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Remembering Rajiv Gandhi – A controversial political life

Remembering Rajiv Gandhi – A controversial political life

Rajiv Gandhi's sudden rise on the Indian political scene was due to the assassination of his mother Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, in 1984. He became the youngest Prime Minister of India at the age of 40. Prior to him becoming the Prime Minister he had just 3 years of experience as a Member of Parliament since 1980. He had contested and won the Amethi seat left vacant after the demise of his brother Sanjay Gandhi. It wouldn't be wrong to say he was a reluctant heir to the throne of the Nehru Gandhi family. He had a very short political life before his assassination on 21st May 1991.

He took some very good decisions which benefitted India in a big way. Perhaps his biggest contribution was the spread of telephone networks through MTNL and VSNL. He also took steps to reduce the taxes on fully assembled mother boards thereby reducing the prices of computers and made way for easier import of computers. His contribution in setting up National Informatics Center (generally known as NIC) cannot be forgotten.

Other than these steps, his name is usually remembered with all the controversies and policy decisions which proved to be a disaster. Right after Indira Gandhi’s assassination, the country saw massive anti-Sikh riots including the very well-known 1984 Sikh Riots. However, Rajiv Gandhi didn’t seem to be surprised with this and instead said - "Some riots took place in the country following the murder of Indiraji. We know the people were very angry and for a few days it seemed that India had been shaken. But, when a mighty tree falls, it is only natural that the earth around it does shake a little". This statement is seen an endorsement of the riots that claimed the life of 3000 people. The 1984 elections saw a massive victory for Rajiv Gandhi led Congress party with Congress winning 414 seats.

Another controversy which Rajiv Gandhi’s name is associated is the Shah Bano case. This was a divorce settlement case of a Muslim couple in which the Supreme Court ordered that the husband should pay alimony to his divorced wife, Shah Bano. Many Muslims voiced their displeasure at the Supreme Court verdict. In a shocking move of Muslim appeasement politics, Rajiv Gandhi government went ahead and passed The Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Act 1986. This act overruled the Supreme Court decision. One can understand how deep the roots of appeasement were even in the era of 1986.

Rajeev Gandhi was also severely criticized for his foreign policy in relation to Sri Lanka where Tamil militant organization, LTTE was waging a war against the pre-dominantly Singhalese Sri Lankan state. The Indian government sent what was called the IPKF or Indian Peace Keeping Force. This proved to be a disaster for the troops who faced causalities but their hands were tied and they could not retaliate. There was a lot of confusion on their roles and responsibilities throughout the period of deployment.

The biggest controversy which perhaps led to his defeat in the 1989 elections was the Bofors kickback scandal. Former CBI director Dr. A P Mukherjee in his book named – “Unknown Facets of Rajiv Gandhi, Jyoti Basu and Indrajit Gupta” released in November 2013, wrote that Gandhi wanted commission paid by defense suppliers to be used exclusively for meeting running expenses of the Congress party. The Bofors scam created huge ripples in the political circles and in the country and Congress managed to win just 197 seats down from 414 in 1984. In just 5 years with Rajiv Gandhi at the helm, Congress was decimated.

Even after his assassination by LTTE operatives in May 1991, Rajiv Gandhi’s name kept cropping up in various scandals. In November 1991 (after 6 months of his assassination), Schweizer Illustrierte magazine published an article about money held in secret Swiss bank accounts by 3rd world country rulers. It was alleged that Rajiv Gandhi held 2.5 billion Swiss francs in secret Indian accounts in Switzerland at that time.

The biggest dent to Rajiv Gandhi's image was perhaps his alleged involvement in letting the Union Carbide chief, Warren Anderson escape from India. On the fateful night of 2nd December 1984, Methyl Isocyanine gas leaked from the storage tanks at the Union Carbide factory in Bhopal killing 15,000 people in their sleep and injuring another 5,00,000. CBI had arrested Warren Anderson after 4 days of the incident. It is said that based on verbal orders from Delhi, the Madhya Pradesh government headed by Congress leader Arjun Singh, allowed Anderson to post a bail of Rs. 25,000 and leave the country. He never returned to face trial. Allegations of Rajiv Gandhi acting under pressure from the US government have never been verified but many officials have pointed fingers at Delhi for letting the accused slip out of India's reach.

Another big allegation of his shady deals came out on 1992 when Times of India and The Hindu published reports that the Russian intelligence KGB had paid money to Rajiv Gandhi and his wife and son, Sonia and Rahul Gandhi. Russia confirmed the news stating that this was necessary to further Russia’s interest. The payments were authorized by a resolution and endorsed by the USSR Council of Ministers, and had been paid since 1971. Both the Swiss accounts and KGB scandals never saw a full investigation due to his death, but the controversies sure did tarnish his image and name forever.

Posted On : 21-May-2017

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