He was still in his forties – 3 months short of his 47th birthday and on his way surely to becoming PM of the country for the second time when tragedy struck. Rajiv Gandhi, who was the sixth and youngest PM of India, was assassinated on May 21, 1991 at Sriperumbudur in Tamil Nadu during a poll campaign.
He is being remembered on his 24th death anniversary with several leaders paying homage at his memorial in New Delhi.
Congress president Sonia Gandhi, his widow, offered flowers at his memorial Veer Bhumi in the morning.
Sonia was accompanied by son and Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi daughter Priyanka Gandhi and son-in-law Robert Vadra, who arrived together to pay homage.
While addressing the Joint Session of the US Congress and India, Rajiv Gandhi had said, “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 was a reluctant politician. Two tragic deaths in quick succession of each other forced him to first become a politician and a first time M.P. from Amethi and then P.M. of the country. The first death was his younger brother’s when the plane he was flying crashed. The second was that of his mother, P.M. Indira Gandhi who was assassinated by her own bodyguard. He was just 40 when he became P.M.
Achievements as Prime Minister
Though Rajiv Gandhi was Jawaharlal Nehru’s grand son and Indira’s son – both firm believers of Socialism, he was truly the first premiere of the nation who made a path breaking change towards market economy and liberalization.
He was truly a modern man with many ideas and plans and had the charm and the charisma to carry through.
Rajiv increased government support for science and technology and associated industries, and reduced import quotas, taxes and tariffs on technology-based industries, especially computers, airlines, defence and telecommunications. In 1986, he announced a National policy on Education to modernize and expand higher education programs across India. He founded the Jawahar Navodaya Vidyalayas through which many tribal students benefited and are still benefiting. Through this System sCentral government based institutions concentrated on the upliftment of the rural section of the society by providing them free residential education from 6th till 12 grade. His efforts created MTNL in 1986, and his public call offices, better known as PCOs, helped spread telephones in rural areas.He introduced measures significantly reducing the infamous License Raj in post-1990 period, allowing businesses and individuals to purchase capital, consumer goods and import without too many restrictions.
People in the know will recall that the 80s and 90s was a real boom period for India – when genuinely the nation saw “Achche Din”.
Communications increased; even rural areas were dotted with PCOs, aviation industry took off and it became much easier to start your own industry.
Rajiv Gandhi began leading in a direction significantly different from his mother’s socialism. He improved bilateral relations with the United States – long strained owing to Indira’s socialism and friendship with the USSR. So, while Modi may imagine he is the first Indian PM to become very close to an American President, the ice for this new friendship was broken by Rajiv.
He toured all SAARC nations and there was a dramatic improvement of our relations with all our neighbours, even Pakistan.
People whom he considered his close friends and aides did him in by embroiling him in controversy after controversy. Finally the Bofors scandal ‘exposed’ by trusted Indira man V.P. Singh saw his losing at the hustings after having won by a landslide, unprecedented majority just 5 years earlier. This was in 1989. Unfortunately V.P. Singh’s government did not last for even two years and a period of instability followed resulting in elections being declared again in 1991.
The writing was clearly on the wall that Rajiv Gandhi, and Congress, were sure to make a come back when he was assassinated in Tamil Nadu.
His party did form the government, with P.V. Narsimha Rao assuming post of Prime Minister after his widow Sonia refused to have anything to do with politics for over 7 years of her husband’s death.