Rajiv Gandhi: Life And Career, Prime Minister of India

Rajiv Ratna Gandhi 20 August 1944 – 21 May 1991) was an Indian politician who served as the 6th Prime Minister of India from 1984 to 1989. He took office after the 1984 assassination of his mother, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, to become the youngest Indian Prime Minister at the age of 40.

Rajiv Gandhi Biography
Rajiv Gandhi

Gandhi was from the politically powerful Nehru–Gandhi family, which had been associated with the Indian National Congress party. For much of his childhood, his maternal grandfather Jawaharlal Nehru was Prime Minister. Gandhi attended college in the United Kingdom. He returned to India in 1966 and became a professional pilot for the state-owned Indian Airlines. In 1968, he married Sonia Gandhi; the couple settled in Delhi to a domestic life with their children Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra. For much of the 1970s, his mother Indira Gandhi was prime minister and his brother Sanjay Gandhi an MP; despite this, Rajiv Gandhi remained apolitical. After Sanjay's death in a plane crash in 1980, Gandhi reluctantly entered politics at the behest of Indira. The following year he won his brother's Parliamentary seat of Amethi and became a member of the Lok Sabha—the lower house of India's Parliament. As part of his political grooming, Rajiv was made general secretary of the Congress party and given significant responsibility in organising the 1982 Asian Games.

On the morning of 31 October 1984, his mother was assassinated by one of her bodyguards; later that day, Gandhi was appointed Prime Minister. His leadership was tested over the next few days as organised mobs rioted against the Sikh community, resulting in anti-Sikh riots in Delhi. That December, Congress party won the largest Lok Sabha majority to date, 411 seats out of 542. Rajiv Gandhi's period in office was mired in controversies; perhaps the greatest crises were the Bhopal disaster, Bofors scandal and Mohd. Ahmed Khan v. Shah Bano Begum. In 1988, he reversed the coup in Maldives, antagonising militant Tamil groups such as PLOTE, intervening and then sending peacekeeping troops to Sri Lanka in 1987, leading to open conflict with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). In mid-1987, the Bofors scandal damaged his corruption-free image and resulted in a major defeat for his party in the 1989 election.

Gandhi remained Congress President until the elections in 1991. While campaigning for the elections, he was assassinated by a suicide bomber from the LTTE. His widow Sonia became the president of the Congress party in 1998 and led the party to victory in the 2004 and 2009 parliamentary elections. His son Rahul Gandhi is a Member of Parliament and was the President of the Indian National Congress till 2019. In 1991, the Indian government posthumously awarded Gandhi the Bharat Ratna, the country's highest civilian award. At the India Leadership Conclave in 2009, the Revolutionary Leader of Modern India award was conferred posthumously on Gandhi

 

Key Description


6th Prime Minister of India: 31 October 1984 – 2 December 1989

President Zail Singh, R. Venkataraman

Preceded By: Indira Gandhi

Succeeded By: V. P. Singh

Leader of The Opposition: 18 December 1989 – 23 December 1990

Prime Minister: V. P. Singh

Succeeded By: L. K. Advani

President of the Indian National Congress: 1985–1991

Preceded By: Indira Gandhi

Member of Parliament: Amethi (17 August 1981 – 21 May 1991)

Personal Details

Born: Rajiv Ratna Gandhi (20 August 1944)
Bombay, Bombay Presidency, British India

Died: 21 May 1991 (aged 46), Sriperumbudur, Tamil Nadu, India

Cause of death: Assassination

Nationality: Indian

Political Party: Indian National Congress

Spouse(s): Sonia Gandhi ​(m. 1968⁠–⁠1991)​

Relations: Nehru–Gandhi family

Children:

Parents:

Education:

  • Trinity College, Cambridge (dropped out)
  • Imperial College London (dropped out)

Awards: Bharat Ratna (1991)

Party Website: Indian National Congress

 

Rajiv Gandhi Early Life And Career


Rajiv Gandhi was born in Bombay on 20 August 1944 to Indira and Feroze Gandhi. In 1951, Rajiv and Sanjay were admitted to Shiv Niketan school, where the teachers said Rajiv was shy and introverted, and "greatly enjoyed painting and drawing".

He was admitted to the Welham Boys' School, Dehradun and Doon School, Dehradun in 1954, where Sanjay joined him two years later. Rajiv was sent to London in 1961 to study A-levels. Rajiv was also educated at the Ecole D'Humanité, an international boarding school in Switzerland. From 1962 to 1965 he studied engineering at Trinity College, Cambridge, but did not obtain a degree. In 1966 he began a course in mechanical engineering at Imperial College London, but did not complete it. Gandhi really was not studious enough, as he went on to admit later.

Gandhi returned to India in 1966, the year his mother became Prime Minister. He went to Delhi and became a member of the Flying Club, where he was trained as a pilot. In 1970, he was employed as a pilot by Air India; unlike Sanjay, he did not exhibit any interest of joining politics. In 1968, after three years of courtship, he married Edvige Antonia Albina Màino, who changed her name to Sonia Gandhi and made India her home. Their first child, a son, Rahul Gandhi was born in 1970. In 1972, the couple had a daughter, Priyanka Gandhi, who married Robert Vadra.

