Today is the 20th death anniversary of Rajiv Gandhi. I still remember vividly the moments I heard the news of his assasination. It was holidays. And I had been to my grandparent’s place and stayed overnight, a rare instance. We were sleeping when we heard noise on the streets in the middle of the night. We thought it was some election galatta and went back to sleep. The next morning we heard the news of his gruesome assassination. The news that some one can blow a human being and by blowing oneself up was very shocking to me. Back then, I could not even imagine such a thing could happen. The photos on the newspapers were very disturbing. I have never been disturbed by a political leader’s death before or after.
In part it was because of the nature of the assassination and in part because Rajiv was my first hero in the political space. In that impressionable age, Rajiv’s charisma was overpowering. I remember his charming smile, quick sprints to the stages, his speeches (usually translated simultaneously to Tamil by P Chidambaram) and the way in which he used to throw the garlands back to people. One such garland was to take his life in the end.
With some knowledge of history, today I could see Rajiv in a more balanced way. Still I believe he is the last mass charismatic leader we have had. I was very young when he took over. But accounts of his times show there was a sense of vitality and confidence that marked his initial years. Though his political inexperience and the reality of the political life finally caught up with him, he seemed a mature more experienced person in 1991 and was all set to come back to power.
We have had a series of uninspiring leaders since Rajiv, at the national level, an exception in some ways would be Mr. Atal Bihari Vajpayee. In my opinion, the Prime Minister of the country is not only the executive head of the state. He/She is also the leader of the nation who should serve as an inspiration, paint a vision for the nation and galvanize it to action. Dr. Abdul Kalam was an inspiring President. Unfortunately, our recent Prime Ministers remained only as political figures or temporary occupants or a bureaurcrat’s bureaucrat. We need someone like the younger Rajiv, someone with charisma, vision and action to inspire, motivate and lead. Twenty years, I am still waiting.
P.S.: A couple of days back the second anniversary of the Mullivaikal massacre was observed. Ironically, I believe Rajiv Gandhi was the best possible bet for a solution to the Srilankan problem from the India. He took genuine steps to bring peace there. His killing definitely alienated LTTE from the public opinion in India. Life is always a series of ifs and buts..but if only he had not been killed 20 years back, one never know, we may not have had the massacre 2 years back.