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Shri Rajiv Gandhi was born on August 20, 1944, in Bombay. He was just three when India became independent and his grandfather became Prime Minister. His parents moved to New Delhi from Lucknow. His father, Feroze Gandhi, became an M.P., and earned a reputation as a fearless and hard-working Parliamentarian.

Rajiv Gandhi spent his early childhood with his grandfather in the Teen Murti House, where Indira Gandhi served as the Prime Minister's hostess. He briefly went to school at Welham Prep in Dehra Dun but soon moved to the residential Doon School in the Himalayan foothills. There he made many lifelong friendships and was also joined by his younger brother, Sanjay.

 

            After leaving school, Shri Gandhi went to Trinity College, Cambridge, but soon shifted to the Imperial College (London). He did a course in mechanical engineering. He really was not interested in 'mugging for his exams', as went on to admit later. It was clear that politics did not interest him as a career. According to his classmates, his bookshelves were lined with volumes on science and engineering, not works on philosophy, politics or history. Music, however, had a pride of place in his interests. He liked Western and Hindustani classical, as well as modern music. Other interests included photography and amateur radio.

            His greatest passion, however, was flying. No wonder then, that on returning home from England, he passed the entrance examination to the Delhi Flying Club, and went to the obtain a commercial pilot's licence. Soon, he became a pilot with Indian Airlines, the domestic national carrier. While at Cambridge, he had met Sonia Maino, an Italian who was studying English. They were married in New Delhi in 1968. They stayed in Smt. Indira Gandhi's residence in New Delhi with their two children, Rahul and Priyanka. Theirs was a very private life despite the surrounding din and bustle of political activity.

            But his brother Sanjay's death in an air crash in 1980 changed that. Pressures on Shri Gandhi to enter politics and help his mother, then besieged by many internal and external challenges, grew. He resisted these pressures at first, but later bowed to their logic. He won the by-election to the Parliament, caused by his brother's death, from Amethi in U.P.

            In November 1982, when India hosted the Asian Games, the commitment made years earlier to build the stadia and other infrastructure was fulfilled. Shri Gandhi was entrusted with the task of getting all the work completed on time and ensuring that the games themselves were conducted without any hitches or flaws. In fulfilling this challenging task, he first displayed his flair for quiet efficiency and smooth coordination. At the same time, as General Secretary of the Congress, he started streamlining and energising the party organisation with equal diligence. All these qualities came to the fore later in far more testing and trying times.

            For no one could have ascended to power - becoming both Prime Minister and Congress President - in more tragic and tormenting circumstances than Shri Gandhi did in the wake of his mother's brutal assassination on 31 October, 1984. But he bore the awesome burden of personal grief and national responsibility with remarkable poise, dignity and restraint. During the month long election campaign, Shri Gandhi travelled tirelessly from one part of the country to the other, covering a distance equal to one and a half times the earth's circumference, speaking at 250 meetings in as many places and meeting millions face to face.

            At 40, Mr. Rajiv Gandhi was the youngest Prime Minister of India, perhaps even one of the youngest elected heads of Government in the world. His mother, Smt. Indira Gandhi, was eight years older when she first became Prime Minister in 1966. His illustrious grandfather, Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru, was 58 when he started the long innings of 17 years as free India's first Prime Minister.

            As the harbinger of a generational change in the country, Shri Gandhi received the biggest mandate in the nation's history. He ordered elections to the Lok Sabha, the directly elected house of the Indian Parliament, as soon as mourning for his slain mother was over. In that election, the Congress, got a much higher proportion of the popular vote than in the preceding seven elections and captured a record 401 seats out of 508. Such an impressive start as the leader of 700 million Indians would have been remarkable under any circumstance. What makes it even more unique is that Shri Gandhi was a late and

reluctant entrant into politics even though he belonged to an intensely political family that had served India for four generations - both during the freedom struggle and afterwards. A modern-minded, decisive but undemonstrative man, Shri Gandhi was at home in the world of high technology. And, as he repeatedly said, one of his main objectives, besides preserving India's unity, was to propel it into the twenty-first century.

            When Rajiv Gandhi, Indira's eldest son, reluctantly consented to run for his brother's vacant Lok Sabha seat in 1980, and when he later took over the leadership of the Congress youth wing, becoming prime minister was the last thing on his mind; equally, his mother had her own misgivings about whether Rajiv would bravely "take the brutalities and the ruthlessness of politics." Yet on the day Indira was assassinated, Rajiv was sworn in as prime minister at the age of forty. He brought into politics energy, enthusiasm, and vision--qualities badly needed to lead the divided country. Moreover, his looks, personal charm, and reputation as "Mr. Clean" were assets that won him many friends in India and abroad, especially in the United States. Rajiv also had a clear mandate to rule the country with an overwhelming majority in Parliament.

