Rajiv Gandhi, India’s sixth and youngest Prime Minister, took office on October 31, 1984, after the assassination of his mother Indira Gandhi. He became the Prime Minister at the age of 40. His party saw a major defeat in the 1989 Lok Sabha polls and until the elections in 1991, he remained the AICC (All India Congress Committee) president. On May 21, 1991, while campaigning for the elections, he was assassinated by a suicide bomber from the LTTE.

The Free Press Journal in a column titled ‘His best was still to come’ that was published on May 23, 1991, writes, “No matter how posterity might rate Rajiv Gandhi, it can hardly be denied that he was about the only nationally recognised leader in the country. What is more, the full flowering of his leadership was still to come. He was only 47.” He also mentions “he (Rajiv Gandhi) was cut down in the prime of life and at a time when he was beginning to blossom as a leader is a tragedy too deep for tears.”

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His Best Was Still To Come

Six and a half years ago, when Rajiv Gandhi stepped into the shoes of his martyred mother, he said he had only come in to fill a void. Today he himself has been martyred and has left in the country’s politics a void that would be hard to fill. No matter how posterity might rate Rajiv Gandhi, it can hardly be denied that he was about the only nationally recognised leader in the country. What is more, the full flowering of his leadership was still to come. He was only 47. Of late he had begun to show evidence of a greater maturity in the handling of his party affairs and a greater awareness of where he had gone wrong.

Rajiv Gandhi had only just begun to come out of the cell in which l had cloistered himself through his first term. He had begun reaching out to the people, establishing a direct rapport with them. It was not as though he could have been unaware of the risks involved, particularly in view of the violent character that politics had assumed. Just three days before his tragic end, Rajiv Gandhi had surprised his audiences by sidelining his security men. He had virtually pushed them out from the dais at Rae Bareli and Lucknow, causing much concern in the circles around him. Whether it was destiny that had begun to intervene, or his impatience with the walls that stood around him for years, Rajiv was showing that risks were part of the political game and he had the courage to take them. His breaking out of the stifling security rings was an indication of a new leader in the making.

Six and a half years ago, he had stunned the world by the hugeness of the mandate he had won, but as he often conceded during personal conversations, he had come to politics without any experience worth the name. “There is much I have to learn,” he once said with a winsome smile from across the table, and that was before he had lost power. He had accepted that in his judgement of men he had often faltered, made wrong choices.

Rajiv was still under his mother’s apprenticeship when he was suddenly left to his own devices. She had passed away before he could build his own “political world” without which no leader can succeed. Many were the trials and errors through which Rajiv Gandhi went, but he was beginning to see the ground realities of politics. No doubt he had a long way to go before he could master the intricacies of the game, but already he was far more discerning about men and matters than he had been in the earlier stages. Having come from a different world altogether, there was much in politics that was still alien to him, but then that had been his basic strength as well. The people had given him a big mandate knowing he was raw, a gust of fresh breeze, because they had begun to tire of the old and hackneyed lot of professional politicians who had let the country down. His youthful promise of taking the country into the twenty-first century struck a chord in many a heart. And if the aspirations that he roused did not come to fruition it was perhaps not for want of sincerity on his party but partly on account of his inexperience and partly his dependence on a wrong set of advisers. Somewhere along the line his government went off-track, and got embroiled in controversial deals which finally brought him down. This is hardly the occasion for a critique of his government and politics. One would like to think that he himself had emerged &her and wiser from his experiences. That he had the good of the country at heart few would doubt. He, for one, understood that if the country had to survive and progress there was no room for compromise on its secular character. Between this realisation and the reality there was still a shadow, but given the time he could perhaps have lived up to his belief. His basic premise was that only a party which drew its strength from every nook and corner of the land could keep India from falling apart. Rajiv Gandhi, wants and ail, was one leader who at any given time enjoyed the largest acceptability all over the country. Even at his lowest ebb, his personal popularity remained higher than of all others. In a straight national contest he would undoubtedly have beaten any adversary.

That he was cut down in the prime of life and at a time when he was beginning to blossom as a leader is a tragedy too deep for tears.

(Compiled by Sonali Pimputkar)