Rajiv Ratna Gandhi was an Indian politician who served as the 6th Prime Minister of India from 1984 to 1989. He took office after the 1984 assassination of his mother, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, to become the youngest Indian Prime Minister at the age of 40.
he was attending a public meeting on 21 May 1991, at Sriperumbudur, a village approximately 40 km (25 mi) from Madras (present-day Chennai), where he was assassinated while campaigning for the Sriperumbudur Lok Sabha Congress candidate. At 10:10 pm, a woman later identified as Thenmozhi Rajaratnam approached Gandhi in public and greeted him. She then bent down to touch his feet and detonated a belt laden with 700 g (1.5 lb) of RDX explosives tucked under her dress
The explosion killed Gandhi, Rajaratnam, and at least 25 other people. The assassination was captured by a 21-year-old local photographer, whose camera and film were found at the site. The cameraman, named Haribabu, died in the blast but the camera remained intact. Gandhi’s mutilated body was airlifted to the All India Institute of Medical Sciences in New Delhi for post-mortem, reconstruction and embalming.
A state funeral was held for Gandhi on 24 May 1991; it was telecast live and was attended by dignitaries from over 60 countries. He was cremated at Veer Bhumi, on the banks of the river Yamuna near the shrines of his mother Indira Gandhi, brother Sanjay Gandhi, and grandfather Jawaharlal Nehru.
The Supreme Court judgement, by Justice K. T. Thomas, confirmed that Gandhi was killed because of personal animosity by the LTTE chief Prabhakaran arising from his sending the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) to Sri Lanka and the alleged IPKF atrocities against Sri Lankan Tamils. The Gandhi administration had already antagonised other Tamil militant organisations like PLOTE for reversing the 1988 military coup in Maldives. The judgement 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 suspects in the murder of Rajiv Gandhi. Among them, the cleric Chandraswami was suspected of involvement, including financing the assassination
Nalini Sriharan, the only surviving member of the five-member squad behind the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi, is serving life imprisonment. Arrested on 14 June 1991, she and 25 others were sentenced to death by a special court on 28 January 1998. The court confirmed the death sentences of four of the convicts, including Nalini, on 11 May 1999. Nalini was a close friend of an LTTE operative known as Sriharan alias Murugan, another convict in the case who has been sentenced to death. Nalini later gave birth to a girl, Harithra, in prison.
The report of the Jain Commission created controversy when it accused the Tamil Nadu chief minister 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 the killing was a “great tragedy, a monumental historical tragedy which we deeply regret”.
A memorial called Veer Bhumi was constructed at the place of Gandhi’s cremation in Delhi.
In 1992, the Rajiv Gandhi National Sadbhavana Award was instituted by the Indian National Congress Party.
Since his death, 21 May has been declared Anti-Terrorism Day in India.
Rajiv Gandhi was born in Bombay on 20 August 1944 to Indira and Feroze Gandhi. In 1951, Rajiv and Sanjay were admitted to Shiv Niketan school, where the teachers said Rajiv was shy and introverted, and “greatly enjoyed painting and drawing”
Gandhi was from the politically powerful Nehru–Gandhi family, which had been associated with the Indian National Congress party.
For much of his childhood, his maternal grandfather Jawaharlal Nehru was Prime Minister.
He was admitted to the Welham Boys’ School, Dehradun and Doon School, Dehradun in 1954, where Sanjay joined him two years later.
Rajiv was sent to London in 1961 to study A-levels.
From 1962 to 1965 he studied engineering at Trinity College, Cambridge, but did not obtain a degree.
In 1966 he began a course in mechanical engineering at Imperial College London, but did not complete it. Gandhi really was not studious enough, as he went on to admit later.
He returned to India in 1966, the year his mother became Prime Minister, and became a professional pilot for the state-owned Indian Airlines.
In 1968, he married Edvige Antonia Albina Màino, who changed her name to Sonia Gandhi. The couple settled in Delhi to a domestic life with their children Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra.
For much of the 1970s, his mother Indira Gandhi was prime minister and his brother Sanjay Gandhi an MP; despite this, Rajiv Gandhi remained apolitical.
After Sanjay’s death in a fighter plane crash in 1980, Gandhi reluctantly entered politics at the behest of Indira.
In the week following Sanjay’s death, Shankaracharya Swami Shri Swaroopanand, a saint from Badrinath, visited the family’s house to offer his condolences. He advised Rajiv not to fly aeroplanes and instead “dedicate himself to the service of the nation”. 70 members of the Congress party signed a proposal and went to Indira, urging Rajiv to enter politics. Indira told them it was Rajiv’s decision whether to enter politics. When he was questioned about it, he replied, “If my mother gets help from it, then I will enter politics”.