 

Rajiv Gandhi Entry into Politics


On 23 June 1980, Rajiv's younger brother Sanjay Gandhi died unexpectedly in an aeroplane crash. At that time, Rajiv Gandhi was in London as part of his foreign tour. Hearing the news, he returned to Delhi and cremated Sanjay's body. As per Agarwal, in the week following Sanjay's death, Shankaracharya Swami Shri Swaroopanand, a saint from Badrinath, visited the family's house to offer his condolences. He advised Rajiv not to fly aeroplanes and instead "dedicate himself to the service of the nation". 70 members of the Congress party signed a proposal and went to Indira, urging Rajiv to enter politics. Indira told them it was Rajiv's decision whether to enter politics. When he was questioned about it, he replied, "If my mother gets help from it, then I will enter politics". Rajiv entered politics on 16 February 1981, when he addressed a national farmers' rally in Delhi. During this time, he was still an employee of Air India.

Participation in active politics

On 4 May 1981, Indira Gandhi presided over a meeting of the All India Congress Committee. Vasantdada Patil proposed Rajiv as a candidate for the Amethi constituency, which was accepted by all members at the meeting. A week later, the party officially announced his candidacy for the constituency. He then paid the party membership fees of the party and flew to Sultanpur to file his nomination papers and completed other formalities. He won the seat, defeating Lok Dal candidate Sharad Yadav by a margin of 237,000 votes. He took his oath on 17 August as Member of Parliament.

Rajiv Gandhi's first political tour was to England, where he attended the wedding ceremony of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer on 29 July 1981. In December the same year, he was put in charge of the Indian Youth Congress. He first showed his organisational ability by "working round the clock" on the 1982 Asian Games. He was one of 33 members of the Indian parliament who were part of the Games' organizing committee; sports historian Boria Majumdar writes that being "son of the prime minister he had a moral and unofficial authority" over the others. The report submitted by the Asian Games committee mentions Gandhi's "drive, zeal and initiative" for the "outstanding success" of the games.

Indira Gandhi's death

On 31 October 1984, the Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi's mother Indira Gandhi, was assassinated by her Sikh bodyguards, which led to violent riots against Sikhs. At a Boat Club rally 19 days after the assassination, Gandhi said, "Some riots took place in the country following the murder of Indiraji. We know the people were very angry and for a few days it seemed that India had been shaken. But, when a mighty tree falls, it is only natural that the earth around it does shake a little". According to Verinder Grover, the statement made by Gandhi was a "virtual justification" of the riots. Congress leader Mani Shankar Aiyar wrote, "Did it constitute an incitement to mass murder?" He also criticised Gandhi for his reluctance to bring the army from Meerut to handle the mob.

 

Rajiv Gandhi Prime Minister of India


Rajiv Gandhi was in West Bengal on 31 October 1984 when his mother, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, was assassinated by two of her Sikh bodyguards, Satwant Singh and Beant Singh, to avenge the military attack on the Golden Temple during Operation Blue Star. Sardar Buta Singh and President Zail Singh pressed Rajiv to succeed his mother as Prime Minister within hours of her murder. Commenting on the anti-Sikh riots in Delhi, Rajiv Gandhi said, "When a giant tree falls, the earth below shakes"; a statement for which he was widely criticised. Many Congress politicians were accused of orchestrating the violence.

Soon after assuming office, Gandhi asked President Singh to dissolve Parliament and hold fresh elections, as the Lok Sabha had completed its five-year term. Gandhi officially became the President of the Congress party, which won a landslide victory with the largest majority in history of the Indian Parliament, giving Gandhi absolute control of government. He benefited from his youth and a general perception of being free of a background in corrupt politics. Gandhi took his oath on 31 December 1984; at 40, he was the youngest Prime Minister of India. Historian Meena Agarwal writes that even after taking the Prime Ministerial oath, he was a relatively unknown figure, "novice in politics" as he assumed the post after being an MP for three years.

Rajiv Gandhi Economic policy

Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi with Ram Kishore Shukla in 1988.
In his election manifesto for the 1984 general election, he did not mention any economic reforms, but after assuming office he tried to liberalise the country's economy. He did so by providing incentives to make private production profitable. Subsidies were given to corporate companies to increase industrial production, especially of durable goods. It was hoped this would increase economic growth and improve the quality of investment. But according to Professor Atul Kohli of Princeton University in a book published by Cambridge University, Gandhi faced stiff opposition from Congress leadership who thought "it would open the economy to external economic influences". Rural and tribal people protested because they saw them as "pro-rich" and "pro-city" reforms.

Gandhi increased government support for science, technology and associated industries, and reduced import quotas, taxes and tariffs on technology-based industries, especially computers, airlines, defence and telecommunications. In 1986, he announced a National Policy on Education to modernise and expand higher education programs across India. In 1986, he founded the Jawahar Navodaya Vidyalaya System, which is a Central government-based education institution that provides rural populations with free residential education from grades six to twelve. His efforts created MTNL in 1986, and his public call offices—better known as PCOs—helped develop the telephone network in rural areas. He introduced measures to significantly reduce the Licence Raj after 1990, allowing businesses and individuals to purchase capital, consumer goods and import without bureaucratic restrictions.

