Rajiv Gandhi being assaulted by a sailor while receiving Gaurd of Honor in SriLanka. Photo credits: Sena Vidanagama, Daily News

31st October 1984: A day marked in infamy. First, the personal bodyguards of then Prime Minister Mrs Indira Gandhi shot and killed her. That these were Sikhs was not lost on her supporters who went on a bloody rampage, leaving death and destruction around them. Anyone who appeared to be a Sikh was maimed, beheaded or burnt alive, including women and children. The final official count, after calm finally prevailed, was over 3000 dead.

The country was now bereft off a Prime Minister. Even though there were quite a few competent people in the ruling party who were seen as potential Prime Ministers, the party wanted to make use of this disaster to further its political influence and decided to field a man who till then was comfortable flying an aeroplane. He was more comfortable out of the limelight than in the limelight. In the next few days, the man accepted and stepped in to become the Prime Minister of the world’s largest democracy!

Enter Rajiv Gandhi, also known as Mr Clean!! When a reporter asked him about the above mentioned carnage, his response was “When a mighty tree falls, the earth tremors.” Was this an admission of his party’s guilt? We will never know but can only surmise that it was. His first few months at the helm of the government were uneventful, in that he went about his business without much fuss. One can only imagine he was still getting a feel of the position before making a move.

In the meanwhile, an American company, Union Carbide, with its Indian offices and manufacturing plant in Bhopal had an accident that ended up costing over 16,000 lives (most dead, some disfigured and maimed for the rest of their lives). While our hearts went out to those that died, at least they didn’t have to suffer for life! Those that were disfigured and/or maimed, had now a lifetime to live in their disfigured skin. The country clamored for blood (not literally but legally). The CEO of Union Carbide, Warren Anderson, was arrested; the country thought this was the first step in bringing those responsible for this disaster to justice.

Gruesome and heartbreaking picture of an infant being buried after the Bhopal Gas Tragedy. Photo Credit: Raghu Rai

However, in a move that shocked the country (and probably the world), Mr Anderson was silently shipped out of the country and back to the US of A. How does an accused get to go free? Doesn’t happen to common people like you and I! How did Mr Anderson get to leave India without as much as a day of repentance? Was there some sort of financial exchange that benefitted the ruling party or, worse, the then Prime Minister? Whether or not there was any mutual benefit, we will never know but the reality is, no one makes such a move without some sort of quid pro quo! Blemish #1 Against Mr Clean

While most of the country was still reeling from this disaster, Mr Gandhi decided to do some good and brought in the Anti-Defection Law. Basically, this law states that anyone belonging to a political party can NOT leave that party to join another party in the middle of a term. This was good considering that was a BIG problem at the time.

Just when we thought the country was finally heading in the right direction, another event happened. Most of you might be too young to understand this event as also the ramifications. This was the Shah Bhano case. To give you a concise description, Shah Bano was an elderly muslim woman who had been divorced by her husband. A mother of 5, she sought legal help to get alimony and won her case in the Supreme Court. This should have ended right there, but some muslim politicians decided to fight this verdict, as they felt this encroached on their Muslim Personal Laws.

The parliament, in a surprising move, over-ruled the Supreme Court verdict and brought back status quo! While this might appear to many as inconsequential, this move openly belied their claim of being pro-minorities! How does one claim to be pro-minority and still get to over-rule a verdict by the country’s top court? How does one, claiming to be pro-minority, rule against women who have been left to fend for themselves, be it Muslim, Hindu, Christian or Sikh? I guess the National Organization of Women (NOW) didn’t exist at the time, or had better things to battle. In any case, this set the equality movement back a few decades. Blemish#2 Against Mr Clean.

The reader must be wondering where the scandals were, and to that I reply, Patience my dear reader. All I have mentioned above were just precursors to the now infamous Bofors scandal. Basically, a few hundred howitzers were purchased for the Indian armed forces, but with a kick-back. The now infamous name, Quattrocchi, was the middle man in this case. Was there any gain to be had, by the ruling party? While courts did clear Rajiv Gandhi of any corruption, it was evident someone had been paid off. How did the Prime Minister keep quiet while his minister(s) were being paid off? There are allegations that the money was used for intra-party activities but nothing has come off of it. In any case, this was another blemish on Mr Clean’s image. Blemish#3 Against Mr Clean

While the country was still reeling under these allegations, another scandal hit and that was the HDW scandal. HDW (a German based defense organization) had built submarines. India decided to procure some of these. In the meanwhile, Mr Gandhi changed Defense Ministers. The new minister, Mr V P Singh, discovered irregularities in the deal and brought it to the Prime Minister’s attention. Apparently there were differences between the two due to this discovery, and Mr Singh left the ministry as well as resigned from the primary membership of the ruling party. Not much else is known about this scandal. Blemish#4 Against Mr Clean

I won’t be surprised if you, dear reader, are wondering how, after all these scandals, Mr Gandhi got his title, “Mr Clean”? Good question and I don’t have an answer. However, what did transpire, after his assassination, was a cover up. Vinod Dua, a journalist and TV Host, seems to either forget these scandals or is being diplomatic in not bringing these up recently. Nice principle, Mr Dua, and the country would have been impressed had you shown the same courtesy to Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee, but you didn’t. You mentioned, after Mr Vajpayee’s death, how we should look at the whole body of work, rather than just the good things? Where did this principle vanish when you talked about Mr Rajiv Gandhi in glowing terms, when the current Prime Minister called him “Bhrastachari #1”?

The current Prime Minister has had to put up with all kinds of taunts and titles during his tenure as the Chief Minister of Gujarat as well as Prime Minister. Just in the past few months, the self-proclaimed heir apparent (SPHA) to the throne has started calling the Prime Minister of the country a thief! This, without a shred of evidence and even after the Supreme Court cleared him!

I didn’t hear Mr Dua decry this title, did you? After bearing these taunts for a long while, the prime minister, a gentleman, brought up Mr Gandhi’s eventful past, and the Prime Minister is the bad person? HOW? Every human being has a limit and so does the Prime Minister. He just reached his limits and retorted. Now, the SPHA wants the election commission to investigate this? The Prime Minister has had to put up with insults to his person, his mother, his wife and other family members. THE SPHA’s sister laughed gleefully when children were taunting the prime minister and, once the PM did respond, the family is aghast at the disrespect shown to their father!. He was not only the SPHA’s father, but also the Prime Minister to the largest democracy in the world.

Journalists and TV presenters generally are tasked with a thankless job. But Mr Dua seems to have taken his job description differently. He should understand what is good for the goose is good for the gander.

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