Rajiv Gandhi who would have entered 77th year was a hearty and robust human being. He made his contribution as the sixth prime minister of India and he had his share of mistakes one of which had cost his life. He was optimistic to the core and modern-minded. He was enthusiastic about ushering computer revolution in the country. He had a dream for India.
Once Rajiv Gandhi as prime minister was talking about the computers and their utility in building a New India. PV Narasimha Rao, a minister in his cabinet whom he called ‘uncle,’ happened to be there but Rajiv was not taking cognizance of his presence as though the computers are something that belonged to the young and old persons cannot comprehend. PV told me once that he was not hurt or angry but intrigued and disturbed by Rajiv’s attitude. For a person who learnt sixteen languages, learning computer language would not be a problem. It was then he made up his mind to learn operating computer. He ordered one from the US and worked on the computer for at least two hours every evening. Rajiv came to know of the efforts put in by PV to learn computer and update himself. The PM was happy about it and referred to it in his private conversations with friends and colleagues in appreciation. Thus computer had become part of PV’s life as in the case of thousands of young men and women across the country. Most of the times he used to compose his notes and speeches on computer.
More than a decade and a half later, when his book, Insider, was being translated into Telugu and he needed to read and approved the translation being done by my friend and accomplished journalist Kalluri Bhaskaram, he had to have Telugu font. He asked Vijaya Kumar of Emesco to send someone with Telugu font and see that it is loaded in his computer. Vijay Kumar sent his employee Kumar to Delhi. Young and enterprising Kumar stayed as PV’s guest at the latter’s residence in Delhi for a fortnight and taught the former prime minister composing in Telugu. PV used to call the young guy his ‘guru.’
Anti-defection, Panchayati Raj laws
Rajiv was exuberant and open to suggestion. He accepted advice and owned up mistakes. I had a couple of occasions to meet him in Delhi. I found him receptive. He worked for long hours on Pachayati Raj and Nagarapalika Bills. He met almost all the district collectors in the country. He and his friend Mani Shankar Aiyar came up with a comprehensive policy on devolution of powers and making Gandhi’s dream of Gram Swaraj a reality. Rajiv did not live to see the Bills become Acts. The Acts have not been implemented faithfully by the non-serious politicians. The Bills became Acts during PV’s tenure. Some loopholes had to be plugged later. Other legislation Rajiv worked hard for was anti-defection law. What was one-third was made two-third members required to engineer a split in the party. The amendment was made by Vajpayee government. The biggest hurdle which diluted the law was the rule of Speakers who are not independent of the chief ministers who generally double as bosses. They have been coming in the way of stopping defections. They are sitting months together on the requests made by party leaders to take action against the defectors. MLAs and MPs have been defecting at will and even becoming ministers and chief ministers. Under Narendra Modi’s watch the whole governments had defected. Both Panchayati Raj and Nagarapalika Acts and Anti-Defection Law had proved to be insufficient to prevent deceptive and immoral politics. When the politicians in general lack in basic morality, laws alone would not help. Other notable achievement of Rajiv Gandhi was peace in Assam. The way he toiled day and night to bring Assam student leaders under the leadership of Prafulla Kumar Mahanta to the table and sign a historic accord was unprecedented.
Sending IPKF was a blunder
In the case of Bofors scam, the less said about the way Rajiv Gandhi tackled the issue the better. Trying to brazen it out, he made a number of avoidable mistakes. He played into the trap laid by his adversaries and he badly lost 1989 elections after winning a landslide five years ago.
However, the costliest blunder he made was sending troops to Jaffna after entering into a suicidal agreement with JR Jayewardene, the then president of Sri Lanka. The confidence with which he took the decision reminded of his grandfather Jawaharlal Nehru who asked the army to ‘throw out’ the Chinese aggressors in 1961-62 without knowing the ground realities and ended up a sorry man losing thousands of acres of land to China. Not only many of the soldiers sent to Jaffna in the name of IPKF, Indian Peace Keeping Force, died unnecessarily in unfamiliar and hostile terrain, but Rajiv himself had to pay the supreme price when a LTTE woman militant killed him in the form of a suicide bomber at Sriperumbudur in Tamil Nadu on 21 May 1991.
Mani Shankar Aiyar wrote a small emotional book on Rajiv with the title, ‘Rajiv, My Darling.’ I translated it into Telugu. Aiyar took me to Sonia Gandhi to introduce me as the translator of his book on Rajiv. That was the first time I met her. She was warm and courteous. I had to do some research into the circumstances in which Rajiv was killed for my biography of NTR. It was painful to know the details of the tragic circumstances when a young leader who had a lot of ideas and energies to serve the country for many more years was killed by the LTTE.
A few months back there were suggestions in foreign media that Prime Mininster Narendra Modi might be tempted by the offers made by western powers to send Indian troops to defend the Ashraf Ghani’s government in Afghanistan. Modi was more practical than Rajiv Gandhi. Had he fallen in the trap, that would have been a greater and humungous blunder than the one made by Rajiv Gandhi 34 years ago.
(20 August is Rajiv Gandhi’s Jayanti)