Saturday, May 21, 2011

Rajiv Gandhi: 20 Years After

20 years ago, in Sriperumbudur, Tamil Nadu, one of India's most charismatic leaders and youngest Prime Minister was assassinated. In one of the most gruesome attacks on any political leader in the world, his head was severed from his body and India lost a leader.

Much water has flown beneath the bridge since then. Now, it seems a good time to reflect on how Rajiv Gandhi changed this nation. I, for one, was born a few days after he died. I was born in 1991, a year seen by many as a turning point in India's post-Independence history. But every time I ask someone from that generation and they cite Rajiv Gandhi's focus on computers and telecommunications - the '21st Century,' in journo-speak.

Indeed, his vision of a modern nation that takes full advantage of modern computers and ICT is reflected in what makes this country great today. He could be described as the visionary political leader on the back of whose dream future leaders could shape the country. Indeed, it would be interesting to imagine where India would have been today had he not had that vision. His other revolutionary move was to lower the voting age to 18. Today, we take it for granted that we are adults at 18 but once upon a time, 21 was the barrier. Recognition that each generation grows more mature than the previous one and, averaged over decades, matures at an earlier time in an important achievement.

Yet, Rajiv Gandhi's track record is not squeaky-clean either. The Bofors scandal that saw him lose a good three-quarters of his MPs and continues to haunt the Congress Party to this day was an unsettled blot on his career. The Shah Bano Case and the subsequent Constitutional Amendment brings in question his very secularism, although party politics had much to do with it.

In the end, Rajiv Gandhi was a great Prime Minister, although he did come with his faults. Unfortunately, he could never change the sycophancy of the party that wanted his brother as its leader and not him. His widow today virtually rules the country from the backseat and his son is nicknamed the 'Congress Yuvraj.' Well, some things even a visionary cannot change.

Opinions 24x7 remembers former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi on his death anniversary - May 21, 1991.

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