Remembering IK Gujral: Architect of the Gujral Doctrine

November 30 marks the 11th death anniversary of IK Gujral, the 12th Prime Minister of India. Despite his brief tenure of less than a year, Gujral left an enduring legacy, particularly through his unique foreign policy approach known as the Gujral Doctrine.

The Gujral Doctrine

Before becoming the Prime Minister, Gujral held the External Affairs Minister portfolio twice, during which he formulated the Gujral Doctrine. This foreign policy approach, outlined in a speech at Chatham House in London in September 1996, comprised five basic principles:

  1. Non-Reciprocity with Neighbors: India, particularly with neighbors like Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Maldives, and Sri Lanka, aimed not to demand reciprocity but to give in good faith and trust.
  2. Non-Use of Territory Against Neighbors: No South Asian country would allow its territory to be used against the interests of another country in the region.
  3. Non-Interference in Internal Affairs: Countries in South Asia would refrain from interfering in each other’s internal affairs.
  4. Respect for Territorial Integrity and Sovereignty: All South Asian countries must respect each other’s territorial integrity and sovereignty.
  5. Peaceful Dispute Resolution: Disputes among South Asian countries would be settled through peaceful bilateral negotiations.

Interestingly, Gujral named countries from which India would not expect reciprocity, excluding Pakistan.

Successes of the Gujral Doctrine

Gujral’s approach fostered trust and cooperation in India’s neighborhood, leading to notable successes:

  • A 30-year treaty between India and Bangladesh in 1996.
  • Bhutanese consent for a canal to augment water flow to the Ganga.
  • Willingness to revise the controversial Mahakali treaty with Nepal.

Gujral’s successors, from Atal Bihari Vajpayee to Manmohan Singh, continued this approach despite ideological differences.

Keeping Dialogue with Pakistan

Gujral’s attempt to maintain dialogue with Pakistan was evident in his efforts to ease travel restrictions and facilitate dialogue between the two nations.

In a meeting with his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif, Gujral expressed the desire for continuous conversations, quoting Urdu writer Ali Sardar Jafri: “Guftagu bandh na ho, baat se baat chale” (may the conversation never end, may one conversation lead to another).

Criticism of the Doctrine

While the Gujral Doctrine had successes, criticism emerged, particularly for perceived softness on Pakistan. Some argue it left India vulnerable to future threats, including terrorism. In Pakistan, the Doctrine was viewed as an attempt to isolate Islamabad.

The Man Behind the Doctrine

Born in undivided Punjab, Gujral’s background as the son of freedom fighters shaped his political approach. Known for politeness yet firmness, he stood against press stifling during the Emergency.

Gujral’s comment about Britain being a “third-rate power nursing delusions of the grandeur of its past” reflects his outspoken nature. His passing led to reflections on the Doctrine’s relevance, emphasizing the importance of preserving traditions and ancient lineages.



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