From the time India was scissored into its present shape out of a larger piece of brown parchment, the question has lingered: how exactly do we orient ourselves to what surrounds us? There were no easy answers. On the flanks were parts that were formerly India, severed by amputation; on the north was an indistinct set of fluid dotted lines cutting across icy swathes, where human populations and oxygen levels both dipped to nearly zero. Four major wars in the first quarter-century after freedom marked a legacy of flux: diplomacy had to forge its subtle tools in this fire. One possible diplomatic answer to that question came from a man whose natural instincts harked back to a pre-split state of unity. Not a surprise, for Inder Kumar Gujral (b: 1919) had lived through the Partition, and carried a strong residue of old Lahore inside him—along with the diction.
Through the decades, when he was ordinarily resident in Lutyens’ Delhi, with his capital at IIC, even Gujral would not have imagined himself as the one on whom would fall the chance to deliver the 50th anniversary I-day address from Red Fort. The experiment with history was short-lived, but his 11-month stint as India’s PM left behind a semi-formally enunciated way of being for the country: the Gujral Doctrine. Still relevant in the Modi era? Yes, of course.