Rajiv Gandhi

20 November, 2012

Born in Bombay in 1944, Rajiv Gandhi was the elder son of Indira and Feroze Gandhi. Educated in the United Kingdom, where he met his wife, the Italian-born Sonia Gandhi, he came back to India in 1967. Contrary to his younger brother, Sanjay, who had been groomed to, one day, follow in his mother’s footsteps, Rajiv was not really interested in politics and became a professional pilot. However, the sudden death of Sanjay, in June 1980, compelled him to revise his plans and he became a personal advisor to his mother. After her assassination in 1984, Rajiv was unanimously asked by the Congress leaders to take over as prime minister. His popularity and hard work ensured the decisive Congress Party victory in the 1984 elections. Rajiv set to the job with enthusiasm, revived many hopes, tried to rejuvenate the Congress party and started liberalizing the Indian economy. He was also able to solve various regional issues. Unfortunately, Rajiv’s tenure was darkened with several mistakes: the Bofors scandal that concerned alleged pay-offs by a Swedish armament company to the Gandhi family compromised his public image. Even more serious, he proved unaware of the delicate balance between religious communities, opening opportunities for communal forces. On the one side, there was the “Shah Bano case” in 1986, when, going against a judgment pronounced by the Supreme Court, he agreed to demands from some Muslim leaders to protect the Muslim personal law. His intervention was perceived by the Sangh Parivar (Hindu family of organizations) as an attempt to “appease” the Muslim community. On the other side, in order to pacify Hindu sentiments, Rajiv also agreed to open the gates of the Babri Masjid. These unfortunate actions were to inflame passions, which, in the end, helped the Janata to come to power. The Congress Party was defeated in 1989. Two years later, Rajiv was likely to bring the Congress back to power, when, campaigning in Tamil Nadu, he was assassinated by a female suicide-bomber from the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (Tamil activists from Sri Lanka, LTTE), in retaliation for the Indian army’s intervention in Sri Lanka.

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OEMV , Rajiv Gandhi , Mass Violence & Résistance, [online], published on: 20 November, 2012, accessed 17/05/2021, http://bo-k2s.sciences-po.fr/mass-violence-war-massacre-resistance/en/document/rajiv-gandhi, ISSN 1961-9898
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