Rajiv: An unwilling politician

Rajiv: An unwilling politician
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Rajeevratna Birjees Gandhi with Sonia Gandhi 

Highlights

Rajeevratna Birjees Gandhi was born on 20 August 1944 to Indira Gandhi and Feroze Gandhi. Rajiv has been an unwilling politician. He had passion for flying, photography, Hindustani and Western classical music and rock music.

Rajeevratna Birjees Gandhi was born on 20 August 1944 to Indira Gandhi and Feroze Gandhi. Rajiv has been an unwilling politician. He had passion for flying, photography, Hindustani and Western classical music and rock music.

Rajiv had his schooling from the prestigious Doon School in Dehra Dun, Uttarakhand, after which he took admission at Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1962 to study mechanical engineering. However, he did not complete his studies and in 1966 took admission to the Imperial College in London. During his stay in UK, Rajiv met Sonia at a restaurant called Maino. She was studying at Cambridge University and was working as part time waitress in a restaurant. The credit of their coming together goes to Satyajit Ray's film Pather Panchali. Their friendship turned into love and in 1968 after initial resistance from Indira Gandhi culminated in marriage. The interesting part is that after coming to India, till she got married, she stayed with the family of film star Amitabh Bachchan.

Rajiv later joined Indian Airlines as a commercial pilot with Indian Airlines. His fellow pilots always said that he was an excellent pilot had tremendous passion for flying and was always joyful and friendly though he was the son of Prime Minister of India.

When Indira Gandhi declared emergency in 1975, it is said that both Rajiv Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi were opposed to it while Rajiv's younger brother Sanjay was supported the move and emerged as the most powerful power centre though he did not hold any official position either in the party or government. But then the sudden death of Sanjay Gandhi in an air crash in 1981 forced Rajiv to start taking interest in politics. Sonia it was said was opposed to her husband entering active politics. But finally, he contested his first election from Amethi constituency in Uttar Pradesh which he won with a huge margin.

He was then given the responsibility of organising Asian Games in 1982 which he handled efficiently. Later he became the AICC general secretary. But then being new to politics and not so good in delivering political speeches in Hindi, he had to struggle initially. But one good thing was that he was easily accessible to all including the media as general secretary of AICC. Those days the security was not what it is today. A handsome person with infectious smile was willing to listen to what other had to say. In short span he became well versed with the nitty gritty of politics.

In 1984, after the assassination of Indira Gandhi, Rajiv took over the reins of the Congress and in the elections that followed Congress got landslide victory by winning 414 seats.

In his first press conference as Prime Minister at Vigyan Bhavan in New Delhi, he showed tremendous patience to respond to questions from the media. Though the officials of Press Information Bureau tried to regulate the number of questioners, he said he was willing to sit for fair amount of time and reply to as many questions as possible. When I told him that my question had three parts and is related to Gujarat politics, he had a big laugh and said, "Oh my God you want to put me in trouble. Can you give me some concession?" Then I told him, "Yes Mr Prime Minister I will club them and make it into two parts," and his replies gave me a banner story.

As leader of Lok Sabha, he was a keen listener to the speeches from opposition leaders. Rajiv Gandhi who started as an Independent Prime Minister slowly got surrounded by a coterie consisting of Arun Nehru and Arun Singh among others. Soon his popularity graph started taking a nosedive.

During his five-year tenure as Prime Minister is credited for giving importance to science and technology. He brought in computers and spoke of liberalisation. The telecom industry witnessed a breakthrough under his government with the initiation of Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Limited in 1986. He signed peace accords with insurgent groups in Mizoram, Assam and Punjab in an effort to end insurgency and violence in these states.

But the Bofors scandal came as a big blow. It shook the country and Parliament. It was a major weapon contract between India and Sweden that took place when Vishwanath Pratap Singh was the Defence Minister. It was alleged that Indian and Swedish government received kickbacks from Bofors AB, an arms manufacturer for the sale of 410 field howitzer guns. Ottavio Quattrocchi was said to be the conduit for bribes and was alleged to be close to Rajiv Gandhi through his Italian wife Sonia Gandhi. The scandal came to light based on a story by a whistle-blower in Swedish police followed by Indian journalist Chitra Subramaniam, who was in Sweden at that time. Of course, the amount compared to the later scandals in India was very less. It was just Rs 640 million. It created a political storm across the country. Entire opposition had resigned from Lok Sabha forcing a midterm election which Congress lost. Unfortunately, Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated on 21 May 1991 at Sriperumbudur in Tamil Nadu.

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