Remembering Rajiv Gandhi 

Omar Luther King reminisces the stalwart, Rajiv Gandhi and his political contributions, on his death anniversary.

By Omar Luther King 

As India observes the 32nd death anniversary of Rajiv Gandhi. As his childhood friend and his neighbour in New Delhi, I remember him fondly as he was a leader in the public eye, but always a true friend and a man of his words. Gandhi kept in touch with me even after he became the Prime Minister of India. His letters to me speak volumes on that.

On the fateful day of May 21, 1991, the bolt-from-the-blue tragic news of the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi came. Gandhi fell victim in the most gruesome and ghastly tragedy at Sriperumbudur near Madras where he had gone to address an election meeting. His death in a bomb explosion shocked and benumbed the entire nation. Gandhi was a trained pilot but ever since he entered Indian politics, he lived in the shadow of death. I take pride in stating that my childhood friend retained a youthful exuberance and he courageously discharged his onerous responsibilities till he breathed his last. India as a nation had reposed high hopes in the youthful and charismatic leadership of Gandhi.

Gandhi played a pivotal role in 1982 in successfully organising the Asian Games in New Delhi. He became Prime Minister at the age of 40, hours after the assassination of his mother Indira Gandhi in 1984. He had to shoulder the challenging burdens of political office whilst still coping with his grief.

By signing the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord in 1987, with a view to bringing peace to the troubled island and providing succour to the beleaguered Tamils of Sri Lanka, Rajiv Gandhi responded to the calls of neighbouring countries for assistance. In the case of the Maldives, he dispatched emergency aid to forestall the attempt to disturb the peace and tranquillity of our neighbouring country. Gandhi had a deep and abiding commitment to the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) and he played a major role in defusing tensions and promoting regional cooperation between the member countries. His visit to Beijing in December 1988 is recognized by the Chinese people and the world as a turning point in the history of our relations with the great neighbour of India.

For dealing with one of the most important problems facing the world, Gandhi will be remembered as the one who initiated the Six-Nation and Five-continent initiative on disarmament. In the warming of relations with the USA, the world cannot forget the sense of maturity that Gandhi’s premiership witnessed in the bilateral relationship with the United States. This major contribution of his, has borne continued significance that holds relevance till date. Building on strong foundations that existed then, Rajiv Gandhi signed the historic Delhi Declaration of November 1986, proclaiming to the world that Indo-Soviet friendship was a constant and abiding factor in the foreign policy parameters of both the countries and reflecting a seminal initiative towards building a non-violent world. Gandhi asserted India’s voice which was listened to with respect at the United Nations, Non Aligned Movement (NAM) and Commonwealth forums. He was instrumental in launching the Planet Protection Fund and obtaining wide endorsement of his visionary plans at both the Belgrade meet of NAM of September 1989 and The Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) at Kuala Lumpur in October 1989.

Far from his politics, I knew him closely, as a friend and a mentor. As children, Gandhi, his younger brother Sanjay Gandhi, our common friend Bunty (known to the world as Ajitabh Bachchan), the younger and the only brother of (now) actor Amitabh, and I were traveling in Delhi’s city bus, then known as DTU, Delhi Transport Undertaking, but we named it “Don’t Trust Us” because it never arrived at its scheduled time. Well, when the bus conductor came to issue us tickets, before Bunty or I could put our hand into our half-pant pockets to pull out the required coins to pay for the tickets, Rajiv Gandhi, being the eldest of us all, was too quick to pay. What a thorough gentleman Rajiv was!

In the short span of five years that he was Prime Minister, Gandhi made an unprecedented contribution. No wonder we saw the presence of world leaders from as many as 63 countries of the world at his funeral. As we preserve and protect our democratic system, we need to remember that Gandhi was the third martyr at the altar of Peace – the first two being Mahatma Gandhi, the Father of the Nation, and the second, Indira Gandhi, the mother of Rajiv.

(Omar Luther King is a Delhi based contributor at The Shillong Times) 

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