Rajiv Gandhi Foreign policy

President Ronald Reagan, Sonia Gandhi, First Lady Nancy Reagan and Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, during a state dinner for Prime Minister Gandhi. June 1985.

According to Rejaul Karim Laskar, a scholar of Indian foreign policy and an ideologue of Congress party, Rajiv Gandhi's vision for a new world order was premised on India's place in its front rank. According to Laskar, the "whole gamut" of Rajiv Gandhi's foreign policy was "geared towards" making India "strong, independent, self-reliant and in the front rank of the nations of the world." According to Laskar, Rajiv Gandhi's diplomacy was "properly calibrated" so as to be "conciliatory and accommodating when required" and "assertive when the occasion demanded."

In 1986, by request of the President of Seychelles France-Albert René, Gandhi sent India's navy to Seychelles to oppose an attempted coup against René. The intervention of India averted the coup. This mission was codenamed as Operation Flowers are Blooming. In 1987, India re-occupied the Quaid Post in the disputed Siachen region of the Indo-Pakistani border after winning what was termed Operation Rajiv. In the 1988 Maldives coup d'état, the Maldives president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom asked for help from Gandhi. He dispatched 1500 soldiers and the coup was suppressed.

On Thursday, 9 June 1988, at the fifteenth special session of the United Nations General Assembly, held at Headquarters, New York, Gandhi made vocal his views on a world free of nuclear weapons, to be realised through an, 'Action Plan for Ushering in a Nuclear-Weapon Free and Non-Violent World Order.

He said:

Alas, nuclear weapons are not the only weapons of mass destruction. New knowledge is being generated in the life sciences. Military applications of these developments could rapidly undermine the existing convention against the military use of biological weapons. The ambit of our concern must extend to all means of mass annihilation.

This was based on his prior historic speech before the Japanese National Diet on 29 November 1985, in which he said:

Let us remove the mental partitions which obstruct the ennobling vision of the human family linked together in peace and prosperity. The Buddha's message of compassion is the very condition of human survival in our age.

The foiled bid of India recently to enter the Nuclear Suppliers Group, echoed his policy of non-proliferation to be linked to universal disarmament, which the World Nuclear Association refuses to recognize; non-proliferation being seen by India as essentially a weapon of the arms control regime, of the big nuclear powers as United States, Russia, United Kingdom, France, and China.

 

Bofors scandal, HDW scandal and 1989 elections defeat


Rajiv Gandhi's finance minister, V. P. Singh, uncovered compromising details about government and political corruption, to the consternation of Congress leaders. Transferred to the Defence Ministry, Singh uncovered what became known as the Bofors scandal, which involved millions of US dollars and concerned alleged payoffs by the Swedish arms company Bofors through Italian businessman and Gandhi family associate Ottavio Quattrocchi, in return for Indian contracts. Upon discovering the scandal, Singh was dismissed from office and later resigned his Congress membership. Gandhi was later personally implicated in the scandal when the investigation was continued by Narasimhan Ram and Chitra Subramaniam of The Hindu newspaper, damaging his image as an honest politician. In 2004, he was posthumously cleared of this allegation.

In an interview in July 2005, V.P.Singh explained that his fall out with Rajiv Gandhi was not due to the Bofors deal, but rather due to the HDW deal. Courtesy a contract signed with the Germany company HDW in 1981, the Indian government had agreed to purchase two ready submarines built in Germany by HDW and two submarines in CKD form to be assembled in Mazagaon docks. V.P.Singh had received a telegram from the Indian ambassador in Germany, stating that an Indian agents had received commissions in the HDW submarine deal. He told Rajiv Gandhi about this and instituted an enquiry. This led to differences and V.P.Singh resigned from the cabinet.

In his book, Unknown Facets of Rajiv Gandhi, Jyoti Basu and Indrajit Gupta, released in November 2013, former CBI director Dr. A P Mukherjee wrote that Gandhi wanted commission paid by defence suppliers to be used exclusively for meeting running expenses of the Congress party. Mukherjee said Gandhi explained his position in a meeting between the two at the Prime Minister's residence on 19 June 1989. In May 2015, Indian president Pranab Mukherjee said the scandal was a "media trial" as "no Indian court has as yet established it as a scandal".

Opposition parties Lok Dal, Indian National Congress (Socialist) and Jan Morcha united under Singh to form the Janata Dal. Singh led the National Front coalition to victory in 1989 elections and he was sworn in as Prime Minister. Though the coalition won 143 seats compared to Congress's 197, it gained majority in the lower house of the parliament through outside support from the Bharatiya Janta Party under the leadership of Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Lal Krishna Advani and the left parties such as the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the Communist Party of India. Eminent lawyer and politician, former Law Minister of India Ram Jethmalani said that as Prime Minister, Gandhi was "lacklustre and mediocre".

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