1991 is often referred to as the year when India faced severe political and social instability due to the rise of divisive identity politics in the aftermath of the Mandal and Mandir issues. The year also marked the country facing serious economic crisis which compelled the economic transition from the statist model to the market model of economy under the newly formed minority Congress Government, headed by Narasimha Rao. Much less etched in the people’s memory is that this was also the year when the country witnessed the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi while he was seemingly on a comeback trail in the ongoing parliamentary elections. Despite being the Prime Minister of India for a full term, Rajiv Gandhi remains almost a footnote in the academic literature on Indian politics as well as in public memory. Unlike his predecessors from the family who have had an abiding presence in people’s memories and are subjects of academic references in the studies of Indian politics, there have been very few academic attempts either in the form of essays or a book to evaluate Rajiv Gandhi’s leadership, to assess the impact he could make on the politics and economy of India as the executive head.
Sifting through academic writings, Rajiv Gandhi is referred to as a reluctant ‘inheritor’ who was first made to enter politics by his mother after the death of Sanjay Gandhi and then was catapulted to Prime Ministership underlining the dynastic character of the Party. Rajiv Gandhi joined politics formally on 12 May 2011 filing his nomination from Sanjay Gandhi’s erstwhile constituency Amethi. He died on 31 may 1991. So his political/public life was only for ten years. Despite being a completely apolitical person and having no administrative experience he did remarkably well. If not for Bofors, he would probably have done much better. The Congress winning 401 out of 508 seats in the 1984 Lok Sabha election is attributed not to his leadership appeal but to the sympathy wave that swept India after his mother’s assassination. The communal nature of the Congress campaign shortly after the anti-Sikh pogrom in Delhi under his watch as the Prime Minister has been noted and often referred to. Manor (1985)* has specifically referred to the campaign speeches in which Rajiv Gandhi charged the opposition parties of being anti-national by being supportive of the Anandpur Sahib Resolution despite evidence to the contrary. He is also critiqued for going back on his promise as ‘Mr Clean’ to cleanse the Congress of corrupt elements, a promise he made in his famous speech delivered in Bombay on the occasion of the centenary celebration of the Party. He brought in his own set of people like Arun Singh, Arun Nehru and Suman Dubey—mainly liberal, upper middle class techno-savvy like him, many of them from school days/family friends having no political experience, and almost all proving ineffectual and a few like Arun Nehru even betraying him.