Rajiv Gandhi: A Legacy of Wasted Mandate for which India Continues to Pay A Heavy Price
When a young, handsome former Prime Minister of a country, Rajiv Gandhi, is tragically killed in a terrorist suicide strike, that too during electioneering, he becomes something like a national hero, who did no wrong. And additionally, when the assassinated leader belongs to the Nehru-Gandhi Parivar, whose mother too was assassinated by her own security man, he straightway achieves the status of a demigod, beyond reproach.
But in these days of instant communication, transparency, social media activism, hectic electioneering and no-hold-barred campaigning, it is futile to think Rajiv Gandhi will be treated like a holy cow. Therefore, he is the latest entry into the election arena, even though in absentia.
Had Rajiv Gandhi not left the scene in the manner he did, it is quite certain that he would have been held to account for his many acts of omission and commission by the increasingly assertive Indian electorate. Some of his decisions as the Prime Minister of the country and actions as leader of the opposition, which gave outside support to the minority govt, were impulsive and thoughtless, to say the least. More importantly, here was a Prime Minister who wasted a massive mandate given by the people of this country (402 Seats); a mandate to usher in revolutionary changes for which the country waited in anticipation.
Some of his actions caused the country great damage and India continues to pay heavily for these even today. His decision to send Indian troops to Srilanka to subdue the LTTE was a colossal mistake in many ways. Firstly, in 1986-87, Indian Army was truly stretched to the limit: Punjab militancy, Northeast insurgency, Siachen, the world’s highest battlefield testing the Indian Army’s resolve, Kashmir on powder keg ready to light up, etc. And you decide to take on the world’s most intelligent, ruthless and intrepid insurgency group in their own backyard, without preparation or thorough assessment and no clearly-spelt objective. Indian Army paid heavily for this misadventure, losing nearly 1200 soldiers, with thousands wounded, many of whom became permanently disabled. It was the first time that Indian Army was exposed to IED warfare and suicide attacks, losing many young lives, barely in their early twenties. I recall an old man, later working as a peon in an office, losing his two sons there, while he had lost one earlier in operation Blue Star. Since Indian Army does not grumble, their stories of suffering remained hidden and unarticulated.
Though we had been sent to disarm the LTTE, there was a time in-between when the Indian Army and Srilankan Army started fighting with each other. The fact is that no one seemed to be clear about our aim, which for any military campaign, that too in a foreign country, needs to be clearly spelt out. I recall, many years later, in one of the conferences of very senior officers, a senior General asked the Chief of the Army Staff specifically about this issue (why a clear-cut directive had not been issued to the Army for Operation Pawan). The Chief replied, “Do you think we had a Churchill in the Cabinet?”
It is true that LTTE had to be subdued for reasons which have been well articulated over the years. But the thoughtless and unplanned manner of dispatching troops to a foreign country, without any preparation and not backed up by solid diplomacy, had grave and far reaching consequences for the country. It is understood that Rajiv Gandhi had not even consulted his foreign policy honcho, Natwar Singh, before ordering Indian Army into the island. Indian Army spilled huge blood for nothing.
In Kashmir, Rajiv Gandhi was taken for a ride by Farooq Abdullah. Having experienced life without power after the coup carried out by his own brother in law, Gulam Mohammad Shah, (Gula Shah), Farooq Abdullah now started mending fences with the centre (whom it had opposed tooth and nail) by making use of his friendship with Rajiv Gandhi (earlier, Gulla Shah’s government had been dismissed and Governor’s rule imposed).Vested interests too started playing their role in bringing back an unpopular government, as their sources of ill-gotten wealth in Kashmir were drying up as a result of the Governor’s rule. By then, Rajiv too had decided to bring Farooq Abdullah back to power in coalition with his own Congress party.
As a first step Rajiv eased out Mufti Mohammad Syed, who was opposed to Farooq Abdullah, from the presidentship of the state Congress party by inducting him into Central cabinet.
