At 40, Shri Rajiv Gandhi was the youngest Prime Minister of India, perhaps even one of the youngest elected heads of Government in the world. He became the Prime Minister after the martyrdom of the then Prime Minister Smt. Indira Gandhi.
Shri Rajiv Gandhi, grandson of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, entered public life in February 1983 after the tragic death of his brother Shri Sanjay Gandhi. Rajiv ji received the biggest mandate in the nation's history in the elections to the Lok Sabha in the year 1984. In that election, the Congress got a much higher proportion of the popular vote than in the preceding seven elections and captured a record 401 seats out of 508.
Shri Rajiv Gandhi was born on August 20, 1944, in Bombay. He was just three when India became independent and his grandfather, Pandit Nehru became Prime Minister. His parents moved to New Delhi from Lucknow. His father, Feroze Gandhi, became an M.P., and earned a reputation as a fearless and hard-working Parliamentarian.
Rajiv ji’s analytical abilities, inquiring mind, freshness and vigour of approach, optimism and objectivity enabled him to get to the root of a crisis and find ways for solving some of our most tangled problems.
Hailed as the Father of IT and Telecom Revolution of India, Rajiv ji established C-DOT for designing and developing digital exchanges. This kick-started the PCO revolution and connected India to the world as millions of new telecom micro-entrepreneurs connected the grassroots through the PCOs and their own innovations. He brought in pioneers like Shri Sam Pitroda to boost India’s technology prowess. Shri Pitroda, as an Advisor to the PM, headed six technology missions related to telecommunications, water, literacy, immunisation, dairy and oil seeds.
Rajiv ji realised that Indian Railways were the lifeline of the country. It connected people across the country, and for most Indians, it also reflected what needed to change. He modernised the Railways. For crores of Indians, a computerised Railway ticket was their first interface with technology and a symbol that India was changing.
In November 1982, when India hosted the Asian Games, Shri Gandhi was entrusted with the task of getting all the work completed on time and ensuring that the Games themselves were conducted without any hitches or flaws. In fulfilling this challenging task, he first displayed his flair for quiet efficiency and smooth coordination.
As General Secretary of the Congress, he started streamlining and energising the party organisation with equal diligence. All these qualities came to the fore later in far more testing and trying times.
Rajiv ji was quick to realize the way out of poverty lay in modern science and technology. He said, 'Freedom and racism cannot co-exist. Science and poverty cannot co-exist.' He wanted Indian industry to develop to its fullest capacity. He spoke ardently about social justice. For him, equality among people was extremely important, because a society ridden with class and caste distinction was a hindrance to development.
Shri. Gandhi was a protagonist of world peace. To quote him, 'We may have made mistakes, but we have never faltered in our basic commitment to the vision of peaceful co-existence of nations guided by different philosophies of social action. What we have worked for, is to extend the concepts of democracy to the field of relationship between nations. We have been made to suffer for our stubborn independence, but we have not permitted that to bitterness or hatred.' He particularly emphasized on fostering peaceful relations with countries.
He realized the futility of spending millions on arms and ammunition, and the wild pursuit of arms race, when a huge section of the population was starving. In this respect his concerns read, 'There are fifty thousand nuclear warheads already poised to wipe out the world several times over: equivalent to three tons of TNT for every man, woman and child– one single naval task force of a big power costs more than the GNP of eighty-six countries. What madness is this that puts trillion dollars into armaments every year and leaves but a pittance for human well-being?'
He was President of the Indian National Congress, Bombay in 1985, when the party celebrated its centenary.
If he had the vision to modernise India, he also had the interest of the common man in his heart. He gave democracy at the grassroots a whole new meaning by ushering in Panchayati Raj. Though 73rdand the 74th Amendments to the Constitution were introduced after his untimely demise, it was his untiring efforts that made Panchayati Raj a reality in India.
Realising the potential of youth in a young nation, Rajiv ji gave political voice to the younger generation. 61st Amendment Act of the Constitution in 1989 was passed which lowered the voting age from 21 years to 18 years and with that one move, Rajiv ji made the country’s youth partners in the nation’s developmental and decision making process.
This bold, courageous and dynamic leader was assassinated at Sriperambudur, Tamil Nadu in May 1991 when he was busy campaigning for the Congress in Lok Sabha Elections as party President.
"As we build today so will be the tomorrow. Together we will build for an India of the twenty - first century. Together we will transform what needs transformation. Together we will face challenges and obstacles to progress. Together we will create an India that is strong, wise and great - a flame of peace and tolerance"
From the Broadcast to the Nation on 12 November 1984