A gentle colossus passes away
The passing away of Inder Kumar Gujral is no small event in the long and turbulent history of young India that was born on August 15, 1947. He came from an area-Punjab-that had suffered and borne the brunt of that violent partition and painful birth of a nation, even as Jawaharlal Nehru dwelt on it philosophically by saying: "At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom". That was not so in North India - particularly in Punjab and North West Frontier Province.
Millions of our countrymen, Hindus and Sikhs, were huddled together, warding off murderous attacks on their lives and properties. Millions began to move, and fortunate were those few who saw it coming and moved into present day India earlier. Human history has never before witnessed such a mass migration of people; never before witnessed such cruelty and never before were so many women and young girls raped and abducted. Punjab and NWFP "bore the cross" for India's freedom.
Coming from a political family, as Inder Gujral did, his father, Avtar Gujral, thought that they could perhaps stay on in what had become Pakistan. That was not to be. Soon, they too migrated and joined the millions, whom Hindi speaking rulers described as "Sharnaarthhis" a word that was hated by the Punjabis and even led to some violent arguments till the word was dropped. Rightfully, the Punjabis and the Hindu Pathans claimed that this was their land - India - for which they had to sacrifice everything that they owned and left behind.
The Gujral family too started life afresh. Inder Kumar even went to England to seek a new beginning, but then the Indian in him soon brought him back to the land he loved - India. At that hour of crisis in the life of Punjabis, one tall leader from the NWFP, Mehar Chand Khanna, became the rallying point for the dislodged millions to seek help and succor from. As for the Hindi-speaking rulers, other than Jawaharlal Nehru, hardly anybody understood or realised their pain. The Punjabis too were bewildered at seeing this caste and communal-biased society that runs through the Hindi belt from such close quarters.
Hard working as they were and by nature, easy settlers where ever they go, Punjabis and NWFP migrants were soon able to settle down and feel at home in the new land. The Gujral family too settled down and soon Inder Kumar was making his way into the intellectual political circles of the capital. It was now a period of comparative peace with India under the leadership of Jawaharlal Nehru embarking upon building what he called "New Temples of India" - huge dams and steel plants.
India was for the long period of the Nehru Era dominated by the politics of the Hindi belt and its politicians. After all, they sent the maximum number of members of Parliament for the ruling party. The Punjabis had a problem understanding the politics of U.P. and began calling the province as "Ulta Pradesh". The reason for that was simple. Hindi loving as the people of UP claimed, they wanted to retain the name of their province as UP, though it was an abbreviation of United Provinces of Agra and Oudh. There was no equivalent for that in Hindi so they called their state Uttar Pradesh, which it is not, for the northern most state of India is Jammu and Kashmir! Belonging to a mindset of caste considerations and votebank politics, the rulers from the Hindi belt in the post-Nehru Era too could not understand the Punjabi psyche.
In New Delhi, Inder Kumar Gujral steadily made his way into the political life of India. From encounters with the intellectuals at the famous Coffee House, he emerged as part of what came to be known as kitchen cabinet of Indira Gandhi. As Indira Gandhi's Information Minister, he was a great friend of the media and truly laid the foundations of what is today a vibrant and independent television industry in North India. This author had the privilege of participating in that drive and received his full and unstinted support.
He had by now become the uncrowned king of the hearts of Punjabis and other migrants from West Pakistan. He was the one cabinet minister Indira Gandhi trusted and relied upon. A man of principles, he refused to adjust himself to the demands of her son Sanjay when the Emergency came in 1975. He soon found himself posted to Moscow as India's Ambassador, but his heart was still in New Delhi and with his people.
History is a witness to the fact that during the period of Emergency, and all that followed, it was the short sighted political manouvering by Congress leaders into the politics of Punjab that led the state into one crisis after another culminating in the installing of Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale inside the Golden Tample. Then came the tragic and uncalled for "Operation Bluestar" and the die was cast in what could have been yet another huge tragedy for India following the riots of 1984 in Delhi and elsewhere in North India. The political nit wits from U.P. and other Bimaru States controlling the Congress Party could hardly understand the Himalayan blunders they had made.
It was at a time like that, silently but working hard among the people - among the Punjabis, both Hindus and Sikhs, who were hurt the most, that Inder Kumar Gujral applied the balm that was needed badly. He emerged as a unifying leader and one whom Punjabis, be they Akalis or, even die hard Arya Samajis, were prepared to trust. He saw to it that historic bonds that united the Hindus and Sikhs of Punjab were not broken. He had silently worked hard on the Rajiv-Longowal Accord. A true gentle colossus had emerged among the Punjabis.
Destiny made one of India's Prime Ministers. He could not however make himself part of any machinations to reduce the dignity of the high office that he held. He made his effort to make peace with Pakistan via Nawaz Sharif. It was not to be, but he leaves a legacy that continues till today to call upon leaders on both sides of the subcontinental divide to come to terms with reality and live in peace.
A gentle colossus has passed away, but he made sure that India remained united and the sword arm of India - Punjab - strong and at peace.
Following is an article by Mr. Prem Prakash, a senior journalist and Chairman ANI Media (P) Limited.