Rajiv Ratna Gandhi (20 August 1944 – 21 May 1991), the elder son of Indira Nehru and Feroze Gandhi, was the 7th Prime Minister of India from his mother's death on 31 October 1984 until his resignation on 2 December 1989 following a general election defeat. He became the youngest Prime Minister of India when he took office (at the age of 40).
Rajiv Gandhi was a professional pilot for Indian Airlines before entering politics. While at Cambridge, he met Italian-born Sonia Gandhi whom he later married. He remained aloof from politics despite his mother being the Indian Prime Minister, and it was only following the death of his younger brother Sanjay Gandhi in 1980 that Rajiv entered politics. After the assassination of his mother in 1984 after Operation Blue Star, Indian National Congress party leaders nominated him to be Prime Minister.
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 began dismantling 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.
In 1988, Rajiv reversed the coup in Maldives antagonising the militant Tamil outfits such as PLOTE. He was also responsible for first intervening and then sending Indian troops (Indian Peace Keeping Force or IPKF) for peace efforts in Sri Lanka in 1987, which soon ended in open conflict with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) group. In mid-1987, the Bofors scandal broke his honest, corruption-free image and resulted in a major defeat for his party in the 1989 elections.
Rajiv Gandhi remained Congress President until the elections in 1991. While campaigning, he was assassinated by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE or Tamil Tigers) group. His widow Sonia Gandhi became the leader of the Congress party in 1998, and led the party to victory in the 2004 elections. His son Rahul Gandhi is a Member of Parliament and the General Secretary of All India Congress Committee.
Rajiv Gandhi was posthumously awarded the Highest National Award of India, Bharat Ratna, joining a list of 40 luminaries, including Indira Gandhi.
Rajiv Gandhi was an active amateur radio operator, and used the callsign VU2RG.
Early life & Education
Rajiv is not related to Mahatma Gandhi, although they share the same surname. Rajiv's father, Feroze, was one of the younger members of the Indian National Congress party, and had befriended the young Indira, and also her mother Kamala Nehru, while working on party affairs at Allahabad. Subsequently, Indira and Feroze grew closer to each other while in England, and they married, despite initial objections from Jawaharlal due to his religion (Zoroastrianism), in March 1942.
Rajiv was born in 1944 in Mumbai, during a time when both his parents were in and out of British prisons. In August 1947, Jawaharlal Nehru became the prime minister of independent India, and the family settled in Allahabad, and then at Lucknow, where Feroze became the editor of The National Herald newspaper (founded by Motilal Nehru). However, the marriage was faltering and, in 1949, Indira and the two sons moved to Delhi to live with Jawaharlal, ostensibly so that Indira could assist her father in his duties, acting as official hostess, and helping run the huge residence. Meanwhile, Feroze continued alone in Lucknow. Nonetheless, in 1952, Indira helped Feroze manage his campaign for elections to the first Parliament of India from Rae Bareli.
After Feroze Gandhi had a heart attack in 1958, the family was reconciled briefly when they vacationed in Kashmir. However, Feroze died soon afterwards from a second heart attack in 1960.
By the time of his father's death, Rajiv was away at a private boarding school for boys: initially at the Welham Boys' School and later The Doon School. He was sent to London in 1961 to do A levels. In 1962, he was offered a place at Trinity College, Cambridge to study engineering. Rajiv stayed at Cambridge until 1965 and left the university without a degree mainly because he did not appear in the final Tripos examinations. In 1966, he was offered a place at the Imperial College London. He again left Imperial College after a year without a degree.
Elected to Sanjay's Lok Sabha (parliamentary) constituency of Amethi in Uttar Pradesh state in February 1981, Gandhi became an important political advisor to his mother. It was widely perceived that Indira Gandhi was grooming Rajiv for the prime minister's job, and he soon became the president of the Youth Congress - the Congress party's youth wing.
Gandhi was in West Bengal when his mother was assassinated on 31 October 1984 by her bodyguards. Top Congress leaders, as well as President Zail Singh pressed Rajiv to become India's Prime Minister, within hours of his mother's assassination by two of her Sikh bodyguards. Commenting on the anti-Sikh riots in the national capital Delhi, Rajiv Gandhi said, "When a giant tree falls, the earth below shakes"; a statement for which he was widely criticised. Many Congress politicians were accused of orchestrating the violence. Soon after assuming office, Rajiv asked President Zail Singh to dissolve Parliament and hold fresh elections, as the Lok Sabha completed its five year term. Rajiv Gandhi also officially became the President of the Congress party.