Rajiv entered politics on 16 February 1981, when he addressed a national farmers’ rally in Delhi. During this time, he was still an employee of Air India
On 4 May 1981, Indira Gandhi presided over a meeting of the All India Congress Committee. Vasantdada Patil proposed Rajiv as a candidate for the Amethi constituency, his brother’s constituency, which was accepted by all members at the meeting. A week later, the party officially announced his candidacy for the constituency. He then paid the party membership fees of the party and flew to Sultanpur to file his nomination papers and completed other formalities. He won the seat, defeating Lok Dal candidate Sharad Yadav by a margin of 237,000 votes. He took his oath on 17 August as Member of Parliament
Rajiv Gandhi’s first political tour was to England, where he attended the wedding ceremony of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer on 29 July 1981
As part of his political grooming, Rajiv was made general secretary of the Congress party and given significant responsibility in organising the 1982 Asian Games.
Rajiv Gandhi was in West Bengal on 31 October 1984 when his mother, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, was assassinated by two of her Sikh bodyguards
At a Boat Club rally 19 days after the assassination, Gandhi said, “Some riots took place in the country following the murder of Indiraji. We know the people were very angry and for a few days it seemed that India had been shaken. But, when a mighty tree falls, it is only natural that the earth around it does shake a little”. A statement for which he was widely criticised
Sardar Buta Singh and President Zail Singh pressed Rajiv to succeed his mother as Prime Minister within hours of her murder.
Soon after assuming office, Gandhi asked President Singh to dissolve Parliament and hold fresh elections, as the Lok Sabha had completed its five-year term.
Gandhi officially became the President of the Congress party, which won a landslide victory with the largest majority in history of the Indian Parliament, giving Gandhi absolute control of government. He benefited from his youth and a general perception of being free of a background in corrupt politics.
Gandhi took his oath on 31 December 1984; at 40, he was the youngest Prime Minister of India.
Historian Meena Agarwal writes that even after taking the Prime Ministerial oath, he was a relatively unknown figure, “novice in politics” as he assumed the post after being an MP for three years.
Gandhi’s first action as Prime Minister was passing the anti-defection law in January 1985. According to this law, an elected Member of Parliament or legislative assembly could not join an opposition party until the next election. Historian Manish Telikicherla Chary calls it a measure of curbing corruption and bribery of ministers by switching parties so they could gain majority. Many such defections occurred during the 1980s as elected leaders of the Congress party joined opposition parties
In 1985, the Supreme Court of India ruled in favour of Muslim divorcee Shah Bano, declaring that her husband should give her alimony. Some Indian Muslims treated it as an encroachment upon Muslim Personal Law and protested against it. Gandhi agreed to their demands. In 1986, the Parliament of India passed The Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Act 1986, which nullified the Supreme Court’s judgment in the Shah Bano case. The Act diluted the Supreme Court judgment and allowed maintenance payments to divorced women only during the period of Iddah, or until 90 days after the divorce, according to the provisions of Islamic law. This was in contrast to Section 125 of the Code. Indian magazine Business and Economics called it a minority appeasement by Gandhi.
In his election manifesto for the 1984 general election, he did not mention any economic reforms, but after assuming office he tried to liberalise the country’s economy. He did so by providing incentives to make private production profitable. Subsidies were given to corporate companies to increase industrial production, especially of durable goods. It was hoped this would increase economic growth and improve the quality of investment
Gandhi increased government support for science, 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 modernise and expand higher education programs across India.
In 1986, he founded the Jawahar Navodaya Vidyalaya System, which is a Central government-based education institution that provides rural populations with free residential education from grades six to twelve.
His efforts created MTNL in 1986, and his public call offices—better known as PCOs—helped develop the telephone network in rural areas.
He introduced measures to significantly reduce the Licence Raj after 1990, allowing businesses and individuals to purchase capital, consumer goods and import without bureaucratic restrictions
In 1986, by request of the President of Seychelles France-Albert René, Gandhi sent India’s navy to Seychelles to oppose an attempted coup against René. The intervention of India averted the coup. This mission was codenamed as Operation Flowers are Blooming.
In 1987, India re-occupied the Quaid Post in the disputed Siachen region of the Indo-Pakistani border after winning what was termed Operation Rajiv.
In the 1988 Maldives coup d’état, the Maldives president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom asked for help from Gandhi. He dispatched 1500 soldiers and the coup was suppressed
On Thursday, 9 June 1988, at the fifteenth special session of the United Nations General Assembly, held at Headquarters, New York, Gandhi made vocal his views on a world free of nuclear weapons, to be realised through an, ‘Action Plan for Ushering in a Nuclear-Weapon Free and Non-Violent World Order.’
In February 1987, the Pakistani President Zia-ul-Haq visited Delhi, where he met Gandhi to discuss “routine military exercises of the Indian army” on the borders of Rajasthan and Punjab. Gandhi reciprocated, in December 1988, by visiting Islamabad and meeting the new Prime Minister of Pakistan, Benazir Bhutto, to reaffirm the 1972 Shimla agreement
The Sri Lankan Civil War broke out with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), which was demanding an independent Tamil state in Sri Lanka. Gandhi discussed the matter with the Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranasinghe Premadasa at the SAARC meeting in 1986. In that year, the Sri Lankan army blockaded the Tamil majority district of Jaffna; Gandhi ordered relief supplies to be dropped into the area by parachute because the Sri Lankan navy did not allow the Indian Navy to enter.
