Why I miss Rajiv Gandhi



Camelot was not a word I understood as a teenager in 1984. My life revolved around fond ambitions and dreams about India and about my father’s constant exhortation about fighting poverty. Most of our discussions at the dinner table revolved around exasperated talk about licences, government permits and assorted regulations. I was, like millions of Indians like me, bewildered by the malignant forces that eventually led to Operation Blue Star and the assassination of Indira Gandhi by her bodyguards. Like many Indians, I sometimes fell prey to cynical judgments about the future of India. I should not have done so. Rajiv Gandhi became the Prime Minister and won a mandate that was even more massive than what his grandfather Jawaharlal Nehru had ever got. For people like me, Rajiv Gandhi was a tornado that would sweep the outdated politics out of India. He was the man who would finally do what Mahatma Gandhi and Nehru had promised to do. He represented the new India, the India that wanted to break free of the shackles of centuries of colonialism. I can’t forget his address to the media persons in the United States, when he was attacked on issues related to the raging insurgency that was going on in Punjab for a separate state for the Sikhs. Of course, everybody knew that Pakistan was fomenting the insurgency and attempting to take ‘revenge’ for the creation of Bangladesh, formerly East Pakistan. Rajiv’s reply to a provocative query thrown at him by a journalist was simple. Rajiv stated that factually, the capital of Khalistan should be Lahore – the city that defines Pakistan as a nation that is so different from India. Rajiv also promptly tried his best to heal the wounds by signing an accord that gave the Akali Dal power. He signed similar accords with angry agitators in Assam, leading to elections that made protestors (Asom Gana Parishad) take the oath of office as rulers. Cynics joked that Rajiv Gandhi was on a mission to get opposition parties elected to power. But these are minor achievements for which we need to remember Rajiv. There are two other initiatives of Rajiv that history will always judge as actions that transformed India. In 1985, Rajiv announced to a full meeting of Congress delegates that the party had been hijacked by power brokers who were milking the Congress legacy. He also spoke of how corruption was a cancer that was threatening to destroy the vitals of India. In hindsight, I cannot but help think that if the man had been allowed to clean the stables, Bofors would not have emerged as a ghost to haunt his family. The second thing that Rajiv did was to try his best to get on board young people who could make a difference. He trusted them. Nobody knows what Sonia Gandhi felt the moment when she knew Rajiv was dead. That will probably remain a mystery. Rajiv created history. The single reason that I still yearn for the Rajiv days to return is the IT revolution that created so many jobs for people, who would have otherwise become Naxalites. Every time there was a person who said that his livelihood was destroyed by new technology, a new ATM cropped up in some corner. When friends tell me about sales agents disturbing them with stupid calls, I usually smile.

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