The Congress party won a landslide victory — with the largest majority in history of Indian Parliament — giving Gandhi absolute control of government. He also benefited from his youth and a general perception of being Mr. Clean, or free of a background in corrupt politics. Rajiv thus revived hopes and enthusiasm amongst the Indian public for the Congress. 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 close friendship with the USSR — and expanded economic and scientific cooperation.
Rajiv authorized an extensive police and Army campaign to contain terrorism in Punjab. A state of martial law existed in the Punjab state, and civil liberties, commerce and tourism were greatly disrupted. There are many accusations of human rights violations by police officials as well as by the militants during this period. It is alleged that even as the situation in Punjab came under control, the Indian government was offering arms and training to the LTTE rebels fighting the government of Sri Lanka. The Indo-Sri Lanka Peace Accord was signed by Rajiv Gandhi and the Sri Lankan President J.R.Jayewardene, in Colombo on 29 July 1987. The very next day, on 30 July 1987, Rajiv Gandhi was assaulted on the head with a rifle butt by a young Sinhalese naval cadet named Vijayamunige Rohana de Silva, while receiving the honour guard. The intended assault on the back of Rajiv Gandhi's head however glanced off his shoulder. Though the embarrassed Sri Lankan President Junius Richard Jayewardene initially attempted to pass off the bizarre assault as "Rajiv tripped a little and slightly lost his balance", Rajiv Gandhi while en route to New Delhi asserted to J.N. Dixit "Of course, I was hit." Rajiv's government also suffered a major setback when its efforts to arbitrate between the government of Sri Lanka and the LTTE rebels backfired.
With his speech while addressing the Joint Session of the US Congress and India, he famously 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."
He 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. He introduced measures significantly reducing the License Raj, allowing businesses and individuals to purchase capital, consumer goods and import without bureaucratic restrictions. In 1986, he announced a National Policy on Education to modernize and expand higher education programs across India. He founded the Jawahar Navodaya Vidyalaya System in 1986 which is a Central government based institution that concentrates on the upliftment of the rural section of the society 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.
Rajiv Gandhi's last public meeting was at Sriperumbudur on 21 May 1991, in a village approximately 30 miles from Madras, Tamil Nadu, where he was assassinated while campaigning for the Sriperumbudur Lok Sabha Congress candidate. The assassination was carried out by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) suicide bomber Thenmozhi Rajaratnam also known as Gayatri and Dhanu. At 10:10 p.m., the assassin Dhanu approached him in a public meeting and greeted the former Prime Minister. She then bent down to touch his feet (an expression of respect among Indians) and detonated a belt laden with 700 grams of RDX explosive tucked under her dress. The former Prime Minister along with many others were killed in the explosion that followed. The assassination was caught on film through the lens of a local photographer, whose camera and film were found at the site. The cameraman himself also died in the blast but the camera remained intact.
The Rajiv Gandhi Memorial was built at the site recently and is one of the major tourist attractions to the small industrial town.
The Supreme Court judgement, by Judge Thomas, confirmed that the killing was carried out due to personal animosity of the LTTE chief Prabhakaran towards Mr Rajiv Gandhi arising out of his sending the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) to Sri Lanka and the alleged IPKF atrocities against Srilankan Tamils. However, it should be noted that the Rajiv Gandhi administration had already antagonised other Tamil militant organisations like PLOTE for reversing the military coup in Maldives back in 1988.
The judgment further cites the death of Thileepan in a hunger strike and the suicide by 12 LTTE cadres in a vessel in Oct 1987.
In the Jain Commission report, various people and agencies are named as suspected of having been involved in the murder of Rajiv Gandhi. Among them, the cleric Chandraswami was suspected of involvement, including financing the assassination. The interim report of the Jain Commission created a storm when it accused Karunanidhi of a role in the assassination, leading to Congress withdrawing its support for the I. K. Gujral government and fresh elections in 1998. LTTE spokesman Anton Balasingham told the Indian television channel NDTV that the killing was a "great tragedy, a monumental historical tragedy which we deeply regret." A memorial christened Veer Bhumi was constructed at his cremation spot. The International Airport constructed at Hyderabad has been named after Rajiv Gandhi and was inaugurated by UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi.