The pilot of economic reforms - Rajiv Gandhi


The pilot of economic reforms -  Rajiv Gandhi
His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, with the late Rajiv Gandhi, the former Prime Minister of India.

The pilot-turned-politician was a remarkable individual, who led India on a new growth path and visualised a bright future for the country during his tenure as prime minister. | Nithin Belle

By Nithin Belle

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Published: Fri 11 Jan 2019, 5:30 PM

One of the most remarkable things about the late Rajiv Gandhi, the former Prime Minister of India was his ever-smiling face. Even in the most-tense moments while dealing with international or domestic crises, he had that remarkable countenance, that expression of empathy, and the ability to listen to others.

The first time this correspondent met him was way back in the mid-1980s, when Rajiv was still undecided on whether to enter politics or not. He smiled away all queries from the journalists gathered in Bombay and left all of us wondering what his future course of action would be.

A few years later, interacting with him in a Dubai hotel - when he was in the opposition, and just a few months before his assassination - was another memorable experience. Rajiv laughed and enjoyed the questions from a handful of journalists, most of us trying to provoke him. But he never could get provoked.

While covering the general elections in India in the summer of 1991, this correspondent was promised an interview with him in his Amethi constituency in Uttar Pradesh. Sadly, just days before the meet he was assassinated at Sriperumbudur village near Chennai on May 21, 1991.

Youngest premier

Rajiv was the youngest Prime Minister of India - he was just 40 when he took over as the premier after the assassination of his mother, Indira Gandhi on October 31, 1984.
In elections held a few weeks later, he led the Congress to a stunning victory, with the party bagging 401 out of 508 Lok Sabha seats, the highest in India's history.

His five-year tenure saw the kick-start of reforms in the Indian economy. With a youthful prime minister at the helm, the country was ready to take on new challenges and open up to the rest of the world.

Born in Bombay on August 20, 1944, Rajiv spent his early childhood at the Teen Murti House in Delhi, where Jawaharlal Nehru, his grandfather, lived as Prime Minister.
He later joined the Doon School in what is now Uttarakhand, and later went to the UK for higher studies. He was at Trinity College in Cambridge and later the Imperial College in London.

Passion for flying

Rajiv had a passion for flying and on his return to Delhi joined the local flying club and got a commercial pilot's licence. He then joined Indian Airlines, the domestic national carrier.
While in England he had met Sonia, who had come from Italy for her studies. The two got married in Delhi in 1968.

The death of his younger brother Sanjay in an air crash in the national capital in 1980 saw pressure building on Rajiv to enter politics. He was reluctant initially, but then contested the elections from Amethi in 1981 and won it. He won the Amethi seat in successive elections to the Lok Sabha.

Rajiv's organisational skills became evident when he was part of the team of MPs involved in hosting the 1982 Asian Games in Delhi. As Prime Minister, Rajiv initiated remarkable changes to bring about reforms in the Indian economy. His government announced a new industrial policy in 1988, aimed at delicensing a number of industries, which had been hampered because of the 'licence Raj.'

He also believed in decentralisation and laid great emphasis on strengthening the Panchayati Raj system, giving more power to the village level bodies across India. Law and order were major problems confronting states including Punjab and Assam when he took over. Rajiv decided to tackle both the issues and try to bring peace in the states.

Crucial accords

He signed the Punjab Accord with Harcharan Singh Longowal, the then president of the Shiromani Akali Dal in July 1985, and followed it up a month later by signing the Assam Accord with the agitating leaders in the north-east state. He followed it up a year later by stitching the Mizoram Peace Accord.

And in July 1987, he signed the Indo-Sri Lankan agreement with the then Lankan president J.R. Jayewardene in a bid to end the violence in the northern parts of the island nation. He was also active on the education and environment fronts. The Indira Gandhi National Open University, now well-entrenched in the country, was launched by Rajiv, who also introduced the 'new education policy' in 1986.

He also got the Environment Protection Act, a new Forest Policy and the first-ever Water policy. And on the foreign policy front, he strengthened India's ties with the US, Russia and China at a time when India was emerging on the global map as a major power.
The former Prime Minister also heralded India into the computer age. "India missed the Industrial Revolution," he declared once. "It cannot afford to miss the Computer Revolution."

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