing with Khalistani groups the calculation was the same. It was clear after Bluestar and Woodrose that there would be displacement – malcontents would seek shelter in Pakistan. No effort was made at that time to pursue them into those areas. We marched our troops into the holiest of holies and shelled the Akal Takht, and we blithely accepted the daily stream of terror in our capital cities but did absolutely nothing to visibly confront these criminals in their sanctuaries outside our borders.

    I worry that one is up against something more fundamental than an electoral calculation. There may be something that here that deals with the core of the reciprocity concept itself.

    To give another example, I had occasion to be personally disturbed with the treatment of Indians by a certain nation. This nation has a most terrible reputation for being incredibly fussy and unnecessarily annoying about simple immigration procedures. It has a unique talent for expressing racist attitudes under the guise of routine/security conscious administrative processes. At the time I was beyond frustrated with their behaviour and I relayed my discomfort to relatives and associates and I suggested that an element of reciprocity be introduced to reduce this nation’s proclivity in these matters.

    The moment I mentioned reciprocity – the door literally slammed in my face. People acted as if they didn’t hear that word at all in the sentence. Either there was a reciprocity regime in place that I was unaware of or the costs of the reciprocity were deemed unacceptable. Essentially the sentiment was that reciprocity would lead to an escalation and no net gain would ensue from it.

    I have been bringing up the adverse consequences of letting murders of flag officers of the Bombay Police in 26/11 go unavenged for several years now – and yet again I can see the door slamming in my face. No one wants to hear this – I am politely told to simply shut up.

    Baffling to say the least.

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