Why is Gujral so confident?   (17 Jan 1998)




I think Inder Kumar Gujral has got a trump up his sleeve. Something which is making him sure that he will return to power after the poll — a new doctrine on how to continue as prime minister for ever, perhaps?

The reason for this line of thought is that the PM is looking too confident these days. Though it is a very remote possibility that Gujral will head the next government, he is taking decisions as if he is going to be around for another five years.

Surveys show this false: it will either be Atal Bihari Vajpayee or somebody from the Congress who will hold the job next. The Left Front may project Jyoti Basu as a probable, but in no way is anyone, including the Janata Dal, willing to retain Gujral. And if someone tries that in the JD, the powerful lobby led by former prime minister H D Deve Gowda will demolish the attempt.

Why, then, is Gujral so confident?

What I feel is that he is banking on a peculiar combination of various forces coming together to help him out. Thats quite likely. His doctrine, in all probability, must be suggesting that if Sitaram Kesri does not become the PM, the Congress will agree on his name. And once that happens, he will manage the support of the Akali Dal, Asom Gana Parishad, Bahujan Samaj Party, Rashtriya Janata Dal, Tamil Maanila Congress and Telugu Desam.

It would seem that the new Gujral doctrine counts heavily on the Congresss support to the United Front from outside to prevent BJP allies from coming to power. It believes that in the post-election scenario there will be so much confusion about putting together a government that there wont any option but accept him as a leader. An indication of this belief, if one look hard enough, can be seen in some of his interviews. (Hasnt he said that he would like the Congress to join the UF government after the polls?)

In order to woo the Akali Dal, Gujral has decided to share the platform with the party in Jalandhar. He feels the Sikhs should not be alienated anymore. If he does not go along with the party, it will be misunderstood by the Sikhs.

However, the Samajwadi Party and the CPI-M are against his holding any public meeting with the Akalis. Quite a few Janata Dal leaders have also advised him against this move. But Gujral has turned down their request because of his new doctrine.

In Dhaka, Gujral was visibly upset by the Pakistan business delegation leaders addressing him as caretaker prime minister. But there was nothing in the way he went about the meeting to indicate that these were his last days at the PMO. He made several long term policy announcements there, including the reduction of tariff and the joint installation of the international power grid by Bangladesh, India and Pakistan. Gujral also promised a free trade area in South Asia by 2001, urging the Pakistan government to issue the consolidated national schedule giving effect to the second SAPTA agreement. Besides, he advised Pakistan to trade with India in line with their international commitments and obligations.

Thus, everything seems to point to the existence of a new Gujral doctrine — one, in the success of which only Gujral believes. All I can say at this juncture is that Gujral would make the best external affairs minister we have ever had if he is willing to take on the job after being the boss.