Sunday Column- Evaluating the Rajiv Gandhi Era
Yesterday we witnessed yet another annual edition of tax payer funded, multi million blitzkrieg orchestrated by the well oiled and deep pocketed Congress PR machinery. It sought to obliterate memories of Rajiv Gandhi’s catastrophic tenure and reinforce a make-believe, patently false image of Rajiv as India’s greatest modernizer and reformer. Pages and pages of newspaper ads were printed and handsome visuals of beaming Rajiv broadcast in channels across the country extolling his various virtues, many of which inexplicably escaped nation’s attention when he was alive.
We can even ignore the consequences of such financially profligate campaign in strengthening the allegiance of large sections of media establishment to India’s foremost political dynasty. We can even discount the definitive possibility that such immoral cash transfer by government to media houses will enhance media’s quotient of servility and obsequiousness. But as serious students of modern political history of India, what makes us at the CRI mightily worried, is the potential of these campaigns to seamlessly indoctrinate and successfully induct the new generation of politically nascent citizenry in to cult of Rajiv Worshipping. We have some evidence of this already. A section of impressionable cosmo types, abound in blogosphere, are already expressing their gratitude to Rajiv Gandhi for espousing a glorious ‘vision’ for India on evidence of few quotable quotes that have been culled out from one of his stale speeches (possibly written by his crony in chief Mani Aiyar). A few even claim that he ushered in ‘software revolution’ in India and just stop short of crediting him for inventing the internet.
Danger of messiahfication is double fold given that this one-off media bombardment will be supplemented and sustained by mythmaking through serious official historiography during rest of the time. That this particular intellectual industry is completely under the stranglehold of Nehruvian establishment needs no elaboration. And we haven’t even factored in the propaganda capability of native taxpayer funded Rajiv Gandhi Foundation, formed initially to subsidize the expensive aesthetic lifestyle of Sonia and band of family cronies, before she condescended to assume formal political power.
Rajiv’s real legacy
Courtesy the sympathy wave garnered due to the assassination of his mother, RajIv Gandhi won a landslide in 1984 elections. Decimation of opposition was such that it was in fact TDP, a regional political outfit from Andhra Pradesh formed by Shri N T Rama Rao, which was the second largest party. Rajiv’s era as PM was all about how he completely squandered this mandate and how thoroughly discredited he was at end of this term. Popular slogan that reverberated across the nation as he neared the end of his tenure was “Rajiv Gandhi Chor hai”
Even as UPA spindoctors splash millions in ad spend to perpetuate dynasty myths in mainstream media, it was interesting that yesterday it was Bofors which was trending in Twitter, an increasingly important platform for middle class discourse. As much as it was a testimony to the great egalitarian nature of that Twitter, we can also safely assume that many well-informed Indians have still not completely fallen cannon fodder to state sponsored propaganda. For the benefit of such independent minded readers we chronicle what the Rajiv’s era was all about
Era of vacuous babalogism– Today Rahul Gandhi might hold an undisputed claim to that mantle but it was actually Rajiv who was the original quintessential vacuous babalog neta who thrived on of politics of photo-ops and media cheerleading . Like a typical scion from the Nehru dynasty, Rajiv was an academic underachiever who by all accounts was not even a graduate. But to be fair Rajiv never nurtured any pretensions to intellectualism and rather trusted his charm offensive courtesy his remarkably beautiful smile. In fact lot of South India natives (including many from my own family) had a subliminal fascination for Rajiv for his fair skin cum debonair good looks and consistently voted for him on account of that. It’s no coincidence that in 1977 and 1989 when Congress was booted out in rest of the country erstwhile Southern bastions stayed firm.
Rajiv surrounded himself with a set of supercilious, all knowing band of his childhood buddies (many of them Doon Schoolites) who mistakenly presumed their arrogance for profound wisdom. To be fair, his band of cronies showed a marked improvement over the stormtroopers, ruffians and goondas that Sanjay Gandhi assembled as his faithful followers (Doon Gooners as they were called). Few like the despicable scamster Satish Sharma, recently in news for cash for vote scam, owed their meteoric rise in the corridors of power merely on account of sharing the cockpit space with Rajiv. We have reasonable evidence to believe that things have not changed much in Rahul dispensation except that some of his cronies and advisors smartly operate in the garb of bipartisan new age ‘thinktanks’ to maintain a seeming veil of separation and befuddle us.
