New Delhi: Twenty five years ago today, the country lost Rajiv Gandhi, the youngest person to have occupied the office of Prime Minister, who will be remembered for his effort to usher India into the twenty first century.
Rajiv Gandhi had authored the technological revolution, and had stated that India had missed the Industrial Revolution but could not afford to miss the Technology Revolution.
I had the privilege of working as the Principal Information Officer of the Government of India when Rajiv Gandhi was the Prime Minister. He had taken up the office of the Prime Minister at the age of 40, and the circumstances in which he became Prime Minister following the assassination of his mother, Indira Gandhi, did not leave him embittered.
The first step he took was to engage with opposition groups in the Punjab. The Punjab accord – known as the Rajiv -Longowal Accord signed in July 1985- opened the road to peace in the state. It was followed by the Assam Accord announced on August 15, and the Mizo Accord, which was signed in June 1986.
He was keen that violence should end in Sri Lanka, and concluded an accord in the hope that Tamils would be able to live with peace and dignity in the island nation. But that was not to be. Violence broke out in Sri Lanka with the Indian Peacekeeping Force forced to fight the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eeelam.
The drift in the country commenced when he reluctantly agreed to amend the law in the Shah Bano case which was against the cause of Muslim women.
Next his government was engulfed in the controversy over the Bofors gun deal, and the allegation was that someone close to him had received Rs. 94 crores for having entered the deal. The Bofors gun, by itself had proved its merit and it saved the country during the Kargil Operations.
His last two years in office saw a break being put on several initiatives that he had taken and his government lost power in 1989.
He had hoped that in the mid-term elections in 1991, the Congress would be able to regain power. Rajiv Gandhi had gone to Tamil Nadu to campaign for the Congress Party in the 1991 Lok Sabha elections, which commenced on May 20.
When Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated, it was my reluctant duty to announce the news. I said that according to the information available, the needle of suspicion pointed to the involvement of a Sri Lankan militant group. The media grilled me as to the evidence available, but I responded by saying that nothing further could be said at that stage.
Most of the television channels abroad got the coverage from Asian News International. Incidentally, my daughter Smita Prakash, who was a correspondent with the television news agency, had the opportunity to announce the story to the whole world.
Looking back, it was a wise decision to indicate the involvement of Sri Lankan militants in the assassination. There was sorrow, but it did not spark off internal disturbances. The All India Radio and the Doordarshan announced the death of Rajiv Gandhi in their midnight bulletins, but there were no follow up bulletins till six next morning. As was the practice, the Doordarshan and AIR stations had shut down at midnight. The nation had to depend on the British Broadcasting Corporation and the CNN, who continued their telecasts the whole night.
The mortal remains of Rajiv Gandhi were brought to Delhi during the early hours of May 22.
The arrangements for the cremation of his last remains were comparable to that of any Head of Government. . He was cremated on the banks of Yamuna River.
In the general elections held on June 12 and 15, there was a sympathy wave and the Congress won 226 of the 511 Lok Sabha seats. Mr. P.V. Narasimha Rao formed the next government in New Delhi.
Prime Minister Rao, in one of his interactions with me a decade later, said had Rajiv Gandhi survived and regained power, he would have led the country ably and his death was a great loss to India.
Mr. I. Ramamohan Rao is a former Principal Information Officer of the Government of India. He can be reached at [email protected] (ANI)