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Rajiv Gandhi belonged to one of the famous political family in India. His grandfather, Jawaharlal Nehru, was an Indian leader of independence and subsequently became the first Indian Prime Minister. Rajiv, together with his younger brother Sanjay, was raised in Delhi and Allahabad. He was educated at an exclusive school for boys at the Doon School and at the Welham Boy’s School then later sought education at a university in United Kingdom, University of London, University of Cambridge, and at the Imperial College London, but none of which had he received any degree. He met his wife, Sonia Maino at Cambridge, and though greatly opposed by Maino’s family they got married at India in 1969.
He began his career as a professional pilot for an Indian Airline even though her mother was India’s Prime Minister in 1966.
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After his brother’s death in 1980, Rajiv was pressured to enter politics by Congress politician and his mother. He and his wife relentlessly opposed the idea of entering to politics and they even announced it publicly that he would not replace the vacant seat left by his brother. But to no avail he succumbed to the pressure and accepted a candidacy for a Parliamentary seat. At that time he was criticized by the press, opposition political parties, and the public as they saw a political dynasty was at inevitable.
In February 1981, he was elected at the parliament and became a constituent of Amethi in Uttar Prades. He then became an influential and an important advisor to his mother and became the president of the party youth wing which was the Youth Congress. Being close to the Prime Minister led the people to conceive that he might replace her mother at the proper time.
But fate was not on his mother’s side. On October 31, 1984 her mother was assassinated by her two Sikh bodyguards just as when Rajiv was at the West Bengal. India’s President Zail Singh and top leaders of the Congress reluctantly urged him to become India’s next Prime Minister just within hours of her mother’s death. Her mother’s assassination was related to an involvement in a series of domestic violence involving anti-Sikh riots which was attributed to more than 5,000 deaths and in the so- called “Operation Blue Star”. When Rajiv assumed office, he requested to the President to hold new and fresh elections thereby dissolving the Parliament as his current position was nearly in its final term. As this developed, he then became the President of the Congress.
The result of the election was a landslide victory in favor of the Congress party, owing mostly to the vast sympathy in the wake of his mother’s death. The majority win was the largest marginal victory in India’s political history giving Rajiv an absolute power over the government.
His win was made convincing by the support of the youth sector and by his image projecting a non-corrupt, and machine politics background of a “Mr. Clean”. He revived and rejuvenated enthusiasm and hope amongst his fellowmen.
When Rajiv assumed the position of Prime Minister, he led a direction different from her mother’s socialism and close ties with the USSR. He improved and began bilateral ties with the United States, increased the support needed for the development and advancement of science and technology and its related industries, reduced taxes, import quotas, technological-based industries tariffs such as airlines, computers, and telecommunications. He allowed businesses and individuals to be able to purchase the needed capital, bureaucratic restrictions, and import without having red tape, and consumer goods, thus consequently reducing significantly the License Raj. He also introduced a policy regarding the modernization and expansion of the national and higher programs for education outside India and a founding father of the Jawahar Navodaya Vidyalaya System in 1986.
Rajiv also made an extensive Army and police anti-terrorism campaign in Punjab. He reinstated a state of martial in the area, thus the tourism, civil liberties, and commerce were greatly affected. Control over the militancy was brought over the area and human rights violations by some police officials including the terrorists were addressed. Though the situation in Punjab was under control, it was alleged that the Indian government was conducting arms deal and offering trainings to the LTTE or the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam rebels in opposition to the Government of Sri Lanka. Though allegedly conducting such activities to the rebel, Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi signed the Indo-Sri Lanka peace accord together with the then Sri Lankan President J. R. Jayewardene in July 29, 1987 at Colombo. The following day, he was assaulted publicly while receiving an honor guard by a Sinhalese naval rating in the name of Vijayamunige Rohana de Silva. His government received a major setback when it failed to arbitrate the LTTE rebels and the Government of Sri Lanka. His Sri Lankan policy was considered a failure diplomatically and militarily as the IPKF or the Indian Peace Keeping Force operation cost the death of more than 1100 indian soldiers, almost 5,000 Sri Lankan Tamil lives perished and his relentless effort to force the LTTE to accept the accord was brought into a stalemate.
