Former PM IK Gujral to be cremated at 3 pm today

Inder Kumar Gujral, who was India’s prime minister for 11 months in 1997-98, will on Saturday be given a state funeral at Smriti Sthal in Delhi at 3 pm.

Gujral died here on Friday just four days before his 93rd birthday. Known as a gentleman politician, Gujral died at 3.27 pm at a Gurgaon hospital of lung infection.

The government has declared seven days of state mourning. His body is being kept at his residence, 5, Janpath for last tributes.

Gujral had been admitted to the Medanta Medicity hospital in Gurgaon with a lung infection on November 19 and was on ventilator.

He is survived by two sons, Naresh, and Vishal Gujral, who was till recently a professor in the US, and three grandchildren. Naresh is a sitting Rajya Sabha MP from Punjab and a senior leader of the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal. His younger brother is the famed artist and sculptor Satish Gujral. His wife Sheila predeceased him in July 2011.

The Union Cabinet, at a special session convened to pay homage to Gujral, passed a resolution expressing profound sorrow at his demise and said in his death India has lost a “great patriot, a visionary leader and a freedom fighter”.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in his condolence message said he had a lost a friend of long standing and the country “has lost an intellectual, a scholar-statesman and a gentleman politician”.

He described Gujral, as “a man of peace, an idealist who lived by his principles and an intellectual with the human touch.”

The soft spoken and mild-mannered Gujral was completely different from the political archetype. Known for his impeccable dressing and manners and his trademark goatee beard, Gujral retained an abiding interest in Indian foreign policy till the end.

He will be remembered primarily for his keen interest in protecting and promoting India’s external interests and the eponymous Gujral Doctrine – his mantra for India’s neighbourhood policy when he was external affairs minister twice in a decade. He was India’s external affairs minister – from 1989-90 and 1996-97 first under prime minister VP Singh and then HD Deve Gowda.

The Gujral Doctrine is reflective of a man who came to Delhi from Pakistan in the traumatic post-partition period, advocating magnanimity towards small neighbours in the interest of regional peace and progress.

Gujral, a quintessential Congress member, had left the party to join the Janata Dal after differences with former prime minister Indira Gandhi over her autocratic ways.

Congress president Sonia Gandhi, recalling her family’s deep association with Gujral, told Naresh Gujral that she was “deeply saddened” by the death. “I know how much Indiraji valued him, both personally and as a colleague.”

BJP chief Nitin Gadkari described Gujral as a staunch nationalist and a great patriot. Gujral was born on December 04, 1919 in the town of Jhelum on the banks of the river of the same name, now in Pakistan. His parents were freedom fighters and members of the Congress but Gujral was drawn to the students’ wing of the Communist Party of India.

He met his wife Sheila when they were both students at Forman Christian College and he was pursuing a master’s degree in economics. They were married in May 1945.

When Emergency was imposed in 1975, he was the information and broadcasting minister. But he soon fell foul of Sanjay Gandhi and was relegated to the Planning Ministry. When his Rajya Sabha term ended a year later, Indira Gandhi sent him to Moscow as India’s ambassador (1976-80) “since he refused to bow down to the de facto powers (read Sanjay Gandhi)”.

Gujral was elevated to the prime minister’s post when he emerged as the consensus candidate of the fractious United Front after Sitaram Kesri, then Congress party president withdrew party support to the HD Deve Gowda government.

He spent his last decade writing and speaking largely on foreign policy issues and was much sought after in intellectual and academic circles.

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