By Priyanka Chaturvedi
“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.”
The year was 1985 and the occasion was centenary celebrations of the Indian National Congress. A girl, a keen, silent follower of politics and a huge fan of Rajiv Gandhi waited in a queue with thousands of people just to get a glimpse of someone she had admired for long. He passed by the place in a convoy of cars. The girl went home hoping she’ll get a chance to shake hands with him one day when she visits Delhi. But fate was cruel and that wasn’t to be. Inspiration he continued to be for her and some of the decisions he took continue to inspire her even now. No marks for guessing who the girl was. It was his son who would later show her the way to be a part of the system by revamping the entire Youth Congress. Why does Rajiv Gandhi inspire me? Here are my reasons:
For the generation that is now clued in to social media, a country with a million internet and computer users who are using a smart phone to communicate all the time, may not really remember to thank the vision of one man who during a brief public stint managed to leave an indelible mark in the history of this nation. A lot of people maybe using those very forums to criticise some of the work done by him. Which is fair, which is what he worked for—to democratise the system, to ensure every voice of this country is heard. Yes, you can criticise him but you cannot take anything away from his ideas for the country, his vision to see this country reach levels Indians could only dream of!
What were his ideas? What was his vision? Introducing India to the latest technology and ensuring that it helped in making people’s lives easier and more fruitful was one; Encouraging science and scientific thinking, and a strongly held belief that if India were to prosper, our approach will have to be more scientific. So whether it was agriculture or manufacturing, he introduced new technology and resources which would help India become a superpower. How can anyone forget the telecom revolution unleashed by the C-DOT project headed by Sam Pitroda? Shivanand Kanavi even said: “C-DOT is the com in Indian telecom”
He was a big proponent of economic reforms and India truly started taking baby steps in liberalising the economy under his leadership in 1985. He set the wheels in motion for the big bang reforms that were to follow in 1991, which would change the way India lived forever. Opening up the economy, letting new enterprises enter the country would ensure that India’s young channelised their energy in positive nation building.
Empowering the youth was also one of his dreams and he took many initiatives within the party to ensure that they could be heard. Most notably, he lowered the voting age from 21 to 18, thereby giving the young to choose the government they wanted. He strongly believed in giving voice to every section of people of this country through Panchayati Raj and making them self-sufficient. With the passage of 73rd and 74th amendment act of the Constitution, he ensured that Panchayati Raj would help decentralise power and take it into the hands of the people. His belief was that local people could effectively manage resources available to them that would make them self-reliant and empowered. Till date, it remains the most radical reform undertaken in governance at the grassroots and has been the backbone of the successes unleashed by the MGNREGA and PMGSY under the UPA.
He made bold political moves, signing the three domestic peace accords, in Punjab, Mizoram and Assam. In the neighbourhood, he did not hesitate to send Indian armed forces into Maldives when a military coup was in the offing there. Signing the Sri Lanka accord and deploying the IPKF was a bold move by him to stall any foreign influence in the region. Even while consolidating India’s gains in Siachen and modernising Indian armed forces, Rajiv Gandhi signed an agreement with Benazir on declaration of nuclear sites which continues to work even today. Though he devoted his diplomatic energies into a multinational plan for global disarmament, he was the prime minister who first gave orders (as noted by the late K Subrahmanyam) for weaponisation of India’s nuclear programme.
Rajiv Gandhi brought a breath of fresh air of optimism, aggression, confidence, flamboyance and youth into Indian politics. He was not hungry for power. Congress party had won the highest number of seats in the 1989 general elections but he declined the President’s offer to try and form a government. He used the stint in opposition to introspect about his first tenure and learn from his mistakes. He was open and honest about accepting criticism. Without the constraints of prime ministerial office, Rajiv Gandhi, as the president of the Congress party, travelled the length and breadth of this country with an effort to understand the people, their living conditions and their realities. As most journalistic accounts from the 1991 elections testify, he eschewed personal security to freely interact with people. The rest, as they say, is history.
Whenever I think of Rajiv Gandhi, one word automatically comes to mind: charisma. His appeal was pan-India. He transcended barriers of caste, class, religion and language. He was as much at home in the US Congress (where he made the memorable quote narrated at the beginning of this post) as he was with the tribals in Orissa. He recognised that the country was undergoing a demographic change and soon there would be lots of young educated Indians ready to join the workforce. Focusing on that, he wanted to ensure that the energy and expertise of this new generation, India’s human capital, becomes the driving force of the country. The singular aim being a strong, powerful and developed India which is respected globally. Driven by this desire, Rajiv Gandhi chose to dedicate himself to this nation.
His life may have been cut short, but his dream and vision for this nation lives on. And continues to inspire that young girl from 1985 even today.
Priyanka is a blogger, columnist and is on the panel of spokespersons of the All India Congress Committee
(The views expressed in this column are the writer’s own)