The Rediff Special /C Subramaniam
'That Gujral is a man without a political base can be an advantage to him'
Inder Gujral completed one month in office on Wednesday. Former Union finance minister C Subramaniam reflects on his association with the prime minister and assesses the challenges that lie ahead of him.
I have known I K Gujral since 1962 when I first entered Parliament. He became my colleague after Indira Gandhi was elected party leader and subsequently prime minister. I have watched him functioning in various capacities -- as foreign minister, ambassador to Moscow and also as an ordinary citizen. I think India is lucky to have a person like him as prime minister now, because he has strictly
observed certain values in politics.
On Gujral and the Emergency:
During the Emergency, he was minister in charge of the information
and broadcasting ministry. Indira Gandhi wanted him to take instructions from Sanjay Gandhi before broadcasting news. He refused and resigned from his job. Of course, he was then sent as ambassador to Moscow. Even during the Emergency, he refused to be cowed down, which shows the character of the man.
On the 'kitchen cabinet':
He was a member of what was called the 'kitchen cabinet' -- people close to Indira Gandhi. They used to meet every day and discuss things. But being a member of the 'kitchen cabinet' has its advantages as well as disadvantages. One disadvantage is you become part of a coterie and for that reason people develop prejudices against you. Whenever a decision is taken, people say this man has influenced or that man has influenced. From that point of view, a 'kitchen cabinet' is not conducive to democratic functioning.
There are advantages also. If they are good people in the group,
they can influence the leader in not taking bad or inconvenient decisions. Thus, Gujral has learnt the lessons of that sort of functioning also.
How others reacted to the 'kitchen cabinet':
It was but natural that others reacted unfavourably to members of the 'kitchen cabinet'. But
those days are over. After that the Emergency came, he revolted against Indira Gandhi and resigned. So, one grows. That is the most important thing.
It is not that you don't commit mistakes, but you should realise that you have committed a mistake and then see that you don't repeat the mistake. Therefore, a man grows
on the basis of experience. I K Gujral has grown in that respect
and now he is a well respected elder statesman.
On the advantages that Gujral has:
He belongs to a very famous family of freedom fighters; he himself has been a freedom fighter. His brother is a great sculptor and artist of international
repute. His wife is a poet. So, it is a well educated, cultured
family. That itself is a great advantage. And he has an easy way
of moving with people, creating a friendly atmosphere. Till
now I don't think anybody has accused him of any corrupt practice
or even impropriety in public life. This is another big plus
factor in present day politics when almost every politician
has something to answer for.
I hope he will be allowed to function as prime minister without being forced
to take decisions which are not, apart from being immoral, in the interest of the country as a whole.
That he is a man without a political base can be an
advantage to him. When you have a political base, you have a group
supporting you and you tend to incline towards the group. But
Gujral has general support, perhaps that will enable him to take
an objective view than a group view. He has got friends in almost
all the parties. Even the BJP was soft on him during the confidence
On Gujral versus G K Moopanar:
Gujral and Moopanar are two different kinds of personalities.
Gujral is an experienced administrator, diplomat, whereas
Moopanar is an experienced politician, an expert troubleshooter,
bringing about unity among conflicting personalities and also
conflicting ideas. Each has got his own strengths.
When one has
to deal with 13 parties, a political approach is absolutely
necessary whereas in various administrative matters like the economy,
foreign affairs, etc, a different kind of experience and knowledge
is called for. I hope with his suave manner and ability to listen
to what is said by others, Gujral will be able to run these parties
I think for everything to happen in life, time plays a major role. Even for
a good idea to get implemented, its time has to come. This is
where destiny plays a role, in my view. Even though he was there
all the time, his time came only now.
On the need to have a council:
I have been advocating the need for an outside body -- consisting of various experts, both Indian and international -- to look at the economy as a whole and put forward suggestions as regard to what measures are can be taken to make the economy grow and
reach the target.
If you have both Indian and international experts on the council, you not only have internal thinking, but have some people looking at it from outside also. As outsiders, they
may be able to take an objective view. China has a system like
this called the China Council in which social and economic experts
from various countries who have the experience of transforming
the economy are there.
They periodically meet, assess the economy, make suggestions and put forward various options. Finally, it is for the government to take a decision. This council is not
a decision-making body but a body to make recommendations for
I wrote about this concept to Narasimha Rao and later
on to Deve Gowda also. Dr Manmohan Singh took
a keen interest to bring about an India Council on the model of
the China Council. Unfortunately he could not get clearance from
Rao. He wouldn't say yes or no. So, it was lying there till he
left office. When Deve Gowda took over, I talked to him and handed
over a letter to him with this idea. He promised to look into
it, but he was ousted. Now I want to put this idea to Gujral
also. I hope he will give consideration to this idea.
On How Difficult It Is Going To Be:
I agree that he is a good man in a very difficult position, but
a bad man in a difficult position is worse. There are different
kinds of influences, so you have to have a balanced outlook.
Once you are in position as prime minister, you should acquire
this quality to say no to things. You also should know when to give in.
On the longevity of the government:
I hope this ministry will complete its term as
we have learnt a lesson now. I don't think
anybody will have the political courage to create another crisis.
They will be condemned right away. Even now they are condemning
the person who created the crisis. But charges of corruption will
have to be dealt with in a different manner.
On the charges against Laloo Yadav:
We should have a national policy with regard to dealing with people
who are charged with corruption. It should not be a case by case
decision. What is important is, those who are in power cannot
plead that unless proved guilty, they are innocent. That kind
of an argument is fit for only ordinary criminals. Men in public
life should be above suspicion. Laloo Prasad's refusal to resign
will create a problem for everybody. It will create a problem
for the governor. It will create a problem for the President also
because some central ministers are also involved.
The fact is, once you do a criminal act, all the support you enjoyed till then
would vanish. Laloo Prasad says he has the support, but once chargesheeted and if they find a prima facie case against him, I am
sure many who are sticking to him will run away from him. They
have declared that they will go to the people's court, but the people
are not the ones to judge whether you are guilty or not. It
is the court which has to decide that.
This is how life goes on; you solve one problem and
then two more problems arise. You should be prepared to face that.
If there are no problems, life because stale and perhaps not interesting
enough. It is only facing problems which makes life challenging
and worth living.
As told to Shobha Warrier
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