Rajiv Gandhi: Man who revolutionized India technologically

By G. L. Batra, ST Guest Columnist, Writer & formerly Addl. Secretary, Indian Parliament and Chairman, Public Service Commission of the Indian State of Haryana

Rajiv Gandhi was born on August 20, 1944 in Mumbai. He was the elder son of Indira and Feroze Gandhi. Rajiv Gandhi received his schooling from Welham Boys School and The Doon School in Dehradun. He went to London in 1961 for higher education. He got a seat to study Engineering in Trinity College, Cambridge in 1962. Rajiv stayed at Cambridge until 1965 and left the university without a degree because he did not appear in the final examinations. He met Italian-born Sonia at Cambridge. He got a seat at the Imperial College London in 1966 but again, left the Imperial College after a year without a degree. Rajiv worked for Indian Airlines as a pilot while his mother became Prime Minister in 1966. He showed no interest in politics and did not live with his mother in Delhi at the Prime Minister’s residence.

Photo: Indira Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Rajiv Gandhi and Sanjay Gandhi

His first child Rahul Gandhi was born in 1970 and second child Priyanka Gandhi was born in 1972. Rajiv maintained a distance from politics despite his family’s political prominence, while his brother Sanjay became involved in politics along with Indira Gandhi. Rajiv entered politics after the tragic death of his brother Sanjay in 1980 and was elected to Sanjay’s Lok Sabha (parliamentary) constituency of Amethi in Uttar Pradesh state in February 1981, He became an important political advisor to his mother and it was widely believed that Indira Gandhi was grooming Rajiv for the Prime Minister’s post. He was soon made the president of Youth Congress- The Congress party’s youth wing. The Congress party leaders nominated him to be the Prime Minister after his mother was assassinated in 1984.

Rajiv Gandhi led the Congress to a major election victory in 1984 soon after, amassing the largest majority ever in Indian Parliament. The Congress party won 411 seats out of 542. He abolished the license raj -government quotas, tariffs and permit regulations on economic activity – modernized the telecommunications industry, the education system, expanded science and technology initiatives and improved relations with the United States. Rajiv Gandhi did not follow the path of socialism as his mother did. He improved bilateral relations with the United States which were strained because of India’s close friendship with the USSR.

In 1986, he announced a National Policy on Education to modernize and expand higher education programs across India. In 1988, Rajiv reversed the coup in Maldives and he sent Indian troops (Indian Peace Keeping Force or IPKF) for peace efforts in Sri Lanka in 1987, which led to conflict with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) group. His clean image was broken by the Bofors scandal in 1987 and this led to the party’s defeat in the 1989 elections. Rajiv Gandhi remained Congress President until the elections in 1991. He was assassinated during campaigning on May 21, 1991 by LTTE in Sriperumbudur, near Madras, now Chennai. Rajiv Gandhi was posthumously awarded the Highest National Award of India, Bharat Ratna in 1991.

He was a charismatic leader and richly honored the chair of the Prime Minister of India. It is he who brought a revolution by computerizing the nation and all criticism was put to rest by success of computerization. He was the youngest Prime Minister of India who proved his success at home and abroad. He had a pleasing personality and proved to be a very successful Leader of Opposition as well. He had an unexpected and tragic death.