Late Shri Rajiv Gandhi, our beloved Prime Minister, was assassinated on the night of May 21,1991 at Sriprembudur, about forty miles from Madras. A “human bomb” was used for the tragic purpose. An RDX plastic bomb was tied to the waist of “Subha” the assassin, and the member of suicide squad, probably of LITTE. She entered the line of those waiting to garland Rajavji. As she approached him, she bowed down and the bomb exploded killing Rajiv and 18 others. It was a horrendous murder which cut short the career of one who was in the prime of life. He had a brilliant career, and it was hope in times to come. The lightening suddenly struck the country and this brilliant young man was no more. It was a bolt from the blue. Rajiv Gandhi was known for his charismatic smile, but now that smile was gone for ever. He was full of self-confidence, optimism and zest of life, but now all that was a matter of the past.
India wept and all the world wept with her. Messages of condolence poured from the world over. Dignitaries from over sixty counties were present at his funeral. The crowds which accompanied the procession on which stood on both side of the road were unprecedented. Grief and bewilderment were writ large on every face. Many sobbed or wept bitterly as the cortège passed as Rahul Gandhi lit the funeral pyre. The nation was dazed, the light that had shown the way was no more. Mrs. Sonia Gandhi bore the tragedy with philosophic calm and self-control, Priyanka and Rahul consoled their mother and supervised the requisite arrangements.
Rajiv’s horrendous assassination – horrible would be too weak a word to describe the tragedy- was the culmination of the atmosphere of violence and hared which had been built up during the last few months prior to the tragedy. In his tragic, end, the nation has suffered a great and irreparably loss. He was the President of a Party whose roots go back to 1885. Its history is very largely the history of both the freedom movement on the foundation of the new state. Several attempts have been made to forge an alternative to the Congress. They have been fruitless. The Congress is still the largest party in the country. There is scarcely a village in our land where there is not a Congressman. The congress is the only truly national party. It has branches in almost all the State and Union Territories. Even in the Ninth Lok Sabha elections it polled more than 40 percent votes. This was twice the number of votes the undivided Janta Dal, then at the height of its power, secured. The BJP’s share of the popular vote was very much less than one-third of that of the Congress.
Rajiv Gandhi is no more. The county has been deprived of his vision, his idealism, his Charismatic appeal, his prudence and far-sightedness at a very critical time not only for India, but also for the world. He was at the peak of his vigor. He died standing on his feet in the midst of the people he loved. He had a natural way of encouraging people, of offering affection and consolation. He had that rare and genuine gift to lift his followers up and provide them inspiration and hope. His composure, and even more appealing and refreshing, was his youthful passion and engaging warmth of sprit.
His assassination is a bolt on our democracy. History has been derailed and we do not know who will put it back on th rails. Already sinister forces, domestic and foreign, are at work to destroy the Congress party and the Nehru legacy. These must be crushed if this nation is to be saved, When Mrs. Indira Gandhi was gunned down the spring went out. When she departed, we had Rajiv Gandhi to take up and carry forward her great work. Today alas !there is a vacant place which cannot be filled.
With him are gone, decency and goodness in public life. With him have gone uprightness and tolerance. Gone is the hope of modernization, of a technological and scientific revolution. Religious fanatics, narrow bigots are on the prowl and they must not be allowed to get the upper hand. In his death he will continue to fight them as he did in life. They must be overcome.
Rajiv made his mark-and acquired an international status-during the Non-aligned and Commonwealth summits, thought his quite, personal diplomatic lobbying. He won the hearts of all he came in contact with him. Behind the scenes he played a major role in making these conferences a success. All world leaders wanted to meet him. Rajiv Gandhi was at his best when a crises was round the corner. How spontaneously effective he could be was shown at a meeting of US Senators in 1982 during Mrs. Gandhi’s visit. Suddenly and without warning a Senator asked Rajiv to say a few words on how he looked at Indian problems. There was death silence. Late Mrs. Gandhi smiled and asked her son to reply. He did and won the day. His international standing remained very high. The presence of so many foreign dignitaries at his funeral is evidence of it. He was the most sought after leader, even though out of office.
Rajiv Gandhi was in politics for ten years. He entered the arena of politics to help his mother after the death of Sanjay Gandhi. This ten years span, marks the rise of a 36 year old young man. Whether power came to him because of his emotional appeal of Mrs. Gandhi’s legacy, the fact remains it was Rajiv, then inexperienced in the art of politics, who traversed the route to power to become PM and yet remain popular and charming. His appearance in public would bring to a halt all work. His entry was a high watermark in India’s politics where, despite the violence and the murder of a PM, the transition of power remained smooth and peaceful. His assassination marks the end of an era in Indian politics.
He had shown, during the last eighteen months, that it was not power alone that had enabled him to remain at the head of a complex party like the Congress. He had also the resilience to withstand to loss of power with a smile. The initial outburst of exuberance, the love for special imported cars, the excursion to foreign lands gave way to political maturity in handling the affairs of the country.
In summer of 1985, the press threw questions at him in Washington, the responses of Rajiv Gandhi made very Indian proud. His smile bewitched men and women in the streets and in the capital. It is an irony that Rajiv was destined for a fate similar to that of Kennedy. These few months had made Rajiv realize that India lived beyond New Delhi. He moved smoothly from the urban, upper-middle class public school product and was transforming himself into a man of the masses. He remained as powerful and as much in control of the party as he was when at the height of power. This required more skill and authority than mere inheritance. He had acquired more skill and authority than mere inheritance. He had acquired the competence and discretion to control men and direct the party. Rajiv Gandhi had successfully come to terms with the Indian political life and emerged as a formidable challenge, supremely sure of himself.
He was the lone fighter of his party in the electoral field. And that itself proved that he had acquired the capacity to lead the party through his own labor. But what a price he had to pay. Even for a five-year term of absolute power, the cost has been too high for Rajiv Gandhi and his family. And his death may prove equally costly to the country.
The man, who had in him his grandfather’s qualities of secularism and tolerance, culture of no-violence and the dream of a stable united India, was gone. One who was trying to cool passions since the evening he acceded to power was removed from the Indian scene.