Era of Corruption– Bofors scam was surely a shocker especially given that till the juncture it came to occupy the national consciousness Rajiv was touted as the Mr. Clean. This was not on account of his spotless sartorial sense but apparently on his promise to cleanse the Augean stables of Indian politics of corruption. Never before and possibly never after will a PM of India get nailed with such irrefutable evidence of loot and clearly established money trial. This was an intricately executed loot featuring an Italian national who was by reliable accounts had 24 by 7 access to Rajiv’s household. Insurmountable evidence of Rajiv’s direct involvement in scandal was unearthed by some brilliant investigative journalism by indefatigable Chitra Subramaniam (what a fall for the profession that has Barkha Dutt types as the flag bearers today). If Bofors accused would have been jailed, possibly a climate of zero tolerance to corruption could have emerged and served as a deterrent to the political class. Despite great grit and determination shown by Arun Jaitley and section of NDA to nail the culprits, thanks to some sloppy investigation machinery and connivance by couple of influential NDA era backroom operators ensured that investigation was derailed. Also the Bofors case camouflaged several major corruption scandals featuring host of other ministers of this corrupt regime which in terms of brazenness and venality competes with UPA 2
Era of High command authoritarianism -Unceremonious manner in which an ailing Veerendra Patil of Karnataka was sacked and subject to public humiliation is still etched in memory of people. It began the process of Veerashaiva disenchantment with Congress leading to their eventual consolidation under a social coalition that eventually catapulted BJP to power
Tanguturi Anjaiah was an Andhra CM whose claim to fame was this refreshingly honest confession “”I came by the grace of Indira Madam and I am going under her orders; I don’t know why I came and why I am going.” Rajiv Gandhi once let it rip on Anjiah in entire view of the public in airport. This was seen as assault on the Telugu pride and set in motion a series of events that led to the crystallization of regional sentiments and eventual formation of TDP which ended the uninterrupted rule of Congress in the state.
Pranab Mukherjee , now a sycophant par excellence of the dynasty, was alleged to have harbored Prime Ministerial ambition which apparently was highlighted to Rajiv during the aftermath of Indira’ assassination. Pranab Mukherjee was humiliatingly thrown out from the party and went in to complete political oblivion. It was the gracious Narasimha Rao who resurrected the overrated Bengali politician’s fortunes. These days, thanks to the preponderance of Bengali print media journo, we are given the impression that this opportunistic politician is some kind of god’ gift to mankind and Indian politics
Era of Competitive Communalism– Most shameful legacy of Rajiv Gandhi was his brazen attempt to overrule the Supreme Court Judgment on Shah Bano case, a move that was seen as a complete antithesis of genuine secularism. He ignored the sane counsel of an important nationalist Muslim colleague Arif Mohammed Khan and went ahead with his legislative interventions. Apparently this was an over compensation for his earlier cynical move of catering to Hindu vote bank sentiments by opening the gate of disputed structure for Shilanyas.
His cabinet had at least four ministers in important portfolio who masterminded anti-Sikh pogrom by Congress in 1984 in which thousands of innocents Sikhs were butchered brutally by Congress workers. Rajiv Gandhi justified the genocide blatantly (jury is still out on whether he explicitly played a direct role in it) and also stymied any judicial investigation in to it
Era of attack on freedom of press- Rajiv tolerated no dissent. Veneer of sophistication did hide an essentially small mind of narrow perspective and individual with a strong streak of intolerance. Rajiv government in 1988 introduced the notorious Anti-Defamation Bill which sought to muzzle the free press. This was clear throwback to of emergency days when the government of the day suspended all civil liberties, the essential cornerstone of any functional democracy. The pusillanimity of India MSM during the dark period prompted the then leading light of the opposition party Shri Advani to remark “Media began to crawl when they were only asked to bend”. However his time around journalists demonstrated better spine and rallied strongly against this law and it was reluctantly withdrawn
Era of ‘alleged’ technological progress-Familiarity with electronic gizmo or early embrace of technological tools by rich and powerful is purely a consequence of encountering it earlier than normal masses. Any given society it’s the rich and famous who get to savor technological advances ahead of the rest of us purely due to affordability factor. This is no way demonstrates any technical wizardry but merely a superior purchasing power and information assymery. Flaunting of gizmo by Rajiv and cronies was mistaken as embrace of modernity and his media toadies continue to celebrate it as a great quality. Modernity is a state of mind and adoption of tools meaning nothing. Rajiv proved that he is a dyed in a wool manipulative Congressman though he did show some early signs of promise to be different.
For instance a lot of Congress members started using HAM radio as apparently Rajiv Gandhi was a big user of it. Not much is heard about all that today. Of course Rajiv Gandhi did support scientific institutions but so did Indira who preceded him and all other Prime ministers who succeeded him.
Stonewalling Bofors investigation using a pliant Sharankarnand,using the dirty tricks department to forge documents and implicate political opponents, whimsical manner in which ministry was repeatedly reshuffled(8 foreign ministers during his tenure)-we could continue to chronicle the disaster that his tenure was but we leave it here…………..