RAJIV GANDHI REGIME, 1984-1989
As the pro-verb says, there can be no protection if the fence starts eating the crop. This is what was happened.
– Rajiv Gandhi.
Following the assassination of Indira Gandhi on 31 October, 1984, the congress Parliamentary Party passed a resolution recommending Rajiv Gandhi the party’s candidate for the post of Prime Minister and recommending his name to the President. The President Sardar Zail Singh administered the oath of office to Rajiv Gandhi and his four Cabinet colleagues the same evening in a simple ceremony in the Ashoka Hall, Rashtrapati Bhavan. The first meeting of new Cabinet was held in the Rashtrapati Bhavan itself (31 Oct ). Rajiv Gandhi was an Eventful Prime Minister.’ “He was the first Prime Minister of India, perhaps of any democratic country, who had had nothing to do with politics”.’
Outside Rashtrapati Bhavan, Delhi city was in flames. Incensed by the assassination of Indira Gandhi by her own Sikh bodyguards, the infuriated mob dulged in mindless rampage against Sikhs. For two days Delhi, particularly fringe ‘re-settlement colonies’ witnessed large scale riots. The frenzied mob targeted Sikh-owned shops and business places; they were looted and ched, The indiscriminate killings, burnings, raping and arson continued for
couple of days unabated. It reminded of the partition communal carnage of 1947. Rajiv Gandhi, who was mourning the death ofhis mother, swang introduction. Army was asked to take over the responsibility for maintaining law and order in the entire city. Refugee camps for riot victims were organised. A special Action Group was constituted to help in bringing relief and succor to he beleaguered victims. A programme of action was chalked out. Relief in the mn of tents, medicines, blankets, food and water was given on war-footing.
Proper security arrangements were made in every camp. Top most priority was accorded to relief work. Rajiv Gandhi displaced extraordinary qualities leadership in crisis management”.’
Bhopal Gas Tragedy, December 1984
On 3 December 1984, there was leak in the Union Carbide chemical gas plant, which proved to be disastrous. The Union Carbide, a US multi-national pesticide company was set up in 1978. Despite the strong objection raised by M.N.Bach, Administrator of the Municipal Corporation, the plant was located in a residential area in Bhopal, Madya Pradesh, because labour was plentiful and cheap. Buch w~s transferred.” There had been leakages in the plant in 1978,1981 and 1983, but the leak on the morning of3 December 1984 was a human tragedy, exacting a heavy toll of men, women, children and cattle. Rajiv
Gandhi cut short his election campaign tour, rushed to Bhopal, the scene of gory carnage, consoled the survivors and promised compensation. The Bhopal poisonous gas leak tragedy was “the worst environmental disaster the world has ever known”.
With a view to acquire popular mandate, Rajiv Gandhi advanced by a month the date of general elections scheduled for late January 1985. In the election campaigns Rajiv Gandhi presented himself as Mr.Clean. His core campaigns Rajiv Gandhi presented himself as Mr.Clean. His core campaign theme was integrity, unity and stability of India. He admitted past mistakes and assured that they would be corrected. He promised to usher India
into the 21st Century.
Rajiv Gandhi won a landslide victory in the elections, thanks to the “sympathy wave”. “In a way 1984 elections were fought by a dead hero whose tragic death loomed large over the country’s voters”.’ He secured 80% of the seats, 40 lout of 508 in the Lok Sabha. In fact, he got a greater number of votes than had ever been secured by either Jawaharlal Nehru or Indira Gandhi. In the election 64.1 % of votes were polled and the share of Congress vote was 49%.The people .trusted Rajiv Gandhi and entrusted with him a massive national mandate. Rajiv Gandhi’s position as Prime Minister was legitimatised.
Rajiv-Longowal Accord, July 1985
Rajiv Gandhi’s first act as Prime Minister was the fire- fighting operation of containing the anti-Sikh riots. He constituted an investigating machinery to trace out the culprits and then to punish them. Then his major policy initiative as to find an amicable solution to the Punjab problem. In January 1985, the Akali leaders including its President H.S.Longowal were released. The tense political situation created by the Blue Star Operation started to cool down. Terrrorism died down. Disenchanted by militancy, mass agitation and extremism, Longowal, President of Akali Dal, entered into negotiations with Rajiv Gandhi.
