A few weeks back, the newspapers were flooded with ads of the Government of India. If one were to believe the full-page colourful ads, one might think that Rajiv Gandhi was the greatest gift the nation could have ever got. Every scheme (especially the ones related to Bharat Nirman) was shown to have had their origin under the auspices of Rajiv Gandhi. No stone was left unturned in glorifying the pilot-turned politician.
But the fact remained that he could hardly turn into a politician in his lifetime and was most uncomfortable moving from the aircraft to the PM’s office. While his brother did display political acumen (terrifying though), Rajiv was more or less the Baba-type who was propelled into Politics by the sudden death Sanjay Gandhi. In fact in his early days, he loathed any sort of political discussion over the dining table. But the air crash changed all that. Indira’s insistence on the ‘divine right of dynasty’ forced Rajiv into limelight and following him, entered Sonia Gandhi.
When the shocking assassination of Indira Gandhi led Giani Zail Singh to declare Rajiv the PM at without even consulting the Council of Ministers, Rajiv proved to a huge disaster at handling his first job at hand. For three days, carnage of Sikhs took place in Delhi, killing 3000 Sikhs in the process. His deplorable ‘When a big tree falls the earth beneath is bound to shake’ reaction only echoed 18 years later when Narendra Modi coldly declared ‘Every action has an equal and opposite reaction’. Every riot thereafter went by and large unpunished and since then India has seen blood baths, enough to fill the dry rivers of the Northern plains. The urn containing the ashes of Indira Gandhi was taken across the nation to gather sympathy votes for the next General election.
But his ascendance to power was not all that grim. The Indian Middle Class’ infatuation for ‘non-politicians’ helped Rajiv a lot and he did live up to those expectations for a while. In the elections held in 1985, many old-time chamchas of the Congress were shown the door and were replaced by Rajiv’s friends from the Doon School. This lease of educated class into the Political mainstream was brimming with optimism of a new India. He also created history by winning 2/3 majority in the Lok Sabha, a feat unachieved even by his charismatic grandfather Jawaharlal Nehru. The fact that the year marked the centenary of the formation of INC was only an icing on the cake. A dream was born.
The telecom department then was placed in the ICU of public departments. The first telecom revolution was brought in after Rajiv Gandhi brought in the telecom genius Sam Pitroda to India. The Panchayati Raj system was given a revival and indications of Gram Swaraj were visible in the horizon. The PM also began the process of computerisation and talked of it in a big way. His confession of only 15p reaching the people out of every rupee spent echoed the public opinion ‘Here is a man who speaks like us’.
But the honeymoon was all over in 2 years. The fateful Shah Bano case set the fall for Rajiv’s house of cards. The Supreme Court held that Shah Bano, a divorcee was eligible to get an encomium from her husband. The judge also went further passing a comment on the Shariat, which infuriated the Islamic clergy. Rajiv, in a damage control mode of minority appeasement, passed a law whereby Muslim women would loose their right to encomium. This led to a wave of protests across the nation by the BJP and Women’s Organisations. Fearing a Hindu backlash, he opened the disputed site at Ayodhya to the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and even sent his Cabinet Minister to conduct the shilanyas of Ram Lalla. The stage for a disaster was set. The fuel was set on fire and more fuel was added by the Rath Yatra of Advani.
His government tried to throttle media freedom with the Defamation Bill, which led to a relentless opposition in an agitation led by Ramnath Goenka. The bill had to withdrawn later. Rajiv also indulged in the suicidal mission of sending the IPKF to Sri Lanka. He paid for the decision with his life.
The bomb of his disaster exploded when a sting operation conducted by N.Ram led to what was later known as the Bofors scandal, which exposed the kickbacks received by Rajiv amounting to Rs.60 crore. His Mr.Clean image was shattered forever. The end was near. The government became the beta noire of all – the secularists, the fundamentalists and the civil society. Rajiv also got a preposterous law passed whereby a party could not get registered with the EC unless it explicitly mentioned Socialism as one of its objectives. The effect was felt a decade later when, a surviving member of the defunct right-liberal Swatantrata Party (founded by Rajagopalachari)tried to re-register the party with the EC. The application was rejected
The Congress Party under Rajiv Gandhi, after setting all the wrong precedents, was voted out of power to bring in the venomous government of V.P.Singh. All these decisions went horridly wrong because Rajiv Gandhi could never become a politician in practice. Whether one likes it or not, a country like India needs a politician with acumen rather than a citizen with noble intentions. Rajiv lacked that badly and could never learn them, though many believe that he would have fared better, had he been given a second chance.
The governments that came later fell one after another. Fresh elections were declared. Rajiv had at last learnt to be one with the people in his campaigns. The sight of Rajiv being carried along the wave of his followers on their shoulders still makes a wonderful sight. But soon India got its first taste of suicide bombing when Dhanu pressed the button in her belt, blowing off the ex-PM along with herself.
Today, the dynasty continues. No doubt Rajiv did bring in some freshness. But he was a part of the same old structure, which gave blood-line preference anytime over ability. Most of the organisations in India named after Nehru, Indira and Rajiv are non-performing. The money invariably goes down the drain. Every scheme of the Congress governments was named after some scion or the other. But now, the precedent for places has also been set with Connaught Place being rechristened Rajiv Gandhi Chowk. If Panchayati Raj and Telecoms brought in a new wave, India is still reeling under the heat of the monstrous disasters that were a direct result of his incapacity. Let us not attack the dead, but what if the past attacks the present? History repeats itself. Rajiv atleast set aside his discomfort once he donned the PM’s cap. But Rahul still looks confused and has not shown any promise. Like a non-performing PSU, the scions continue to function under the patronage of Dynasty politics.