H C Singh

1985 to 1991

Rajiv Gandhi was in Calcutta on 31st Oct when Indira Gandhi was assassinated in the early morning by her Sikh body guards. He rushed to Delhi soon after his arrival in Delhi at 6 PM, the announcement of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s death was broadcast on AIR though she had died after being shot point blank and was brought dead to AIIMS Hospital. Immediately on his arrival Rajiv Gandhi was sworn in as PM at 6-15 PM. The mobs were already killing Sikhs as the news of Indira Gandhi’s death had already been announced by foreign radio channels.

No doubt, and it is natural, that Rajiv Gandhi was shocked and pained to see the dead body of his mother. But as the riots had already started in Delhi, particularly in settlement colonies of Sikhs and elsewhere. Instead of condemning or remaining silent about riots to mourn the untimely and violent death of his mother, on hearing about violence against Sikhs in the capital he issued a statement ‘When a big Tree falls the earth shakes’ .
This statement by Rajiv Gandhi, newly appointed PM not only condoned the killing of Sikhs by hooligans led by congress leaders and workers but encouraged them to go ahead and do as much killing of Sikhs (in revenge of his mother’s death) as possible.

The inhuman atrocities against thousands of Sikhs continued for four days and nights. Their houses and shops were looted and burnt. Neither Prime Minister nor Home Minister. Narsimaharao called even one day after riots, the Army from Delhi Cantonment to control the mobs and curb violence. This was a blemish on otherwise clean image of Rajiv Gandhi’s who had become PM as well as on Home Minister Narsimaha rao and President Zail Singh.

The Police indifference (towards anti Sikh rioters and hooligans) was shocking, the role played by Congress politicians positively immoral. But the lapse that signaled more than all others was the unwillingness (of the government) to call in the army.

This clearly shows that the Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, in particular, and Home Minister who was just a stooge of PM, wanted and condoned the anti- Sikh riots to continue till the Congress politicians who led the riots are exhausted and till the devastation (by Fall of a Big Tree as said by Rajiv Gandhi) was complete to his and Congress hooligans satisfaction. Govt of India was fully responsible because even the police in the Capital was not only ineffective but in many cases active instigator of anti-Sikh riots.

Already details about atrocities on Sikhs, as commented by eminent writers, lawyers and journalists have been given in the aftermath of assassination of Indira Gandhi which are more authentic then these by a writer or journalists who may be prejudiced against Sikhs and Akali’s or against Congress and Rajiv Gandhi.

Now it is important to examine the reign of Rajiv Gandhi as PM ie what he did, what he undid, what he achieved and what he failed to achieve. Also which of his acts were praiseworthy and which condemnable.

After sweeping the elections of 1984, by punishing the entire Sikh Community for the unfortunate act of two Sikh body guards in assassinating P.M. Indira Gandhi who had got the Indian Army to attack Golden Temple, the holiest of Sikh shrines. Rajiv Gandhi thought of acting as a Prime Minister of India to impress and win the people of whole of India including the Sikhs who had been wronged. His first important act was to sign an accord with a Sikh saint Langowal, even agreeing to transfer Chandigarh to Punjab within a specific period. Akali’s in particular and Sikhs in general considered it an eyewash as Langowal was not an important leader nor he had gone to jail during emergency nor protested against Killing in cold blood of tens of thousands of Sikh under Indira Gandhi’s regime as well as Rajiv Gandhi’s Prime Ministership. Instead Langowal started touring Punjab and speaking in Gurdwaras and public meetings to support his accord with Rajiv Gandhi. But within a month of the accord while addressing a congregation at Sangrur he was shot dead on 20th August 1985 by two Sikhs for betraying the cause of Sikhs, Sikh religion. Akali Dal, however, went ahead with assembly elections in September and won a thumping majority against the Congress in Punjab for the first time. As the Akali’s became the rulers of Punjab, they quietly started working as a ruling party without any hostility towards Hindus of Punjab or Central Government.