Farooq need not have entered into an electoral understanding with the Congress, as he would have won the elections on his own. Nevertheless, he chose to fight these elections in collaboration with Congress, as an insurance against any future challenge to his government from the centre, where Congress was in power (once bitten twice shy). Congress, on the other hand, just wanted to share power, used as it had got to its loaves and fishes! Therefore, for both, it was a marriage of convenience- a marriage between strange bed fellows. In due course, this coalition had a serious fall-out, particularly for the Congress. Being part of the ruling alliance with NC, the entire opposition space was filled-in by the sectarian forces. Besides, being a junior partner of NC, without much power, Congress could not retain its support base, as the Congress cadres were too enjoying the power and pelf that comes with wielding power. Farooq Abdullah shrewdly exploited this disgruntled state of Congress workers to poach on its cadres, and in due course of time, got party’s influence almost wiped out from the state.
It was in these circumstances that the 1987 state assembly elections were held. Though the two leaders, namely Farooq Abdullah and Rajiv Gandhi had entered into an electoral alliance, it did not get translated into a joint working arrangement at the grass-roots level. Not too long-ago, NC workers had burnt the Congress office and indulged in subversive activities on the bidding of the same leaders who were now singing paeans to the alliance. Therefore, the disgruntled elements joined hands with sectarian forces to form a new alliance, called Muslim United Front (MUF).
The Front comprised of Jammat-e-Islami (JeI), as its main component, besides People’s Party, Itehad-ul-Muslimeen, Awami Action Committee, a breakaway faction of National Conference led by Ghulam Mohammad Shah and some youth groups. The MUF put up a united and impressive show in the run up to the elections. This unnerved the NC-Congress combine. It is now generally accepted that the MUF would not have won more than 8–10 seats in the elections. But, being bent upon regaining power at any cost, the NC-Congress combine did not want to take any chances. It indulged in large-scale electoral malpractices.It used police and other organs of the administration to contrive the results, beating and humiliating its opponents in the process.
It would be worthwhile to examine the election process in one such constituency in some detail, as the allegations of electoral malpractices indulged in by the officials on the orders of NC leaders, and widely believed to be true, had a far-reaching effect on the developing situation in the valley. Mohammad Yousuf Shah, who had been appointed Amir of the Srinagar district of Jammat e Islami in 1986, was the candidate of the MUF from Amira Kadal constituency. His campaign managers were Yasin Malik, Javed Mir, Ashfaq Majid, Abdul Hamid Sheikh and Aijaz Dar. The NC candidate was Ghulam Mohi-ud-din Shah, a close relative of Farooq Abdullah. It is widely believed that the actual counting of votes that took place in Degree College Bemina, clearly established the MUF candidate to have won the election. However, when the results were announced, Ghulam Mohi-ud-din Shah was declared as the winner.
People were shocked and the naked undoing of people’s verdict resulted in wide-spread and sullen resentment. Some of the youngsters got terribly infuriated and vowed to avenge the humiliation. One of those was Aijaz Dar, who was thrown out of the counting centre by the police and the NC candidate. He was so incensed that he shouted right outside the counting hall that he would shoot Farooq Abdullah and other NC leaders, as well as other top police and civil officers. As things turned out, Dar was killed in a police ‘encounter’ sometime later. Mohamad Yousuf Shah, along with all his polling agents, was arrested and imprisoned for nine months, during which he was allegedly tortured and humiliated. This particular act by the Congress-NC alliance is considered to be a turning point in the modern history of Kashmir and the single biggest reason for the turmoil that engulfed the Valley soon thereafter and continues to the present day. Today we know Mohammad Yusuf Shah as Syed Sallah ud Din.
It will be pertinent to narrate an incident that took place during Rajiv Gandhi’s penultimate visit to Srinagar after the Rajiv-Farooq Accord of Nov 1986 was signed.While travelling together from Chhatabal, Farooq Abdullah and Rajiv Gandhi had just crossed Chotta Bazar and had gone past Hari Halwai’s shop towards Tanki Pora after crossing Kani Kadal (bridge), when they noticed a crowd having gathered there (The crowd had actually gathered as the road was full of snow and it was snowing too. As a result, here was just enough space only for a vehicle to pass). Not letting the opportunity to slip by, Farooq held Rajiv Gandhi’s hand and raising it, he said, “Yeh eik Hindu aur eik Mussalman ke beech illhaq huwa hei “(This is an agreement reached between a Hindu and a Muslim). Rajiv immediately turned towards Farooq and said loudly, “Mein Kaun sa Hindu hoon” (I am no Hindu). Farooq replied, “Thodi der ke liye to ban Jao” (Become one for a brief while). The incident was telecast later in the evening by the only TV channel available those days, Doordarshan.
