Why I would always admire Rajiv Gandhi

It was exactly 17 years ago that Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated at Sriperumbudur. In these 17 years, the entire political landscape of India has gone through a sea change. And thanks to political leadership, things have become worse from what they used to be during Rajiv Gandhi’s era. Among other things, the two most visible changes have been: firstly, the erosion of equity of the two big national parties (Congress and Bharatiya Janata Party) and the advent of regional parties at the forefront. And the second evident change that took place is the dawn of coalition politics. In fact, the genesis of both is almost the same. It is not that having regional parties at the national scene is a matter of concern per se, but the concern here is their increasing dominance. It goes beyond doubt that the emergence of regional parties has primarily been on account of the fact that the political leadership of the two big national parties have failed to engage with the country as a whole. And this failure in political leadership has not only helped regionalism to grow, but has also made the compulsion of coalition a harsh reality! And this is where the nation today misses a leader like Rajiv Gandhi. It is not to demean any other leader who has come before or after him, but then I’ve no inhibitions in stating that Rajiv possessed certain aspects of leadership which were unique to him. And among these unique leadership attributes that he possessed, one which has always attracted my attention is the very fact that he was one of the least ‘political’ leaders that India has ever seen. Apart from his political lineage, there was nothing that would define him as a conventional political leader. Starting from his professional background, to his plunge into mainstream politics, to his overall personality, to the kind of decisions, initiatives and policies that he devised during his tenure as the Prime Minister, every thing had been so very distant from conventional politics. It is this lack of political baggage and the manner in which he went about envisioning and connecting for/with India, that made him so very special. It was indeed amazing how he managed to bring about changes, which not only built the industrial economy, but at the same time connected the same to the population at large. In fact, his capabilities could be gauged in the manner he handled relatively smaller assignments even before he became the Prime Minister. Who can forget the iconic Asian Games and the unprecedented positive externalities they created for India. Today, his feat looks even more incredible taking into consideration the manner the current government is struggling to prepare for the Commonwealth Games scheduled for 2010. Not just this, on becoming the Prime Minister, the manner in which Rajiv shunned Nehruvian socialism and initiated bilateral relations with the United States of America, also go on to define his capabilities of taking bold and radical decisions for a larger good and not getting bogged down by petty political ideologies. This signature style of his was imprinted in whatever he did in his tenure as the Prime Minister of the country. Who can forget the way he phased out the ‘Licence quota Raj’ and its associated bureaucracy and red tape; and created an enabling environment for entrepreneurs. Though conventional cynics criticised him then for his policy initiatives, today, not only are we are reaping the benefits in terms of the telecom and technology boom, which was his brain child, the spillover of the same is also visible in the form of small entrepreneurial ventures of STD kiosks across the country. Also, if it was his grandfather’s brainchild to build an industrial India through PSUs, it was Rajiv who was constantly concerned in the manner that the PSUs have been functioning. In reality, though unconventional again, it was his idea to liquidate government holdings in the PSUs and invite retail investors to participate in making them more competitive. No doubt, today this might sound seemingly easy, but the manner in which he took bold steps then is unheard of from the Indian political leadership. It was because of this that unlike his predecessors and successors, Rajiv and his policies were successful in generating all round development – the footprints of which can be seen everywhere, whether it is the empowering of the Panchayati Raj institution or the engaging with Sri Lanka. In addition to this, he gave huge impetus to education as well, which was indicative from his national education policy, that contemporied higher education across the country and introduced various other initiatives like the Jawahar Navodaya Vidyalaya System. Though his tenure was limited, Rajiv has shown us all that with the right intent, much could be achieved in a matter of just five years!! He has shown us that if the objective is of nation building, then nothing should come in between – no legacies, no philosophies, no ideologies, no protocols and no conventions. Probably it is because of this reason that he had to give away his life too. Today, on his 17th death anniversary, the Planman Media team salutes the spirit of the most charismatic political leader India has ever produced.

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