Kolkata: Usually on one’s birthday, you tend to refrain from being overtly critical. You overlook the birthday boy or girl’s flaws and shower him/her with praises galore
August 20 happens to be the birthday of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. An ex- Congress president, the suave pilot was brutally assassinated in 1991 causing a massive vacuum in the party. But wasn’t he to be held responsible for the unprecedented crisis the party was left with?
A die-hard Gandhi loyalist would fume at this perception, but can it be repudiated? Every political party has its share of upheavals and even the Congress before Rajiv had to deal with dissent and turmoil. Both in 1969 and 1977, it was Rajiv’s mother and former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi who engineered a split. More importantly, such was her aura that she never ceased to lose control over her party men which catapulted her back to power after the first non-Congress government plummeted in three years in 1980.
A rejuvenation that marked Indira’s comeback was jolted by her untimely demise at the hands of her own bodyguards which propelled Rajiv to the hot seat in a haste. A reluctant pilot who was dragged into the murky world of politics after the death of his brother Sanjay, found himself saddled on the PM’s chair in just three years. A big challenge stared him in his face. The rest is unpleasant history that whistled the beginning of the party’s downward graph.
A resounding victory (414 seats) in the Lok Sabha elections that followed soon after Rajiv took charge as the Premier consolidated his position at the helm. But the five years that followed were riddled with corruption, misgovernance, factional feuds and defection which ousted Rajiv and his party out of power.
Rajiv just got carried away by the 1984 verdict that many attribute to the sympathy wave around his mother’s death. The Cambridge-educated man who was supposed to spearhead a new era on the Indian political map started slipping down from the zenith. Old timers lament his arrogance that precipitated his downfall. The Bofors scandal maligned his image and triggered a rebellion under his then Defence minister VP Singh who walked out to launch Jan Morcha that included many other dejected Congress loyalists.
Desperate to cling on to power come what may, Rajiv trusted his coterie which drove him against his true friends who were honest enough to show him the right direction. In the process, he lost out on genuine leaders who could have remained his trusted colleagues and well-wishers and helped him avert many a crisis that he faced eventually.
In fact, former Union minister K Natwar Singh spilt the beans on his memoirs about how Rajiv was hoodwinked by the wrong men – frequent cabinet rejigs, erroneous decisions hurried moves and and almost regular bypassing by his lieutenants turned out to be the reasons behind his fall from grace.
Defeat in the 1989 polls (197 seats) was inevitable but Rajiv in vengeance once again committed a blunder by orchestrating the curtains down on the VP Singh government. A few months’ support to the Chandra Shekhar regime was withdrawn and the country was facing another election in 1991.
But even his critics had a change of mind seeing the rebirth of Rajiv who exhibited utmost adeptness going about his job which was missing during his stint as the Congress president and the country’s PM. But an explosion at Sriperumbudur on May 21, 1991, succumbed him to death and we perhaps were deprived of a man who could have resurrected the shenanigans he indulged in before.
The Congress did come to power under a non-Gandhi – PV Narasimha Rao for the first time – economic liberalisation happened but the factional squabbles were a blot – during Rao’s tenure too there were exits of senior leaders and things came to an impasse when Sitaram Kesari became the Congress president. The party remained out of power until in 2004 when the Manmohan Singh government took office but that was the beginning of another fatal run – Singh was too pious a man to be thrust into politics. The Gandhis refused to relinquish their hold over everything under the Sun which derailed government functioning.
A humiliating loss in the 2014 polls that heralded the bursting of Narendra Modi on the scene, almost decimated the party (44 seats) which has been struggling to find some ground beneath its feet. With regional leaders gaining steam, the Grand Old Party is groaning in despair, unfortunately. Sad!
Coming back to the birthday boy, prudence evaded him and his successors (read his wife Sonia and children Rahul and Priyanka) are afflicted by the malaise unleashed by Rajiv’s whimsical instincts. An improvement in the tally after the 2019 polls doesn’t promise a turnaround as things stand now. Why blame Rajiv’s wife and kids? They are religiously adhering to the path shown by him.
The Congress is in a shambles with intra-party disputes rampant. State units are crumbling and ambitious leaders are quitting in search of greener pastures! Up there are you in remorse, Mr Gandhi?
Happy Birthday, Sir!