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Millennium Post

Ethically decisive as he was

It was more than three decades ago, at the end of 1982, that I met Rajiv Gandhi for the first time. I was a junior journalist those days, but the newspaper for which I used to work was the most prominent Hindi daily of the nation. Though I wasn’t as important to have asked for an appointment from Rajiv Gandhi, who was then the general secretary of the Congress party and had an overall praise to his credit for successfully managing the Asian Games in New Delhi, I still tried and luckily got one immediately.

I was to leave for eastern Europe on a fellowship for six months and wanted to meet Rajiv Gandhi without any specific reason.

It was a relaxed meeting during which Rajiv Gandhi affectionately asked me a few professional and personal questions. He did not mind  answering my silly questions like how do you feel in politics after a stint as an aviator or how did you manage the Games so well.

I still remember him mentioning about some Lee Iacocca and telling me how important it is to take quick decisions and how as a pilot he was trained to take some.

At that time I had no idea who Iacocca was and thought he must be somebody important from the aviation industry. But I couldn’t save myself from acting foolish and asked him about Lee. Rajiv Gandhi then told me that it was Lee Iacocca, who said that the speed of the boss is the speed of the team and the one thing that makes a good manager is decisiveness. This is the answer to your question on the success of the Asian Games.

Later on, while sitting in the library in a newspaper building, I found out  that Lee had revived an American corporation named Chrysler and served as its president, CEO and chairman. Lee’s parents migrated from Italy to settle down in Pennsylvania’s steel making belt. He was a famous American business man in eighties.

After hearing so much about Lee I read a book written by him titled Where Have All the Leaders Gone? His basic philosophy was, ‘start with good people, lay out the rules, communicate with your employees, motivate them and reward them and if you do all this, you can’t miss.’

Rajiv Gandhi could get merely 10 years to perform in the field of politics. He reluctantly entered into this world, but once he did, he never hesitated to take view on issues of national and international importance.

People who were of the opinion that Rajiv Gandhi had an in-built softness in his nature and will not be able to handle difficult political situations found themselves shocked the way he asked the army to immediately control the anti-Sikh riots after the assassination of Indira Gandhi and went door to door to meet the victims of the violence himself within hours after the funeral was over.

For a person, who had to enter the parliament because his brother was killed in an air crash and had to take oath as the prime minister because his mother was killed by her own security guards, politics cannot be a bed of flowers for him. For a person, who was ditched by his personal friends like Arun Nehru, Amitabh Bachchan and Arun Singh, politics cannot be a smooth dancing floor. But the lies spread by his own cabinet colleagues like Vishwanath Pratap Singh could never deviate Rajiv Gandhi from taking firm decisions in the interests of the nation.

Sri Lanka of J R Jayawardene had become a matter of deep concern for India by 1987. Thousands of Tamil refugees had entered India. International vested interests were trying to play games in the region. America’s interest in areas of broadcasting was posing a threat to India’s defence communication systems.

US Secretary of Defence Caspar Weinberger and Lieutenant General Vernon A Walters were  visiting Sri Lanka so often that international diplomatic circles were abuzz with several talks. Sri Lankan government was purchasing European and Chinese hardware in a big way. There were reports that Sri Lankan government had hired a Channel Island based mercenary company to train its special task force under the command of Jayawardene’s son Ravi. Indian diplomatic circles were getting information about Israeli Shin Bet operatives training Sri Lankan troops, Pakistan’s special service group assisting Sri Lankan commandos under Brigadier Tariq Muhammad and South African mercenaries giving training to Sri Lankan Air Force pilots. Rajiv Gandhi took no time in understanding the gravity of the situation. Jayawardene could also realise the need of Indian help in tackling the civil war. Sri Lanka signed a treaty with India in July ‘87 and Rajiv Gandhi immediately sent Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) to disarm Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam.

When I visited Jaffna in 1988, Major General A S Kalkat, the commander of IPKF, told me in detail how he is trying to play a role in assisting the democratic implementation of the Accord and preparing the ground for elections in the northern and eastern part of Sri Lanka. With the efforts of IPKF, conditions were created that an election could be held in October-November 1988 in Sri Lanka.

In November 1988, hundreds of armed militants of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam landed in Maldives captured the capital town of Male. Their allies had infiltrated Maldives and began taking over the government. Within hours of getting a request from Gayoom, Rajiv Gandhi sent his troops to Maldives. His speedy action could restore the Maldivian government.

I also remember Rajiv Gandhi’s annual press conference in New Delhi’s Vigyan Bhavan in 1987. At that time, a Pakistani journalist raised his hand and told him that what you are saying is quite different than what your foreign secretary told us.

Without even looking at Foreign secretary A P Venkateshwaran, who was sitting in the front row, Rajiv Gandhi replied, ‘if what you say is true, you will soon find a new foreign secretary’. After inquiring about the facts, the foreign secretary was made to resign the same evening.

There were people who played a mischievous role in spoiling relations between Rajiv Gandhi and Gyani Zail Singh. President Singh became totally against Gandhi and started sending feelers to several senior Congress leaders to explore the possibilities of a so-called national government replacing Rajiv. At that time, the whole atmosphere was revolving around a number of theories of political conspiracies against Rajiv Gandhi.

After 22 years of the death of Rajiv Gandhi, our political system still needs to learn the ethics he followed in his very short political life of 10 years.

The ethics are all about knowing the difference between what you have a right to do and what is right to do.

The author is a senior journalist and national secretary of the Congress Party.
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