Remembering Rajiv Gandhi – Was he the worst PM of India?

Today is the twenty-seventh death anniversary of former Prime Minister of India, Bharat Ratna Rajiv Gandhi. The majority of those who would read this would have shed a tear for Rajiv Gandhi in 1991, on this day.

If Central government releases one rupee for the poor, only 10 paisa reaches them.”This tells about his honesty, not his failure. Rajiv was honest about how his own party is corrupt, so what he did not punish any.

Had it been Congress at the center, one would find several pages of each newspaper filled with advertisements as well as handsome visuals of beaming Rajiv Gandhi broadcasted in channels across the country.

All these ads and visuals would speak of his diverse qualities, pointing out numerous achievements the Rajiv in his first and only reign (1985-1989), namely:

  1. National Policy on Education. Founded Navodaya Vidyalaya.
  2. The Telecom revolution.
  3. Improved bilateral relations with the United States.
  4. Operation Cactus which helped Maldives.
  5. Attempts to end the civil war in Sri Lanka.
  6. Peace initiatives with Pakistan.
  7. Gave way to Panchayat Raj.

There would be many more achievements but this list is sufficient to conclude that Rajiv Gandhi was a remarkable statesman, an able administrator, and a worthy leader and one of the best Prime Ministers India ever had.

But the prejudiced lot would claim exact opposite and sully the image of this great visionary, whose name finds its occurrence in almost every government schemes, state varsities, edifices, bridges, and manifestos. Instead of focusing on the above, they will talk only about the laundry list of Rajiv’s major ‘achievements’:

1984 SIKH POGROM: Rajiv and his party presided over the biggest pogrom in India’s history – Sikhs were murdered across India as a vengeance for the assassination of his mother, Indira Gandhi.

When a Big tree falls, the earth shakes” – he remarked.

BOFORS:  One of the most publicized scandals in Indian political history, the Bofors scandal marred the image Rajiv, like nothing else. The allegation was that the Swedish company, Bofors, paid Rs. 64 Crore in kickbacks to prominent Indian politicians including Rajiv Gandhi so that they can win the bid for supplying 155 mm field howitzers to India. Whether he did the crime or not, handling such a matter of national security in such a non-transparent way once again showed his greenhorn attitude.

Rajiv-Farooq Accord: By 1987, the Kashmir valley was a fairly peaceful one – much more peaceful than Punjab or Assam. Even the separatists were actively engaged in the elections. But, they were horribly disappointed in one of the worst Indian elections. Internationally it is agreed that the Congress rigged that election to favor its ally – National Conference. The people were so disappointed that it brought the rise of Mujahideen in the valley and marked the start of its terror phase.

Bhopal Gas Tragedy: In almost every aspect, Rajiv’s rule was one of the most disastrous periods of India. He was the Prime Minister when Bhopal Gas tragedy (world’s worst industrial disaster) struck. Rajive let his friend Anderson of the Union Carbide off the hook, that claimed thousands of lives.

Secular Legacy: A poor 60-year-old Muslim woman Shah Bano went to the court seeking Rs. 200/month from her husband, for supporting her 5 children after the lawyer husband deserted her, uttering Triple-Talaq. Both the High Court and Supreme Court ruled in the woman’s favor. However, Rajiv overruled the court with a new legislation and took away the basic rights of Muslim women in India to appease the conservative clergy.

In another bid not to appear excessively pro-Muslim, Rajiv Gandhi allowed the activists of VHP to perform “Shilanyas” ceremony near the then disputed Babri Masjid. This triggered multiple communal incidents culminating in the bringing down of the Mosque during Narasimha Rao’s regime.

Few remember that Rajiv also banned Salman Rushdie’s classic work – Satanic Verses [even before any Islamic nation did].

IPKF: Rajiv Gandhi’s Sri Lanka venture failed to impede the murderous campaign of the LTTE. The honorable Indian Army had barely lost in any operation it planned and it was never misused fighting random wars elsewhere. Rajiv, without consulting his cabinet, sent 100,000 armed men to Sri Lanka, without telling them about the geography of the Jaffna peninsula, nor about the LTTE hideouts.  that was widely hated as an occupying force and thrown out in ignominy. The Indian Peace Keeping Forces were called back after failing to rein in the LTTE and suffering heavy casualties. Overall 1200 armed men died and plenty more of both Tamils & Sinhalese lost lives. As a result, lost his life too.

Telecom Revolution: There are several holes in the Gospel truth that it was Rajiv Gandhi who revitalized the telecom sector of India.

The New Telecom Policy (NTP) announced by Govt. on 3 March 1999 recounted some facts. It noted that India had “over 1 million” mobile phone subscribers. Ten years after Rajiv Gandhi’s government left office in 1989, Tele-density moved from 0.6% in 1989 to 2.8% in 1999. A “revolution”?

Recent data says that India had over 700 million active mobile phone connections as of October 2012, catapulting the telecom penetration from less than 3% in 1999 to over 70% and fast closing in on developed world standards. How did this massive growth happen?

The answer is that key policy reforms were implemented by the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government in 1999, with one of the most important measures being the separation between policy formulation and service provision, culminating with the birth of BSNL and freeing the telecom sector from political control. Vajpayee took the politically difficult step of corporatizing BSNL, personally intervened to push through this deep structural reform.

Rajiv Gandhi’s model did not succeed, whereas the Vajpayee government’s policies curtailed the state’s role and created space for private entrepreneurs to deliver cheap and reliable telecom service speedily on a massive scale. The former tried to grow by state-led indigenization, the latter threw open the sector to competition and entrepreneurship.

Panchayat Raj: When Rajiv introduced the 64th Constitutional Amendment Bill in 1989, it got defeated in the Rajya Sabha. It was only after the ascension of PV Narasimha Rao as Prime Minister that the concept of Panchayat Raj saw success, which came into force on April 24, 1993.

The True Democrat: The true Democrat and the clean Rajiv Gandhi had no qualms using his political and Governmental power to overpower people he perceived were inconvenient.

In 1982, when he was not even the Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi publicly called Andhra chief minister T.Anjaiah a ‘buffoon’. Anjaiah was later sacked that led to Congress’s doom in Andhra.

In 1990, Rajiv Gandhi unceremoniously sacked Karnataka’s popular Chief Minister, Veerendra Patil, when he was in the hospital undergoing treatment for a stroke and installed one of the most corrupt leaders as Karnataka’s Chief Minister, S. Bangarappa.

In 1988, Rajiv introduced the notorious Anti-Defamation Bill aimed to stifle the free press. However, strong demonstrations and protests from the journalist fraternity, (most notable among them being Arun Shourie) made him withdraw the bill.

The only saving grace in the form of his address to the Joint meeting of the US Congress in Washington on 13 June 1985:

“India is an old country, but a young nation; and like the young everywhere we are impatient. I am young, and I too have a dream. I dream of an India strong, independent and self-reliant and in the front rank of the nations of the world in the service of mankind.”

Sadly his works did not match his words and his reign is best remembered for numerous scandals and accidents. Shri Rajiv Gandhi is arguably the worst prime minister of India and inarguably the most overrated prime minister of India.

With fond memories of a prejudiced mind, wish your soul rests in peace Rajiv Ji.

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