On 24 July 1985, Longowal reached an accord with Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and his Cabinet. The accord was reached after protracted negotiations. It was a memorandum of understanding. The salient points ofthe record were: 1) The Government of India agreed to consider the proposal of bringing out an all-India Gurudwara legislation. 2) The Anandpur Sahib resolution, in so far as it dealt with centre-state relations, shall be referred to the
Sarkaria Commission 3) Chandigarh was to become the capital solely of Punjab. 4) Official commission would determine the extent of Hindi speaking territories to be transferred to Haryana in lieu of Chandigarh. 5) The farmers of Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan will continue to get water from the Ravi-Beas system as on 1 July 1985. 6) Along with ex-gratia payment to those innocents killed in agitation after 1 August 1982, compensation for property damaged will also be paid. Longowal stated that the Anandpur Sahib Resolution was not intended to undermine the Indian Union.
The Rajiv-Longowal accord was hailed as a diplomatic break-through in the Punjab problem. It brought to an end a very traumatic period through which the country passed. It began a new phase of working together, through mutual understanding and give and take, to build unity and integrity of the nation, The accord was “conciliatory in spirit and obviously preferable to his mother’s military solution.” All opposition leaders, except the Lok Dalleader of Haryana, Choudary Devi Lal, welcomed the Accord. Though Akali DaJ”
endorsed the accord, the Sikhs were not enthusiastic about it. The Sikh followers
of the late leader Bhindranwale condemned the agreement as a “sell-out”. Atleast, the accord served as a ploy to postpone dealing with the controversial Issues in the Anandpur Sahib Resolutions.
Rajiv Gandhi’s New Economic Policy
Rajiv Gandhi was neither happy with the ‘mixed economy’ nor with the pampering of public sector undertakings. He wanted to bring about radical changes in the politico-economic system he had inherited.” He, therefore decided to liberalise the socialist system of licences and controls to suit the needs of globalization, modernization and urbanization. He formulated a four fold strategy to prepare the country to enter into the 21st century with confidence:
1) open the economy to free enterprise and market mechanism;
2) to introduce modernmanagement methods;
3) to clean up administration and
4) to democratize u-vitalize the ruling party.
Rajiv’s new political and economic order has been rornpared with the Perestroika of the newly chosen General Secretary of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev.”
One of the ingenious innovative policy initiatives was the setting up chnology Missions. Guided by Sam Pitroda,” six technology missions established:
- I) The Drinking Water Mission;
2) The Literacy Mission;
3) Immunization Mission;
4) The White-revolution Mission;
5) The Edible Oil Mission; and
6) The Telephone Mission.
These technology oriented mission were problem solving time bound projects. They applied science and
technology to solve the perennial problems of providing safe protected drinking
water to alI Indian vilIages; attacking mass illiteracy; immunization of pregnant
men and children; promoting milk production; increasing edible oil
introduction; and to bring one telephone to every village in India by the end of 20th century. These missions heralded a multiple rural revolution in India.
Corruption, Scandals and Controversies
On 16 April 1986, when opposition in Parliament was blaming Rajiv’s Government as ‘steeped in corruption’, the Swedish National Raido, came out with the sensational story that in 1986 the Bofors unit of Nobel Industries Sweden, AB, the largest Swedish arms manufacturer had already paid a total of 5 million dollars into an account, code-named LOTUS, at the Schweizisher Bank Schweizisher. The contract was alleged to have authorized by Rajiv Gandhi in 1986 hen he was the Prime Minister and Defence Minister. The Bofors scandal pened the Pandora’s Box.
German Submarine Scandal, 1986
Bofors scandal was followed by the HDW German submarine scandal. soon after V.P.Singh took charge of the new portfolio of defence, he stumbled on huge kickback paid for the government contract to buy four submarines from a West German company, HDW. Rajiv Gandhi was furious when he came to know that an enquiry into the submarine deal was ordered by V.p. Singh without consulting him. Soon, V.P.Singh resigned from the government. The opposition and the press praised Singh’s honesty blamed Rajiv’s suspected cover-up.