Inspite of Langowal’s assassination by resentful Sikhs, Rajiv Gandhi’s went ahead with another agreement to reconcile with the turbulent, All Assam Students Union. Both parties agreed to date of infiltration to the effect that those who had come to Assam after 1st January 1966 but before 25 March 1971 would be allowed to stay but without right to vote. Those who infiltrated after 1971 would be identified and deported. To pacify the Assamese, Presidents rule was evoked and way paved for fresh elections. Here, too, when election results of December 1985 election were announced the Assam Gana Prashid (AGP) won overwhelming majority trouncing the Congress. The prominent Congress lost Republic of India won, same slogan and same expression about loss to Congress as in Punjab- losing two state governments in short spun of six months.

Here one must give credit to Rajiv Gandhi for signing one accord after another. After another six months, in June 1986, a peace agreement was signed with Mizo militants who agreed to lay down arms, in response to Rajiv governments agreement to grant complete amnesty to these rebels and in addition grant of full statehood to Mizos as they had been demanding and fighting for during last decade or more. Thus Laldenga took over as Chief Minister replacing the Congress C.M. Thus though Rajiv Gandhi got acclaim for accord, Congress lost another state.

Another test of Rajiv Gandhi’s determination and popularity came in Shah Bano case. Here Rajiv Gandhi succunbed to political pressure and relented despite Supreme Court Verdict that Shah Bano’s ex husband MA Khan should pay maintenance allowance to his divorced wife Shah Bano, Rs 179-20 P per month as recommended by High Court. Supreme Court even suggested common Civil Code so that Muslims became part of the Indian mainstream without distinction. But Muslim clerics Mullahas and other Religions Chiefs objected to Supreme Courts general remarks about common Civil Code for all including Muslims. The religious leaders who had enjoyed extra ordinary powers and jurisdiction over Muslims could not bear the limitation of their rights to decide the fate of Muslims as if they were the courts. So there was agitation by Muslims led by clerics and Muslims.

After a couple of months a Muslim MP G.M. Banatwala moved a resolution in the Parliament seeking exemption of Muslims from the purview of Muslims from section 125 of the constitution which provided that if there was conflict between Civil Code and Muslim personal law, section 125 will override. The move of Banatwala was opposed in Parliament by another Muslim, Arif Mohammed Khan who was progressive and was Minister of State Home Affairs, quoting Moulana Azad, renowned nationalist Muslim , associate of Mahatma Gandhi and Pandit Nehru. The Muslim clergy compelled Shah Bano to affix thumb impression on a statement prepared by orthodox clergy on Nov 15 that she was opposed to the Supreme Court verdict and would follow Muslim personal law. As congress due to S.C. Verdict on Shah Bano case and Congress Minister’s support last many by elections in Muslim majority constituencies, so Rajiv Gandhi and his government scubmbed to the pressure and allowed Muslim Women’s bill in Parliament which was against the verdict of Supreme court Judgment. As a consequence, Arif Mohd Khan a minister who had supported S.C. Judgment in Parliament despite Muslim Clergy’s annoyance, resigned saying in an interview that ‘Indian Muslim Women will be the only women to be denied maintenance anywhere in the world’.

As Congress had 400 MP’s in Parliament, it was the golden opportunity for making Common Civil Code applicable to Muslim women particularly clause about maintenance to divorced women, particularly when a Muslim Minister was supporting S.C. Verdict. But Rajiv Gandhi lacked courage and consistency so he bowed before Muslim Clergy pressure and retracted because of political repercussions.

The failures of Rajiv Gandhi and his government had commenced with Shah Bano case. Now he wanted to try to please Hindus so that congress does not lose Hindu Vote. Thus for Rajiv Gandhi ‘Vote Bank Politics’ which was side-lined for a few years, got priority over political justice, consistency and impartiality. In February 86 , after 8 months of Shah Bano fiasco, District judge of Faizabad (under which Ayodhya falls) passed orders on a petetion by VISHWA Hindu Pareshad (VHP) to allow worship by Hindus at a place in so called Babri Masjid where Hindu diety Ram was born, ordered the opening of locks to permit worship by Hindus. “The order was widely believed to have been directed from Delhi, from the Prime Minister’s office, no less”.

