New Delhi: Keen to settle the India-Pakistan dispute “once and for all”, H D Deve Gowda spoke to his then counterpart Nawaz Sharif over the phone and the two hit it off quite well but his government fell before they could meet, says a recent biography of the former Indian prime minister.
Gowda deployed his doctor, renowned ENT surgeon L H Hiranandani, as the confidential conduit between him and Sharif, according to the late doctor’s interview quoted by author-journalist Sugata Srinivasaraju in her book ”Furrows in a Field: The Unexplored Life of H.D. Deve Gowda”.
Hiranandani, a Padma Bhushan recipient who had treated Gowda when he developed a major problem with his vocal chords in the mid-1980s, in the interview recounts in detail his secret back channel role and the almost ”fixed meeting” between the two prime ministers that couldn’t take place after the 11-month Gowda government fell in 1997.
“When he (Gowda) was the PM, he phoned me and said he wanted to meet me. He had been a regular patient of mine. I asked him when he would be coming to Bombay. He said that he had some other work and I better meet him in Delhi,” the book quotes Hiranandani as saying in Ram S Jawhrani’s ”Global Sindhis: Inheritors of the Indus Valley Civilization” (2009).
Gowda knew that Hiranandani, who had also treated Mohamed Ali Jinnah, Sheikh Abdullah and a long line of VVIPs from politics and films, and Sharif’s father were friends and therefore thought deploying him would achieve the desired results in the India-Pakistan relationship.
”I went to Delhi and met him. He said he wanted to settle the India-Pakistan dispute, once and for all. I asked him what role could I play in it. He said that I was regarded in high esteem in Pakistan and that he had read some six of my articles, titled ”Babus of Pakistan’ published in Blitz and he wanted my help,” the book adds.
Hiranandani, from Thatta in Sindh province, now in Pakistan, died in 2013 at the age of 96. Scheduled to meet Sharif in Islamabad — the meeting was cancelled perhaps because of apprehensions about the ”military wondering” about the purpose of his visit — Hiranandani was eventually told to reach London as the prime minister’s personal envoy. He promptly conveyed the message he had been entrusted with to an emissary and ensured the two prime ministers spoke on the phone.
Gowda and Sharif hit it off quite well during the call, the book says.
”They came to a basic understanding quickly and discussed measures to further build confidence. About 30,000 tons of sugar was exported to meet Pakistan’s expediency and boost bilateral discussions. They also agreed that the foreign secretaries of the two countries should meet immediately. Unfortunately, the Congress withdrew support to the government by the time this plan developed definite contours,” writes the author in the book.
In London, Hiranandani was met by one of Sharif’s emissaries.
”When I went to London, I was met not by Nawaz Sharif but one of his emissaries whose name I still don’t want to disclose. It was decided there that Nawaz Sharif and Deve Gowda would meet and resolve all the issues,” shares the book.
”A venue, date and time were fixed for their meeting, but alas, it was not to be because in the meantime, Deve Gowda’s government fell.” The tenure of India’s 11th premier was short-lived, lasting less than a year. His United Front government — a coalition of 13 parties — fell after the Congress party withdrew its crucial parliamentary support in April 1997.
”Furrows in a Field”, priced at Rs 799, is published by Penguin Random House India (PRHI). It claims to draw on Gowda’s rich parliamentary record, archival material and interviews conducted with people associated with him at various stages of his life.