Rajiv Gandhi was the architect of resurgent India
It was my good fortune to be the spokesman of the Government of India during the prime ministership of Rajiv Gandhi. He was known to have ushered India into the 21st Century.
I was a witness to the circumstances under which he was chosen as the prime minister of India following the assassination of his mother, Indira Gandhi, on October 31, 1984.
The firmness with which he took decisions in a turbulent India as soon as he assumed office surprised many, and he was able to bring an explosive situation under control in a matter of days.
Very few expected that the 'inexperienced politician' that he was, he would call for general elections soon after. On November 16, the dates of polling were announced by the Election Commission - 24, 27 and 28 December.
The elections gave him an unprecedented mandate with the Congress winning 406 seats and 48 percent of the vote share. He was sworn in again as prime minister on December 31, 1984.
During those tumultuous days of transition , I was heading the News Services Division of the All India Radio. In May 1984, Rajiv Gandhi invited me to his office and said that he would like me to be the Principal Information Officer.
I thanked him to have chosen me for the job, and asked him whether he would like to indicate the principal tasks he expected me to perform. He replied that besides disseminating information about the activities of the government , he expected me to try my best to ensure that the press was able to function in a free manner.
The first major step that Rajiv Gandhi took was to invite Sikh leaders from Punjab in an effort to re-establish peace in that state. On July 2, 1985, he invited Sant Harcharan Singh Longowal to come to Delhi for talks, and after 36 hours of discussions at various levels, an agreement was arrived at between Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and Sant Harcharan Singh Longowal, president of the Shiromani Akali Dal. An accord was signed on July 25.
The accord surprised many and efforts were made to rekindle the controversy. Terrorists tried to take control of the Golden Temple complex again. Rajiv Gandhi then planned the 'Operation Black Thunder'. I had an opportunity to be a witness to share with the media how the operation was done in full view of the cameras.
It is a different matter that efforts were made not to implement some parts of the the Punjab Accord, particularly those concerning the status of Chandigarh and the sharing of river waters, which helped the controversy to linger.
Soon after the conclusion of the Punjab Accord, Rajiv Gandhi invited leaders of agitators from Assam, who were mainly against immigrants from Bangladesh settling in Assam, for talks in Delhi. After talking for 14 hours, Rajiv Gandhi was able to come an agreement with them during the early hours of August 15, 1985.
I had the privilege of listening to the announcement made by the Prime Minister from the ramparts of the Red Fort. Among other clauses, one important part of the Assam Accord was that foreigners who came to Assam on or after March 25, 1971 shall continue to be detected, deleted and expelled in accordance with law.
Rajiv Gandhi was also keen that India should have cordial relations with its neighbours. When Bangladesh was hit by floods, he visited that country along with the Sri Lankan President Jayawardane and offered assistance. He also tried to persuade Jayawardane to take steps to ensure the welfare of Tamils in Sri Lanka.
The accord on the subject was to be between the LTTE and the Sri Lankan Government, but the fact was, as Achary says, 'neither of the warring parties genuinely wanted an agreement, except the mediator'. The task took nearly two years to complete and the agreement was concluded between India and Sri Lanka.
I was a witness to the efforts that Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi made to persuade a reluctant President Jayawardane and a more reluctant Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eeelam leader Prabhakaran to come to an agreement which guaranteed peace in Sri Lanka and give autonomy to the Tamils while ensuring the unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity of the country.
Efforts were made at the SAARC summit in Bangalore, and pressure was put by Chief Minister M.G. Ramachandran to persuade Prabhakaran to come to an agreement.
The agreement was finally signed in Colombo on July 29, 1987. One of my functions was to provide official coverage to the signing of the India -Sri Lanka Agreement and to provide coverage to the handing over of the arms by the LTTE. I had arranged two plane loads of media persons to cover the handing over of the weapons. The media had to be satisfied with a token transfer of the weapons.
I also had the task of providing coverage to the activities of the Indian Peace Keeping Force activities in Sri Lanka. Foreign Office spokesperson G. Parthasarthy and I flew to Jaffna to have a close look at the activities of the IPKF. It was sad that the LTTE did not take advantage of the India-Sri Lanka Agreement
Trouble started soon with the LTTE killing Indian soldiers. As the author of the book says: "The IPKF was clearly in an unenviable situation. The Sri Lankan public hated it, the LTTE treated it as its enemy number one, and the Tamils of Sri Lanka lost confidence in it."
Governments changed in Delhi, and in Sri Lanka, R. Premadasa took over as president. He sought an end to the India-Sri Lanka Agreement and the IPKF had to withdraw by December 1989. It is sad that militancy continued and many years later Prabhakaran and the hardcore LTTE were killed and wiped out. Tamils in Sri Lanka had to suffer untold miseries.
Within India, Rajiv Gandhi took steps to conclude the Mizo Accord which brought an end to militancy in a sensitive region. He also took steps to give full statehood to Nagaland, Manipur, Mizoram, Meghalaya and Arunachal Pradesh.
India also saw the establishment of technology missions, with Sam Pitroda as the driving force. The were in six critical sectors, oil seeds, mass immunization, communications, drinking water supply, reduction of illiteracy and milk production.
Communications improved, the first step being to devise telephone exchanges which would be located in every village of the country. Steps were taken to ensure that people of India were made conscious of the need to preserve water. The Ganga Action Plan, if only it was implemented in true spirit, would have brought positive changes. Rajiv Gandhi also set up an environment ministry, which was initially considered a novel idea.
Last but not least, the steps taken by the Rajiv Gandhi Gandhi Government to make the younger generation in India aware of information technology which has now made India a leader in the field.
In the field of international affairs, Rajiv Gandhi was able to establish close relations with leading powers of the world. He was able to establish equilibrium in India's relationship with the two super powers.
As the author says, "He did it with great finesse. His efforts in this regard were appreciated by Gorbachev as well as by Reagan."
With China, Rajiv Gandhi followed a firm policy and a breakthrough was achieved after his visit to China in 1988. As the author says , Deng's responses and the warmth he exuded when receiving Rajiv Gandhi demonstrated a willingness to leave the past behind and move forward.
I recall my conversation with former Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao in the nineties, who told me that the biggest loss suffered by India in the recent past , was the passing away of Rajiv Gandhi. He said, Rajiv Gandhi would have provided leadership to the country for a decade or more. As Achary says, "we miss Rajiv Gandhi who resurrects in a hundred ways new ideas and thoughts and dreams for the rebuilding of India."
Every school and college in this country, should have copies of this book on their bookshelves, which not only gives one a close look at the Rajiv Gandhi years, but also a background to India's civilization.
Book Review: Resurgent India:Glimpses of Rajiv Gandhi's vision of India, by PDT Achary. Pentagon Press. Pages 279, price Rs 595. I.Ramamohan Rao
(Posted on 29-03-2014)