Rajiv is also known for having taken a U-turn on an important issue, known as the Shah Bano case. A poor, 60-year old Muslim woman with five children had approached a court with the plea that her husband should pay her Rs. 200/month for supporting herself and her children after her husband, a lawyer, had uttered Talaq three times and had consequently deserted her. After both the High Court and Supreme Court had ruled in favor of the woman, there were huge demonstrations held by the Muslims led by conservative clergy. Rajiv was unnerved by these demonstrations and passed a new legislation to overrule the court. This legislation (The Muslim Women-Protection of Rights on Divorce, Act 1986) took away the basic rights of Muslim women in India. Through this action, Rajiv dealt a deathly blow to the dignity of Muslim women just to appease the vote bank held captive by the conservative Muslim clergy.
He went further on this appeasement path by also banning Salman Rushdie's classic work - Satanic Verses. Believe it or not, he did this even before any Islamic nation had done so. Such acts created a reaction among the progressive opinion and to douse it, he opened the gates of Babri Masjid and permitted some construction near the Masjid, eventually leading to the present state of confrontation between the two communities, which could otherwise have been resolved amicably.
Bofors scandal too besmirched Rajiv Gandhi’s name for which he paid a heavy price; losing the next general election to V P Singh. In the years following this scandal, a lot of details have come into the public domain, which clearly point towards Sonia Gandhi and her Italian contacts, who allegedly fled with millions of dollars in kickbacks in India's biggest scam of the time. Whether Rajiv Gandhi had a hand in the Bofors scam or not, ‘handling such a matter of national security in a non-transparent way once again showed his greenhorn attitude’.
Rajiv showed no pangs of pain and anguish when one of the world’s most serious industrial disasters struck Union Carbide, Bhopal, the capital of Madhya Pradesh, in Dec, 1984, which claimed the lives of around 15,000 people, with over half a million people being injured by the gas, and many of them dying slowly from illnesses like lung cancer, kidney failure and liver disease over the years.
Warren Anderson, Chairman of the Union Carbide, from where the gas had leaked, had landed in Bhopal and was immediately put under detention in the factory guest room. Several reports have suggested that the government of PM Rajiv Gandhi was pressured by the US to let him go scot free. What is even worse, a special aircraft was sent from Delhi to ensure that he was flown out of Bhopal at the earliest and sent to America before any one got the whiff of it. Moti Singh, who was the Bhopal collector at the time of the disaster, later said, “Anderson managed to get away by using a phone in the room where he was detained to contact persons in the US.” Swaraj Puri, Bhopal's Superintendent of Police in 1984, claimed that Anderson was arrested on a written order and released on an oral order. "We arrested him on the basis of a written order but released him on an oral order," Puri told the Union Carbide Toxic Gas Leakage Enquiry Commission. He added that the oral order came "from higher-ups". Warren Anderson never returned to face the trial for the murder of so many people.
Nothing has or will damage India more in future than when Rajiv's party presided over the biggest pogrom in India's history; massacre of over 8000 Sikhs, mostly in the national capital as a vengeance for the assassination of his mother - Indira Gandhi. This gave rise to a chain reaction which led to further killings and took Punjab, a most progressive state, back by decades. Rajiv and Congress was complicit in this massacre of unarmed Sikhs and what is worse, in the years to come, the party ensured that none of the accused were brought to justice. In fact, one of those allegedly accused of leading the murderous mobs is one of their Chief Ministers.
