Exactly 26 years after he was assassinated, the late Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi seems to have been forgotten by his own party, which has not only deviated from his ideological experimentation, but has also violated the two pivotal principles practised in the organisation for several decades. It is ultimate irony that a leader who held office with the largest ever majority in the Lok Sabha, is not even mentioned in passing by his bygone followers, who deem it fit in going lyrical over his widow and children or in lionising his mother, Indira, who was an inspirational icon.
Rajiv was indeed a gentleman Prime Minister, soft spoken, though inexperienced, who bore the consequences for not paying heed to the instructions of his mother and her advisers. During her lifetime, Indira Gandhi had told him in the presence of her political aide Makhan Lal Fotedar and close relative Arun Nehru that under no circumstances should he get Teji’s (Teji Bachchan) son in politics. However, emotions got the better of him and he brought on board his childhood friend and superstar Amitabh Bachchan. Amitabh became a power centre and was eventually asked to resign from his Allahabad seat. It is not a mere coincidence that when the Bofors controversy broke out, Amitabh’s younger brother, Ajitabh’s name figured prominently, though nothing was ever established against him, or for that matter Rajiv Gandhi. The believed perception hurt the party, which eventually lost power in 1989.
The second advice Indira Gandhi had given her son was not to include Madhavrao Scindia in his Cabinet. Rajiv ignored the counsel and was too happy to accommodate his college time associate in his Council of Ministers. The late erstwhile Maharaja of Gwalior was subsequently viewed as a potential Prime Minister, but tragically died in an air crash on 30 September 2001, ten years after Rajiv was eliminated under mysterious circumstances.
As the president of his party, he had laid down two distinct norms. The first was to enforce the principle of one man one post in the organisation, with the Prime Minister being the sole exception. Politically it purported that only the Prime Minister was exempt from this rule and could simultaneously be both the head of the government as well as the chief of the party. All others had to adhere to this stipulation. However, as things turned out after Sonia Gandhi took over the party 19 years back, there are innumerable functionaries who concurrently have held more than one position. Obviously, Sonia Gandhi must have had pressing reasons to infringe the unwritten code.
The other factor that played a prominent part in Rajiv’s scheme of things was that candidates who had been defeated in Lok Sabha elections would not be brought into the Rajya Sabha. His successor P.V. Narasimha Rao also observed the norm and denied a Rajya Sabha seat even to his key aide and adviser Devendra Dwivedi, when he lost in the 1991 Parliamentary polls. However, the present Congress leadership relaxed the dictum to initially permit Shivraj Patil, P.M. Sayeed and Oscar Fernandes to enter the Upper House, after being vanquished in the Lok Sabha elections. In the years that followed there are countless examples of this tenet being violated.
Rajiv was known for hailing in a computerised India and so was considered ahead of his times. The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, whose ideology is in variance with that of the Congress, had also commended during his stint the signing of the Punjab and Assam Accords. Contrary to the widely held view, Rajiv had cordial relations with the RSS and its most powerful man of the time, Bhaurao Deoras, the younger brother of the Sarsangchalak, Balasaheb Deoras. The duo must have met at least half a dozen times at various locations including the Prime Minister’s residence, besides the home of Rajiv’s close friend, Arun Singh and at the Friends Colony house of Anil Bali, who had unrestricted access to both Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi. In addition, soon after Indira Gandhi’s assassination, their first meeting was at 46 Pusa Road, the residence of industrialist Kapil Mohan.
Rajiv had immense admiration for Bhaurau Deoras and in the aftermath of the Shahbano case, it was on his recommendation that a decision to open the locks at the disputed site in Ayodhya was taken. The permission to telecast Ramanand Sagar’s Ramayana serial on Doordarshan was also granted at the RSS leader’s instance and he is understood to have subsequently prompted the Prime Minister to get the shilanayas performed at the Babri Masjid-Ram Janambhoomi site. Similarly, Bhaurao suggested to Rajiv to advance the 1989 Lok Sabha elections to May, instead of November or December, as it would give very less time to the Opposition to work out an arrangement. Rajiv did not listen to him. Deoras was opposed to supporting R. Venkataraman for Presidentship and instead preferred a Dalit for the august office. At the same time, he cautioned Rajiv against backing Chandra Shekhar.
The short point is that the Congress must carry forward Rajiv’s ideological legacy at a time when it is perceived to be tilting towards the minorities. It would help restore the balance and assist in countering the increasing influence of the BJP leadership. This would be a fitting tribute to Rajiv Gandhi on his 26th death anniversary. Between us.