Monday, August 4, 2008

Rajiv Gandhi: Enhanced by Publicity and Imagination

Of India's Prime Ministers so far, Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi stand out as clear giants in the line-up. In terms of contributions to the Indian nation and popularity no one but Mahatma Gandhi can match Jawaharlal Nehru. Indira Gandhi was a great leader as well, immensely popular and able to take tough decisions that shaped the history of the subcontinent.

After Nehru and Indira, no one stands out quite as much in the line-up of Prime Ministers. Three significant leaders are Rajiv Gandhi, P. V. Narasimha Rao and Atal Behari Vajpayee. Lal Bahadur Shastri didn't have enough years in office and Morarji Desai was too stymied by politics. The others are small by comparison.

Among the three, the tallest leader is P. V. Narasimha Rao, who was the real architect of the economic reforms of 1991. The real challenge at that time was political and Rao provided Manmohan Singh with a shield that allowed him to complete the reforms unhindered.

However, Rajiv Gandhi's public image has been raised much higher than that of Rao and Vajpayee. This has been done by his family members and Family sycophants in the Congress party. He has a samadhi. An international airport, national medals and various institutions have been named after him. The Family jealously guards such "naming assets", ensuring that to the extent possible no assets are named after non-family members.

Rajiv Gandhi has a samadhi near that of Mahatma Gandhi. It is interesting to see what other samadhis are in the vicinity. Mahatma Gandhi (Raj Ghat), Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi, Sanjay Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi and Lal Bahadur Shastri have samadhis in the same location. Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru and Lal Bahadur Shastri have obvious claim to samadhis here. Indira Gandhi is borderline: although she was a great prime minister, one wonders whether she should be placed in the same category as these three stalwarts. The others are completely out of place; this area is not the Family's personal space. Sanjay Gandhi was the nation's prime thug; his samadhi has no business there. Rajiv Gandhi did some good but is nowhere near worthy enough to merit a samadhi here.

In Hyderabad, the Family made certain through its extraordinary hold on the central government that N. T. Rama Rao's name was not applied to Begumpet airport. Instead, it was named the Rajiv Gandhi airport.

Now Rajiv Gandhi was a great prime minister and diplomat in his own right. However, the homage the nation paid to him is simply not commensurate with his standing. The Family's tendency to hijack the naming of national institutions for themselves must stop.

No comments: