Short of a month before Supreme Court’s clemency for Rajiv Gandhi’s killers, on 22nd January, 2014, Vice-President of India M Hamid Ansari released a book ‘Resurgent India: Glimpses of Rajiv Gandhi’s Vision of India’ , by P.D.T Acharya, former Secretary-General, Lok Sabha. The book, launched in the presence of Minister for Petroleum and Environment Veerappa Moily, covers the short-lived but eventful political phase of Rajiv Gandhi’s life.
Rajiv Gandhi’s killing was seen as retaliation for a pact between Indian and Sri Lankan governments to disarm the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Ealam (LTTE), who had reportedly been trained by the Indian government in the early 1980s. After that pact, the LTTE fought against Indian Peacekeeping Force (IPKF) deployed to Sri Lanka by Rajiv Gandhi’s government to supervise the accord. India withdrew the IPKF after 32 months of fighting in which 1,200 India soldiers were killed.
In April 2008, nearly 17 years after a suicide bomber blew up former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, his daughter, Priyanka, was reported to have met Nalini Sriharan, one of those jailed for the murders. When this news went viral in media, Priyanka, who 19 years old at the time of her father’s killing, is reported to have stated: “Meeting with Ms. Nalini was my way of coming to peace with the violence and loss that I have experienced. I would be deeply grateful if this could be respected.” While at the behest of Sonia Gandhi, Nalini’s sentence was commuted to life imprisonment so that her young daughter would not be orphaned, the other three remain on death row.
Four chapters are preceded and followed by a prologue and an epilogue. The prologue meanders on India’s history from the Indus Valley civilization to the later part of the 20th century. The epilogue besides narrating the post 1989 political developments characterized by instability caused by the coming and going of the governments in quick succession and the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi, provides a perspective on his personality and his performance as also the implications of his death for the political future of India.
The main content of the book is an evaluation of Rajiv Gandhi’s contributions to the nation. The various accords he brought about on Punjab, Assam, Mizoram and Sri Lanka are a testimony to his sincere efforts with some achievements in finding solutions to those intractable problems. Some of Rajiv Gandhi’s major efforts and achievements were ushering in the computer age to enable the country to make a giant leap in information technology, taking telephones to the farthest corners of the country, formulating the strategy to expand the frontiers of scientific research, redefining the role of universities and trying to alleviate India’s education system from the curse of mediocrity as well as formulating legislations for the protection of environment are magnificent. He also worked at trying to establish a new equilibrium in India’s relationship with the super powers and at correcting the asymmetry in the overall foreign policy. He conducted the foreign policy with great confidence and panache.
On national security, he was yet another prime minister, apart from Mr. Lal Bahadur Shastri and his mother, Mrs. Indira Gandhi, who had Pakistan worried and eventually jitteryre member Pakistan’s over-reacting to Indian Army’s Exercise Brass Tacks, resulting in a mobilization code-named Operation Trident. On China, he deserves credit for de-freezing the relationship, visiting China in January 1989 and setting set up a joint task force to find a solution to the border issue. His party in its two tenures as part of UPA stands out for bending backwards in dealing with both these neighbours and to top it all, being responsible for disastrous degradation in defence preparedness, as it became so obvious yet again with the resignation of the Naval Chief.
The book is useful as an elaboration of Rajiv Gandhi’s political career. Members of his party will be well advised to read it.