His good image as an honest politician was implicated by the Bofor scandal which was uncovered by his finance minister Vishwanath Pratap Singh. It pertained to the alleged political and government corruption with consent among the Congress leaders. According to Singh, it involves hundreds of millions of dollars in alleged payoffs by Bofors Swedish Arms Corporation, an Italian businessman, and a Gandhi family correspondent named Ottavio Ouattrocchi in exchange for several Indian contracts. Consequently Singh was relieved from his post and later on from his membership in the Congress. Rajiv Gandhi was also afflicted by the scandal and thorough investigation was conducted by Chitra Subramaniam and Narasimhan Ram of the Hindu newspaper. This made V.P. Singh very popular at that time and was considered as the exposer of the anomalies and corruption of the government. His fame was used by the united opposition parties to form Janata Dal coalition to fight the Congress party in the 1989 elections.
During the 1989 elections, the Congress party suffered a major blow. V.P. Singh, with the support of Indian communists, the Bharatiya Janata Party, and his own Janata Dal Party created a new government placing Rajiv Gandhi in the opposition side. He was still the president of the Congress party and the leader of the Opposition. The collapse of V.P. Singh government in 1990 was allegedly attributed from collaboration of a high- ranking official in Janata Dal party and with Rajiv’s Congress party. Though Chandra Sekhar became the next Prime Minister after the fall of Singh’s government, the support of the ruling coalition was withdrawn and fresh elections were conducted in 1991.
Rajiv Gandhi remained the Congress party president until the 1991 elections and was awarded the Bharat Ratna Posthumously. His last meeting with the public was on May 21, 1991 at the Sriperumbudur. He was assassinated by an LTTE suicide bomber named Thenmuli Rajaratnam or also known by the name of Dhanu while campaigning for a Congress candidate in Tamil Nadu. His widow, Sonia Gandhi replaces her as the Congress leader in 1998 and his son became member of the parliament.
Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination was related to a personal conflict between him and the LTTE leader Prabhakaran towards the deployment of IPKF to Sri Lanka and the alleged conflict against the Tamils. Rajiv at that time was responsible in sending peace keeping Indian troops at Sri Lanka which later turned out a conflict against the LTTE. The investigation turned out that there was no evidence of conspiracy between the Indian government and the LTTE regarding Rajiv’s death and it was proven that the accused and the conspirators of the assassination greatly desired his death though other civilians were also killed. It was concluded that the assassination was not a terrorist activity and the point when it was decided to assassinate Rajiv was not strongly established by the special investigation team, the Indian agency, and the CBI.
The term of Rajiv Gandhi as Prime Minister of India brought some changes in the Country’s external bi-lateral diplomatic relationships, dismantled the governments tariffs, quotas and permit regulations on the economics activities that paved the way for the development and modernization of the telecommunication industry, the advancement of science and technology, and the improvement of the education system. He projected a good image of a non-corrupt, clean and honest politician which revived enthusiasm and hope to his fellowmen. He is also responsible for deploying peace keeping Indian troops in Sri Lanka in an effort to preserve peace against the LTTE and the Sri Lankan government. Through his term as India’s Prime Minister, he made considerable contributions towards peace and development and though being inflicted in the Bofor scam his legacy will be seen through the lives of his fellowmen.
BBC News. Tamil Tiger Regret over Gandhi. Retrieved April 4, 2007, from the BBC News Website: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/5122032.stm
Sachi Sri Kantha; Pirabhakaran Phenomenon, Lively Comet Imprint,2005;641 pp (chapters 24
to 35, pp.207-352, cover in detail the life and assassination of Rajiv Gandhi)