In conclusion Shah Bano Case revived Muslim militancy and fundamentalism and likewise opening of locks of Babri Masjid part for Worship of Ram idol by Hindus led to revival of Hindu militancy. It was unfortunate that Rajiv Gandhi did not or could not think of consequences of allowing genocide of Sikhs for four days and nights in November 84 and then in the Shah Bano case scumbing to Muslim pressure and going against the judgment of Supreme Court and finally allowing the opening of locks of part of Babri Masjid- All the three decisions or indecisions were for ensuring votes for Congress and/ or to avoid loss of votes.

On economic front Rajiv Gandhi had first shown boldness then softness. Pandit Nehru’s policy of socialist pattern of society and nationalization of industries had resulted into License Raj or ‘Inspector Raj’ which led to large scale corruption though Inspectors of various departments like Income Tax, Industries, Rationing and even Police. To mitigate the evil of licensing and ‘Inspector Raj’ certain industries like machine tools textiles and computers were exempted from licenses. Besides there was reduction in the rate of corporate taxes and even personal income taxes which resulted in increase in production as well as trade. In Feb 85, Rajiv Gandhi himself said that Indian economy was ‘caught in a vicious circle of creating more and more controls. Controls really lead to all the corruption, all the delays and that is what we want to cut out’.

Decontrol of certain manufacturing industries led to phenomenal increase in production and sale. For instance, in 1984-85 the Sale of Scooters and Motorcycles increased by 25 percent while that of cars by 52 percent. Also more shopping centers and restaurants were visible in every town particularly in Delhi and Bombay. Market Capitalization grew remarkably well, from “Rs 68 billion in 1980 to Rs 550 billion in 1989. Almost all companies grew, some fast, some very fast. Most remarkable growth was of Reliance Industries. Its growth was unprecedented not only in India but throughout the world. In 1980’s Reliance Industry (founded by Dhirubhai Ambani, an ordinary Petrol Pump attendant in Aden a decade or so back), grew at the rate of 6% per annum, its sales at more than 30% per year and its profit at almost 50%. No doubt Reliance Industries unprecedented growth, besides Ambani’s innovations and determination was also due to his skillful relations with political party in power as well as the concerned bureaucrats, just as other large business houses like that of Birla, Dalmia and Tata in particular had right from the beginning.

Despite unprecedented Industrial growth as outlined above, though middle class and upper class Indian benefited a lot, the 40% or so people below poverty line continued to starve and suffer. Many starvation deaths were reported from Orissa’s tribal area and in many other states, poor continued to suffer from malnutrition. Failure of monsoon affected not less than 20 crore people , their cattle starved and died, their land was scattered with car-cases of cattle everywhere visible in their fields and farms and even in adjoining jungles, which, too, had gone dry because of no rain during the season.

As the Rajiv Government ha d become weak and progressively ineffective, the commendable agreements initiated by Rajiv in 1985-86 came down crumbling. The Punjab accord with Longowal having failed as Akali’s considered Longowal a traitor of Sikhs and Rajiv Gandhi did not implement the time-bound transfer of Chandigarh to Punjab. In addition further atrocities were committed on Sikhs to flush out terrorists particularly in Villages, by the Punjab Police under KPS Gill the new DG appointed in 1986 by Central Government. In 1988, a group of militants, demanding Khalistan, were holed up in proper Golden Temple (Sanctum Sanatorium), were not fired at but were arrested after two days of Police encirclement, without a fight from either side unlike the operation Blue Star of June 1984.

In July 1987, Sri Lanka’s then President Jayawardhane persuaded PM Rajiv Ghandhi to sign an agreement for sending Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) to fight to disarm or eliminate LTTE for the sake of Sir Lanka’s unity and also Sir Lanka’s Friendship with “big brother” India. India’s PM Rajiv Gandhi, who had been a pilot all these years with no liking or experience in politics could not understand the intricacies of such an agreement which was meant to fight against Tamils of Sri Lanka who have been fighting with Sri Lankan Army and government since independence of Sri Lanka, for seperation or full autonomy for areas occupied and administered by Sri Lanka Tamils. So India’s young, PM Rajiv Gandhi was trapped into signing an anti-Tamil agreement.

