An enduring diplomat
Historians will have to search through the events of the 1990s to understand how the many significant changes in India's worldview were engineered. This volume will be one of the main sources to assess that transformation, writes C. RAJA MOHAN.
THE 1990s was a period in which Indian diplomacy had to adapt to extraordinary changes at home and abroad. At the turn of the decade, India was traumatised by the collapse of the Soviet Union and the consequent imbalance in world politics. India also had to cope with the new wave of economic globalisation in the 1990s.
Both these factors forced India to re-examine the premises that guided its diplomacy in the previous decades. By the turn of the millennium, India's foreign policy was transformed.
One can quibble with the former Prime Minister Inder Kumar Gujral for his equal emphasis on "continuity" and "change" in the title of his new volume that brings together his speeches and writings over the decade. While India held on to many slogans of the past, the 1990s will go down as a period marked more by change than continuity. Whether it was India's nuclear policy, relations with the United States and the West or its approach to the neighbourhood, India embarked on new diplomatic directions in the last decade of the 20th Century.
Few leaders in the political class are better equipped than Mr. Gujral to reflect on recent Indian foreign policy. Whether in the government or not, he has always taken keen intellectual interest in India's relations with the world and expressed definitive, and often controversial, views. His voice remains one of the most respected when it comes to debate on India's engagement with the world.
Mr. Gujral steered India's foreign policy at crucial junctures in 1989-91 and again during 1996-98. As Mr. Gujral says in his prologue to the volume, "it fell to my lot to orient our foreign policy during the period of bewilderingly rapid changes wherein one kind of world was ushered out and another kind was ushered in". (p.xviii)
At the turn of the 1990s, Mr. Gujral had to deal with the end of the Cold War, the impending collapse of the Soviet Union and the American war in the Gulf to vacate Iraqi occupation of Kuwait. Mr. Gujral offers a rare insight into the thinking that went on in New Delhi in coping with momentous challenges at the global level and in India's neighbourhood.
Mr.Gujral's second stint at the helm was more productive and left a lasting imprint on Indian diplomacy.
When he took charge in mid-1996, India's nuclear debate was in full flow and Mr. Gujral clinched one key element of it, by refusing to give up the right to test nuclear weapons. He resisted considerable pressure from the United States to join the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty or at least not oppose it. Mr. Gujral's rejection of the CTBT paved the way for India's tests in May 1998.
He does not tell us if testing nuclear weapons was a thought that crossed his mind during 1996-98. India was ready from the end of 1995, thanks to the efforts by the government of P.V. Narasimha Rao. Mr. Gujral does say now that India's nuclear tests were both "forseeable and unavoidable" (p.xxi) and that he had signalled this to Western leaders.
Mr. Gujral's enduring contribution to diplomacy lay in forcing an important change in the way India dealt with her smaller neighbours. The "Gujral Doctrine" offered a way out of the rut India had dug itself into with her neighbours. Although criticised by many at that time for being too soft, it was in essence a policy based on realism and aimed at liberating India to play a larger role in the world.
The Gujral Doctrine called for a generous Indian approach to the neighbours, if they were ready to respect India's security concerns. The importance of his contribution is reflected in the fact that the doctrine has remained the cornerstone of India's neighbourhood policy under the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government since 1998.
India's historians will have to dig the period of 1990s for long to understand how the many significant changes in India's worldview were engineered. This volume by Mr. Gujral will be one of the main sources to assess that transformation.
One would hope that Mr. Gujral will yet come up with his current assessment of where Indian diplomacy is headed and provide an account of India's decision-making on policies relating to nuclear weapons, Pakistan and the region in the mid-1990s.
Continuity and Change: India's Foreign Policy, I.K. Gujral, New Delhi: Macmillan, 2003, p. 264, Rs. 395.
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