A couple of days back Prime Minister Modi, during electioneering in the ongoing general elections, levelled a serious allegation against Rajiv Gandhi, wherein the former mentioned that the latter had used INS Virat for spending his holidays in Andaman/Nicobar Islands during the new year in 1987.The story goes something like this:
The Lakshadweep Archipelago consists of 30 islands of which Bangaram is one; an uninhabited island, covering a mere half a sq km. The Indian Navy's aircraft carrier, INS Virat picked up the holiday-goers, consisting of the PM Rajiv Gandhi, his entire family, friends of his children and members of his in-laws from Mangalore and sailed to Karavatti, the capital of the Lakshwadeep Islands. The 24 holiday-goers included 6 Italian nationals ( a total of 8 foreigners), 2 unknown foreigners, 14 Indians (including Sonia who had surrendered Italian passport 5 years earlier). The list included: the PM, his Italian-born wife and 2 children, 4 friends of Rahul & Priyanka, Sonia's sister, husband and daughter, Sonia's widowed mother, Sonia's brother, Sonia's maternal uncle, Amitabh Bachchan's wife & their 2 kids, his brother Ajitabh's daughter, wife and daughter of Birendra Singh, brother of former Union Minister, Arun Singh. All of them on a joy-ride, not on a luxury liner, but on the Indian Navy's aircraft carrier- the pride of our forces.
Incidentally, the Aircraft carrier is not an ordinary war ship. It is a warship that serves as a seagoing airbase. A capital ship, heading a Carrier Battle Group, requiring exceptional protection for itself. A vulnerable aircraft carrier is a useless white elephant. The security for an aircraft carrier is a layered, which ensures its in-depth protection against all conceivable threats at sea. Its outer-most layer of protection consists of aircraft on airborne early warning, surveillance and air defence tasks. The next layer contains anti-submarine patrols by ships as well as specialized aircraft / helicopters. Another layer of destroyers and frigates, specifically for anti-air, anti-missile and anti-submarine tasks forms the next layer to be followed by the inner-most, close-in-defence by the systems on the carrier itself. In this case, a submarine was rumored to be lurking around too.
Bangaram is an uninhabited island. Therefore, everything was set-up from a scratch. An Administration helicopter ferried all requirements to the party, with ‘The Society for the Promotion of Recreation, Tourism and Water Sports (SPORTS)’, a wing of the Lakshadweep administration at their service. A temporary farm with 100 chickens was set-up with two cooks working full-time, under the personal supervision of the Gandhi's personal cook. Crates of liquor were brought from New Delhi, cold drinks and drinking water was supplied from Karavatti. As would be evident, virtually the entire State machinery was exploited and security compromised. After the vacation, the group dispersed separately, with Rahul and Rajiv going back from Karavatti to Mangalore on the INS Virat. This raises several questions and reveals why the GandhiParivaar, feels that the country owes it to them to take care of all their needs.
Yesterday, Admiral Ramdoss and Admiral Pasricha have refuted the PM’s allegations. However, let me add my two cents. Admiral Ramdoss, who at that time was FoC in C of the Eastern Fleet and under whose operational jurisdiction this trip was planned, was later political advisor to AAP, an unabashed Pakistan supporter, a prominent member of the candle light march brigade, whose daughter is married to a Pakistani and who himself is alleged to be on the pay roll of Ford Foundation, a CIA front. As far as Pasricha is concerned, you don’t expect a thief to prove his own guilt. As the Captain of INS Virat, he needs to answer many questions. There are numerous news paper and other reports of that period now coming out into the public domain which prove that the PM’s accusations have enough weight.
Rajiv’s immature behaviour can be gauged from his conduct in Srinagar when he landed up there, while Governor Jagmohan was dealing with a serious situation created by the violent uprising in late 1988. Rather than discussing the situation created by Pakistan sponsored militants, he berated the Governor for not receiving the Dy PM, Devi Lal at the airport. It is also reported that he objected to the seating arrangement in the Raj Bhavan rather than conducting an objective assessment of the fast deteriorating situation in the valley. Jagmohan’s anguish on the happenings are contained in a letter he addressed to Rajiv Gandhi on the subject and has been published in many newspapers and also in his book, My Frozen Turbulence in Kashmir.
Rajiv Gandhi was Prime Minister of the country from 1984 to 1989. This is exactly the period during which Pakistan, along with its proxies in Kashmir, decided, planned, trained the jihadi cadres and executed Operation Topac; the operation to create insurgency in Kashmir, whose first victims were Kashmiri Pandits. END