It is well known that India lost many soldiers in this uncalled for attack on LTTE i.e Sri Lankan Tamils. Now the figures of dead and wounded IPKF soldiers in hostile terrain of Sri Lanka speak more vehemently. IPKF lost more than 1500 soldiers and more than 2000 were wounded most of them maimed forever though it is not clear or said whether any soldier of Sri Lankan Army was killed or wounded during July 1987 to the time of withdrawal or return to India of the lost Indian soldier in January 1990. It is well known that IPKF expedition commenced without any preparation or knowledge about the exact LTTE occupied area. Thus in July 1987 the air dropping of a unit (of Sikh Regiment from Poona) and dropping one by one in the hostile area. As a result all the soldiers were shot and killed in the air by LTTE insurgents without touching the LTTE occupied territory. This was most inauspicious and unfortunate beginning of this uncalled for operation. Only one soldier named Gora Singh who was wounded but alive and had seen all the soldiers of his own regiment. LTTE celebrated this victory as they had not only killed the brave Indian soldiers but had seized all their arms.

Another unfortunate happening is that while the IPKF was fighting LTTE the Sri Lankan President Jayawardhane who had signed agreement with Indian PM Rajiv Gandhi had lost and new President Ranasingle Premadas, in June 89 demanded the IPKF’s withdrawal.

Worst of all when IPKF did not withdraw immediately “he provided arms and ammunition to LTTE to take the IPKF. What a betrayal and what a shame”. Before the IPKF withdrew it was accused of killing large number of LTTE as well as civilians, mainly Tamils in the war that earned the IPKF the derisive name- “Innocent People Killing Force”.

Sending of IPKF to fight LTTE Tamils of Indian origin cost India the life of its Prime Minister; who was assasinated in 1991 while campaigning for mid-term elections, by the suicide bomb she was carrying at the instance of LTTE and Prabhakran who had not forgotten or forgiven Rajiv Gandhi for sending Indian Army to fight against LTTE Tamils.

There were serious charges that Rajiv Gandhi and his government were involved in commission of more than Rs 60 lakh in the purchase of BOFOR guns. This news was broadcast by Swedish radio in April 1987. The opposition has since been charging the government with corruption on this account with a view to defame the Congress and its government. Opposition demanded the names of the persons/ officials who received the kick-backs but government kept silence, which Press and opposition highlighted that middlemen were somehow linked with Prime Minister and Italian Quotrochi.

Even Rajiv Gandhi’s visit to China in early 89 being India’s first PM to visit Beijing in more than 30 years was considered unfortunate as he had ceded ground on Tibet in exchange, China promised not to assist insurgents in India’s North East. Further in march of the same year Rajiv Gandhi reversed the financial and industrial policy he outlined on his beaming PM. Increase in taxes on consumer products that were durable and surcharge on hotel booking. During Rajiv Gandhi’s regime external debt had increased abnormally to 70 billion of which 30% India owed to private creditors. Foreign Exchange resources were left for only one two weeks. As the press was vociferous about BOFOR kick bocks, a bill to curb the freedom of press was introduced with a provision to send editors and publishers to jail on criminal charges if they persisted on unsubstantiated imputations.

Thus Rajiv Gandhi’s regime started with the genocide of thousands of Sikhs for four days and nights and it is unfortunate that his congress regime ended with his assassination by LTTE agents sent by Prabhakaran because Rajiv Gandhi had sent IPKF to help Sri Lankan Government in eliminating Sri Lanka Tamils fighting against Sri Lankan Army. As a result several thousand LTTE militants and civilian Tamils lost their lives. Still it is with heavy heart that entire India felt the cruel and untimely assassination of Rajiv Gandhi in prime of his youth.

August 28, 2009 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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