In the 1996 elections, BJP emerged as single largest party with 160 seats. Its leader AB Vajpayee was invited to form government but he had to resign only after remaining for 13 days in office. After thus, the National Front-Left Front was invited to form government. After long deliberations, HD Devegowda was nominated by the coalition to become India’s Prime Minister. Devegowda selected IK Gujral as foreign minister.
This government put maximum emphasis on better relations with neighbours. With China, the government signed an important Confidence Building Measures (CBM) agreement in 1996 when Chinese premier Jiang Zemin made first ever official visit of India by any Chinese premier. The first article of this agreement declared the neither India nor China would use military power against other. It also proposed deployment of minimum forces at border.
Towards Bangladesh, the government’s foreign policy saw marked improvement during Devegowda tenure. The Prime Minister sent seasoned politician and Chief Minister of Bengal Jyoti Basu to Bangladesh to discuss the controversial issue of sharing Ganges water. His able diplomacy and positive attitude of the both government led to signing of Ganga Water Accord, 1996 between Deve Gowda and Sheikh Hasina. Thus, an age old issue was solved between India and Bangladesh.
The Government also tried to improve relations with the Pakistan but at that time Pakistan was entangled into its own domestic crisis with removal of Benazir Bhutto in 1996.
With United States, India had good economic relations but issues such as CTBT persisted.
The Gujral Doctrine
The most important contribution of HD Deve Gowda Government to India’s Foreign Policy was Gujral Doctrine. Indra Kumar Gujral had remained a Foreign Minister under VP Singh and HD Deve Gowda and had also served as India’s 12th Prime Minister from April 1997 to March 1998.
He articulated the Gujral Doctrine as India’s foreign minister in September 1996 in order to achieve better relations with neighbours and to secure peace in South Asia.
Main Principles of Gujral Doctrine
The five key principles of Gujral Doctrine were as follows:
- As the largest nation in South Asia, India must show a big heart. With neighbours viz. Bangladesh, Bhutan, Maldives, Nepal and Sri Lanka, India must not ask for reciprocity, but should give all that it can in good faith and trust.
- No South Asian country would allow its territory to be used against the interest of another country
- No country would interfere in the internal affairs of another.
- South Asian Countries should respect each other’s territorial integrity and sovereignty
- Countries of South Asia must settle all their disputes through peaceful bilateral negotiations.
The “Gujral Doctrine” sought to end India’s endless contestations with neighbours and offered to walk the extra mile in resolving longstanding problems. Gujral was aware of the dangerous neighbourhood of India and this doctrine basically projected India as a benign big brother so that peace can be maintained. As a benign big brother, India would give concessions to all except Pakistan without any reciprocal return expectation. Thus, this policy was of non-reciprocal accommodation of India’s neighbours was aimed for India’s own accelerated economic development also.
It has relevance today also as most neighbours of India are much smaller in size in comparison to its own size. Further, being a dominant economy, making unilateral concessions can help to build trust. The country cannot remain in loggerheads with neighbours as it gives an opportunity to internal and external non-state actors to destabilize the country.
Foreign Policy of Indra Kumar Gujral as Prime Minister
Indra Kumar Gujral had served as India’s 12th Prime Minister from April 1997 to March 1998. As foreign minister in HD Deve Gowda, he had already articulated his Gujral Doctrine to secure sustainable peace in South Asia. After taking over as Prime Minister, he continued his efforts to improve relations with neighbours. With Pakistan, Gujral was able to form Joint Working Groups (JWGs) to discuss outstanding problems in Kashmir; Peace and Security; Wulgar Dam and Tul Bul project; Sir Creek Issue; Issue of drug trafficking and trade. Via a joint statement, there was a genuine and sincere effort shown to solve Kashmir dispute.