Gandhi signed the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord in July 1987. The accord “envisaged a devolution of power to the Tamil-majority areas”, dissolved the LTTE, and designated Tamil as an official language of Sri Lanka
On 30 July 1987, a day after Gandhi went to Sri Lanka and signed the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord, an honour guard named Vijitha Rohana hit him on his shoulder with his rifle; Gandhi’s quick reflexes saved him from injury. The guard was then dragged off by his security personnel. The guard said his intention was to kill Gandhi because of “the damage he had caused” to Sri Lanka. Wijemuni was imprisoned for two-and-a-half years for the assault.
Gandhi later said about the incident: When I was inspecting the guard of honour and as I walked past one person, I saw through the corner of my eye some movement. I ducked down a little bit in a reflex action. By my ducking, he missed my head and the brunt of the blow came on my shoulder below the left ear
Soon after assuming office, Gandhi released the leaders of the Akali Dal who had been imprisoned since 1984’s Operation Blue Star during Indira Gandhi’s prime ministership. He lifted the ban on All India Sikh Students Federation and filed an inquiry into the 1984 Anti-Sikh Riots.
In May 1988, Gandhi launched the Operation Black Thunder to clear the Golden Temple in Amritsar of arms and gunmen. Two groups called National Security Guard and Special Action Group were created; they surrounded the temple in a 10-day siege during which the extremists’ weapons were confiscated.
Gandhi’s prime-ministership marked an increase of insurgency in northeast India. Mizo National Front demanded independence for Mizoram. In 1987, Gandhi addressed this problem; Mizoram and Arunachal Pradesh were given the status of states that were earlier union territories.
Gandhi also ended the Assam Movement, which was launched by Assamese people to protest against the alleged illegal migration of Bangladeshi Muslims and immigration of other Bengalis to their state, which had reduced the Assamese to a minority there. He signed the Assam Accord on 15 August 1985. According to the accord, foreigners who came to the state between 1951 and 1961 were given full citizenship but those who arrived there between 1961 and 1971 did not get right to vote for the next ten years
Gandhi employed former Rockwell International executive Sam Pitroda as his adviser on public information infrastructure and innovation. During Gandhi’s time in office, public sector telecom companies MTNL and VSNL was developed
According to news website Oneindia, “About 20 years ago telephones were considered to be a thing for the use of the rich, but credit goes to Rajiv Gandhi for taking them to the rural masses”. According to Pitroda, by 2007 they were “adding six million phones every month”. Gandhi’s government also allowed the import of fully assembled motherboards, which led to the price of computers being reduced. According to some commentators, the seed for the information technology (IT) revolution was also planted during Rajiv Gandhi’s time.
Rajiv Gandhi’s finance minister, V. P. Singh, uncovered compromising details about government and political corruption, to the consternation of Congress leaders. Transferred to the Defence Ministry, Singh uncovered what became known as the Bofors scandal, which involved millions of US dollars and concerned alleged payoffs by the Swedish arms company Bofors through Italian businessman and Gandhi family associate Ottavio Quattrocchi, in return for Indian contracts. Upon discovering the scandal, Singh was dismissed from office and later resigned his Congress membership.
Gandhi was later personally implicated in the scandal when the investigation was continued by Narasimhan Ram and Chitra Subramaniam of The Hindu newspaper, damaging his image as an honest politician. In 2004, he was posthumously cleared of this allegation
In an interview in July 2005, V.P.Singh explained that his fall out with Rajiv Gandhi was not due to the Bofors deal, but rather due to the HDW deal. Courtesy a contract signed with the Germany company HDW in 1981, the Indian government had agreed to purchase two ready submarines built in Germany by HDW and two submarines in CKD form to be assembled in Mazagaon docks. V.P.Singh had received a telegram from the Indian ambassador in Germany, stating that an Indian agents had received commissions in the HDW submarine deal. He told Rajiv Gandhi about this and instituted an enquiry. This led to differences and V.P.Singh resigned from the cabinet
Opposition parties Lok Dal, Indian National Congress (Socialist) and Jan Morcha united under Singh to form the Janata Dal. Singh led the National Front coalition to victory in 1989 elections and he was sworn in as Prime Minister. Though the coalition won 143 seats compared to Congress’s 197, it gained majority in the lower house of the parliament through outside support from the Bharatiya Janta Party under the leadership of Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Lal Krishna Advani and the left parties such as the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the Communist Party of India.
In November 1991, Schweizer Illustrierte magazine published an article on black money held in secret accounts by Imelda Marcos and 14 other rulers of Third World countries. Citing McKinsey as a source, the article stated that Rajiv Gandhi held 2.5 billion Swiss francs in secret Indian accounts in Switzerland
In 1992, the Indian newspapers Times of India and The Hindu published reports alleging that Rajiv Gandhi had received funds from the KGB. The Russian government confirmed this disclosure and defended the payments as necessary for Soviet ideological interest.