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breaking news Rajiv Gandhi and his work to leap into the 21st century


In the country’s political history, May 21 will go down as a permanent reminder as the day in 1991 when one of India’s youngest leaders was assassinated by a terrorist group. The country observes the day as Anti-Terrorism Day, while the world observes many other events associated with social activities.

The horrific attack left Congress leader Rajiv Gandhi and 14 others literally blown up by a suicide bomber over deadly allegiance to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam for the former prime minister’s role in finding a solution to the decades-old problem of the Tamils ​​in Sri Lanka.

The assassination took place during a campaign rally in Sriperumbudur in Tamil Nadu as the country was in the process of electing the 9th Lok Sabha, two years after the government led by Rajiv Gandhi was removed from office in 1989. The wounds of the tragedy remain, as can be judged by the reaction of Congress to the release of one of the convicts in the AG Perarivalan case last week.
In the 1990s, the political landscape was very different. The country had just experienced two tumultuous years of a coalition government supported from outside by two diametrically opposed poles – the leftist parties comprising the Marxists and the Communists and the other end represented by the Bharatiya Janata Party.

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Now, after commanding a majority of more than 400 seats in the Lok Sabha (1984-1989), Congress attendance led by Rajiv Gandhi in the Lok Sabha (1989-1991) has dropped to just under half that strength.

The trials and tribulations during Rajiv Gandhi’s tenure as prime minister matured the leader after a stint in opposition at a time when the world was undergoing structural change. One of the greatest challenges facing governments was the creation of a new trading order in the form of the World Trade Organization.

A debate had started well under Rajiv Gandhi as prime minister and ironically his successor Vishwanath Pratap Singh had led the delegation as India’s finance minister during the first round of talks in 1986.

On the other hand, the restless politics of Janata Dal and Jan Morcha led by Vice President Singh began to influence government policies and programs just as the politics of Mandal and Kamandal distorted the national political terrain.

No one knows what direction the country would have taken had Rajiv Gandhi returned to the country’s highest political post. The combination of a turbulent experience in office and time spent in opposition could have made the difference. This passage in the opposition should have been an asset for the Congress and the direction if Rajiv Gandhi had survived. Now, that remains in the domain of what if…

Even though he lived in the eye of the political needle, Rajiv Gandhi consciously avoided a life in this world to be drawn into the vortex after the death of his younger brother Sanjay in a plane crash, which he was piloting. Indian Airlines commercial pilot Rajiv Gandhi stepped in to help his mother. The rest, as they say, is history.

Under the leadership of Indira Gandhi and her close advisers, Rajiv gradually provided itself with a flexible launch pad. His first major grooming was overseeing India’s preparation for the 1982 Asian Games.

The young leader immersed himself in the new role with verve and commitment. A sports journalist at the time recalled that on the day of the Indo-Pakistani hockey final at the National Stadium, Rajiv Gandhi arrived at the venue early in the morning to make sure everything was in order for the occasion, as as the flagship event of the Games.

As the day passed, Rajiv Gandhi, as general secretary of the party, became more interested in the work of the party than on October 31. 1984 has arrived. Traveling as he was in West Bengal with Pranab Mukherjee, the young leader struggled to confirm the tragic news of the assassination of his mother and Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. That night, the world changed for him forever. Amid a palpable sense of tension, he was sworn in as prime minister even as his mother’s body lay barely a kilometer away.

General elections followed in December 1984 and when the ballot boxes opened the Congress party won over 400 seats, a feat never before or since achieved by any party. In the office, the inexperienced chef suffered the baptism of fire.

Among the few things the country can always remember, its lasting contribution was the introduction of computers. His vision was to prepare India for the 21st century even as his political opponents scoffed at the idea, fearing the loss of avenues for the uninitiated. Four decades later, the computer or laptop itself seems to be a thing of the past as the world shifts at the touch of a finger on the screen. The other revolution was in the field of communications and electronic telephone exchanges laying the foundations for the computer revolution in the country.

Focus on Telecoms was one of five technology missions launched by Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. Other priority areas were drinking water, vaccinations, literacy and oilseeds. A sixth on dairy production has been added with his key advisor Sam Pitroda in charge of leading these missions.

Each of these areas has been tackled with modern technological tools. For example, through geohydrological mapping, one lakh problem villages were identified to drill new wells and water tested in a laboratory to verify consumption; while a turnaround could be seen in the program to vaccinate 20 million women and children each year.

For example, in 1987 poliomyelitis was prevalent in the country and in 2013 the country was declared free of the virus. A similar targeted approach has helped India transform from an exporter of meal to an importer of oilseeds for edible oils. These are some of the areas that have faded from memory as the country’s quest continues to move forward.

— KV Prasad is a seasoned journalist and has previously worked with The Hindu and The Tribune. The opinions expressed are personal.

Read his other columns here

(Edited by : Priyanka Deshpande)

First post: STI


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