What do we think of when we say the name Rajiv Gandhi? Chances are the dreadful image of his body after he was assassinated by a bomb will come to mind. The mind may also recall various controversies; and there were many during the tenure of India’s sixth Prime Minister: the anti Sikh riots, the Bofors scandal, the Shahbano controversy, the controversial foreign policy with regard to the IPKF in Sri Lanka and more.
Is controversy Rajiv Gandhi’s legacy? What, if anything did the man – India’s youngest ever Prime Minster – do during his tenure from 1984 to 1989?
Non political beginnings
The older son of Indira and Feroze Gandhi, Rajiv had trained as a pilot and worked with Indian Airlines. It was always younger brother Sanjay Gandhi who was the political animal and the formidable Indira’s supposed political heir.
Rajiv remained wholly aloof from politics until after the death of brother Sanjay’s death. When Sanjay died in 1980 he was urged to fight for the Amethi Loksabha seat which he won, however he remained on the fringes of the government.
And it was only after his mother’s assassination on 31 October 1984 that he was propelled into prominence when his party nominated him the Prime Minister of India. When Rajiv led his party to a landslide victory soon after, the faith his party reposed in him seemed justified.
Rajiv Gandhi’s economic policies
The dismantling of Licence and Quota Raj – which had dogged India’s progress and development, began during Rajiv’s time. The beginning of economic liberalisation brought about many social and other changes. Reduction of taxes and tariffs on technology based enterprises and import quotas brought about significant changes in telecommunications, airlines, defence and computers. Rajiv Gandhi was largely perceived as the man who brought computers to India. These were some very significant changes that were brought about by his governance.
Changes in foreign policy
Though he did visit the USSR during his PM tenure, the cosying up to the USSR as during Indira Gandhi’s time was far less in evidence during Rajiv’s tenure. Instead there was a marked shift towards the United States. This was in keeping with Rajiv’s economic liberalisation that sought to break away from Indira’s socialistic moorings and towards a free market economy.
Security policy changes
Insurgency in Punjab was at its peak following the assassination of Indira Gandhi. The brutal attacks by Sikh militants of the time were even acknowledged by Human Rights groups. Putting Punjab under direct President’s rule and appointing K P S Gill as Police Chief in Punjab did in fact serve to reduce militancy in the state and did ultimately lead to the complete dismantling of the terror network in the state. This was a significant achievement though marred by controversies relating to the brutality of K P S Gill.
Rajiv Gandhi the visionary
In some senses Rajiv Gandhi was a visionary – though some of his policies were either shortsighted or ill-conceived, his good faith desire to see the country progress was frequently in evidence. One could well call the following words of his inspiring:
“India is an old country, but a young nation; and like the young everywhere, we are impatient. I am young and I too have a dream. I dream of an India, strong, independent, self reliant and in the forefront of the front ranks of the nations of the world in the service of mankind.”
Rajiv Gandhi’s achievements cannot be undermined regardless of what one’s political agenda may be. The thrust given by Rajiv Gandhi to Panchayati Raj as an effective way to utilise local resources and decentralise power yielded largely positive results. There were some admirable projects initiated either by him directly or by his party and/or family in his name.
Many schemes that bear Rajiv Gandhi’s name are helping to make a difference as well. The Rajiv Gandhi Foundation works towards decentralising education governance, teacher empowerment and transformative learning. The Rajiv Gandhi National Fellowship is a scheme open to candidates from Scheduled Caste & Scheduled Tribe who wish to pursue higher studies. The Rajiv Gandhi Jeevandayee Arogya Yojana was initiated by the Government of Maharashtra to improve medical access facility for both Below Poverty Line (BPL – Yellow card holders) and Above Poverty Line (APL- orange card holders) families. The Rajiv Gandhi Equity Savings Scheme is a new equity tax advantage savings scheme for equity investors in India, with the stated objective of “encouraging the savings of the small investors in the domestic capital markets.”
Other schemes such as the Rajiv Gandhi Siiksha Mission, Rajiv Gandhi Prodyogiki Vishwavidyalaya (or the Rajiv Gandhi Technical University as it is also known), Rajiv Gandhi Digital Laptop Yojna are also being implemented. Not that the credit of any of this goes to him, but the fact is that quite a bit of good work is still being done in Rajiv Gandhi’s name.
By Reena Daruwala