By Vijay Darda | 21-05-2016
To be the prime minister of the world’s biggest democracy at the age of 44, and to be assassinated within seven years just on the verge of the second term can only spell the irony in the life of Rajiv Gandhi. It is exactly 25 years ago, that his promising life was cut short by the cruel assassin when it was clear to the naked eye that he was all set to make a triumphant return as the country’s prime minister. The nation has suffered an irreparable loss, and scars of that wound have not healed and are still visible.
Of course in personal terms, the biggest losers have been his family – the Congress president Sonia Gandhi and their children Rahul and Priyanka. It is a measure of the cynicism in our public affairs that this aspect of their personal suffering is either glossed over or even mocked at by their rivals. It is only the collective insensitivity in the society and more particularly the polity that is responsible for this situation.
But this rather cynical approach cannot take away from the glory of the pioneering contributions of the visionary leader in the making of a modern India, that is now being seen as an emerging global power or a knowledge economy. Nor can we forget that when he first spoke of an India marching into the 21st century on the wings of computer and information technology, the opposition had only jeers for him. Today, the same leaders may be bragging about their ‘revolutionary’ ideas, but in their hearts of heart they know that the original genius lay with Rajivji.
It is indeed a mark of a genius and a visionary that his ideas survive his physical persona because of their intrinsic merit and validity. Moreover, as we all know, the computers and the information technology were not the only gifts that he bestowed on the country. In fact, the telecom revolution that now has the participation of millions of people in our country saw its early rise during his days as prime minister. In fact, the seeds of a globalised liberal economic regime were also sown during his time, and there is ample evidence on record to show that while busy campaigning in the summer of 1991, the forward looking leader was also devoting his energies and time in evolving the policy framework in different sectors of the economy. He was the first Indian leader to have articulated the point that global power would, henceforth, depend on economic strength, and military might would follow suit.
It was not in the field of economy alone that he made lasting contributions. There are two initiatives taken by him in the matter of deepening the democratic process in our country that have fundamentally changed our political landscape. The first step was to lower the age of eligibility for voting rights from 21-18. He was criticised for allowing ’immature’ minds to have this right and there were many who predicted that adding these young voters every five years would lead to political instability. But he had an unshakeable belief in youth power. The second step was to introduce a three-tiered panchayati raj structure with 33 per cent of the seats reserved for women. This was a move for gender equality and empowerment of the hitherto marginalised sections of the society that has seen far-reaching changes on the political landscape.
We cannot remember Rajivji without a reference to the Bofors gun. It was the propaganda surrounding that defence deal which virtually brought an end to his first term as the prime minister. It was also the failure of his rivals to prove any allegation that paved the way for his possible return. But amidst all this, we should also remember that it was the Bofors gun that saved the day for our boys in the 1999-Kargil episode. The entire episode has several lessons for us in the matter of defence preparedness and with our appetite for repeating our mistakes, we seem to be following the same pattern in the AgustaWestland case. Defamation without a shred of evidence was the anti-Congress strategy at the time of Bofors, and it is being repeated again.
In the context of good neighbourly relations, his visits to Pakistan and China had left lasting impact on the frayed ties. He was the first prime minister to have visited Beijing after the 1962 war and his talks with the Chinese laid the framework for tranquillity on the borders.
Now, 25 years after his death, the best tribute that we can pay to this great visionary is to acknowledge his contribution in the task of building a stronger India capable of facing the challenges of the 21st century, by rising above all petty considerations. We can never fully grasp as to what we have lost in the last 25 years due to his absence, but the least that we can do is to stop these churlish attacks on him and his legacy, and have the strength of mind and heart to give him his due.