Rajiv Gandhi (1984-89) would easily lead this department and those 5 years were among the most perilous periods in Indian history. While the next leading contender Indira Gandhi had her own horrors (Emergency, Bluestar, Sri Lankan terrorism) she had some positive things to redeem herself (winning 1971 war, nuclearization, ending the language crisis, ending privy purse). Rajiv’s positives were too few compared to the dangers he brought.
Here is what Rajiv did to deserve the title:
- (1984) Did little to stop : This was an event that killed many times more than the 2002 Gujarat riots and the biggest massacre in independent India. This was not something that happened in one frontier. This happened right in the middle, right in the capital, right where we have the most police resources. While the capital burned, Rajiv did little. The riots provoked a brutal Sikh reprisal that scarred India – – symbolized by the dramatic bombing of . All of this in one term.
- (1985) Managing the fallout of Bhopal tragedy. In the biggest industrial disaster in the world, Rajiv government’s response was less than ideal. He let Warren Anderson escape from India scot free.
- (1986) . In 1986, Rajiv brought one of the controversial moves that removed key rights to Muslim women at the behest of the orthodoxy. This overturned Supreme Court’s judgment. He also helped ban Salman Rushdie’s work – bringing an unwelcome attention to the book and changing the author’s life forever. Hindu orthodoxy was aghast and to appease them he opened the gates of the Babri Masjid – the first step towards bringing the structure down. At the end of this complex dance, he neither appeased the Hindus nor the Muslims.
- (1987) : If Rajiv Gandhi were India’s Kennedy then IPKF was his moment. This ill-thought out and ill-managed military involvement in the Sri Lankan civil war brought one of the biggest embarrassments to the Indian army. At the end of it, India managed to spook every party involved.
- (1987) Start of terrorism in Kashmir: A lot of Indians assume Jammu & Kashmir was always a terrorism prone one. It was not. Until 1987, it was fairly a peaceful state. In that year, the state was planning its elections and even the separatist groups were upbeat about standing in the elections. And then the Congress party rigged the elections becoming the biggest blot in India’s democratic history. . World was dismayed and the people were let down. What resulted was a brutal reprisal – Kashmir insurgency that became the single biggest terrorist movement in India. Even if the local Congress units did the rigging, he could have intervened. See how the terrorism started in J&K.
I didn’t even have to include the biggest scandal of his time – Bofors – in this. By Rajiv Gandhi standards it was nothing.
Every year he was in power, there was calamity of one kind or another. And he has equally bad to all regions – Kashmir, Punjab, Bhopal, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh – equal opportunity horror spreader.
The only region where he helped contain things a bit was in the northeast where he undid many of his mother’s policies and signed a number of peace deals. While he did a bit to open up India’s economy, it was too little compared to what the rest of the world including China was going through. This lukewarm liberalization turned India near bankrupt by the end of his term in 1989.
The tragedy is that Rajiv was not a bad person and likely had good intentions in mind. But, his inexperience at a crucial time in Indian history proved deadly for India. Many of the tragedies including the riots, rigging, banning came through his advisors & partymen, but the leader was either unaware or unwilling to act.