            Rajiv seemed to have understood the magnitude of the most critical and urgent problems that faced the nation when he assumed office. As Paul H. Kreisberg, a former United States foreign service officer, put it, Rajiv was faced with an unenviable fourpronged challenge: resolving political and religious violence in Punjab and the northeast; reforming the demoralized Congress (I), which was often identified

with the interests of the upper and upper-middle classes; reenergizing the sagging economy in terms of productivity and budget control; and reducing tensions with neighbors, especially Pakistan and Sri Lanka. As Rajiv tackled these issues with singular determination, there was optimism and hope about the future of India. Between 1985 and 1987, temporary calm was restored by accommodating demands for regional control in the northeast and by granting more concessions to Punjab. Although Rajiv acknowledged the gradual attrition of the Congress, he was unwilling to relinquish control of the leadership, tolerate "cliques," or conduct new elections for offices at the state and district levels.

            Economic reforms and incentives to private investors were introduced by easing government tax

rates and licensing requirements, but officials manipulated the rules and frequently accepted bribes. These innovative measures also came under attack from business leaders, who for many years had controlled both markets and prices with little regard for quality. When the Ministry of Finance began its own investigation of tax and foreign-exchange evasion amounting to millions of dollars, many of India's leading families, including Rajiv's political allies, were found culpable. Despite these hindrances, Rajiv's fascination with electronics and telecommunications resulted in revamping the antiquated telephone systems to meet public demands. Collaboration with the United States and several European governments and corporations brought more investment in research in electronics and computer software.

            India's perennial, see-sawing tensions with Pakistan, whose potential nuclear-weapons capacity escalated concerns in the region, were ameliorated when the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) was inaugurated in December 1985. Both nations signed an agreement in 1986 promising that neither would launch a first strike at the other's nuclear facilities. However, sporadic conflicts persist along the cease-fire line in Kashmir.

            Relations with Sri Lanka degenerated because of unresolved Sinhalese-Tamil controversies and continued guerrilla warfare by Tamil militants, under the leadership of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, who had bases in Tamil Nadu. Beginning in 1987, India's attempt to disarm and subdue the Tigers through intervention of the Indian Peace Keeping Force proved disastrous as thousands of Indian soldiers and Tamil militants were killed or wounded.

            Rajiv Gandhi's performance in the middle of his term in office was best summed up, as Kreisberg put it, as "good intentions, some progress, frequently weak implementation, and poor politics." Two major scandals, the "Spy" and the "Bofors" affairs, tarnished his reputation. In January 1985, Gandhi confirmed

in Parliament the involvement of top government officials, their assistants, and businessmen in "a wide-ranging espionage network." The ring reportedly infiltrated the prime minister's office as early as 1982 when Indira was in power and sold defense and economic intelligence to foreign diplomats at the embassies of France, Poland and other East European countries, and the Soviet Union. Although more than twenty-four arrests were made and the diplomats involved were expelled, the Spy scandal remained a lingering embarrassment to Rajiv's administration.

            In 1986 India purchased US$1.3 billion worth of artillery pieces from the Swedish manufacturer A.B. Bofors, and months later a Swedish radio report remarked that Bofors had won the "biggest" export order by bribing Indian politicians and defense personnel. The revelation caught the nation's attention immediately because of the allegations that somehow Rajiv Gandhi and his friends were connected with the deal. When Vishwanath Pratap (V.P.) Singh, as minister of defence, investigated the alleged kickbacks, he was forced to resign, and he became Rajiv's Janata political rival. Despite relentless attacks and criticisms in the media as well as protests and resignations from cabinet members, Rajiv adamantly denied any role in the affair. But when he called parliamentary elections in November 1989, two months ahead of schedule, the opposition alliance, the National Front, vigorously campaigned on "removing corruption and restoring the dignity of national institutions," as did another opposition party, Janata Dal. Rajiv and his party won more seats in the election than any other party, but, being unable to form a government with a clear majority or a mandate, he resigned on November 29.

            Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated by Sri Lankan terrorists on May 21, 1991, near Madras. The Gandhi era, as future events would prove, was over, at least for the near term. Historically, assassinations have been through several ages- the age of poisons, the age of the sword, the age of the bullet and now it is the age of explosives. The bomb, a weapon of mass destruction used in warfare has replaced pellet shooters to a considerable degree as the stock-intrade of assassins. Powerful Improvised Explosive Devices obviate the need for pinpoint accuracy required with firearms Remote controlled devices reduce the possibility of apprehension or detection prior to commission. The emergence of the "Human Bomb" with the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi has multiplied the gravity of the threat many times even as it gives the assassin, an ausa of martyrdom and obviates the need to get away or avoid apprehension. The dice is heavilyloaded against the security personnel for the element of surprise, choice of location and timing are in the hands of the quarry.

Courtesy: NIP 

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