Winning elections, losing respect: Dear PM Modi, abusing a deceased Rajiv Gandhi is entirely against India’s ethos

PM Modi's recent remarks about the late Rajiv Gandhi shocked many. It valued cheap sensationalism over the dignity due to the deceased. This is no example to emulate.

 |  10-minute read |   21-05-2019
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Just like many Indians, I too am outraged at how our PM recently blatantly addressed Rajiv Gandhi with total contempt — I am sad that PM Modi had no qualms in dragging an assassinated Prime Minister into the electoral discourse to evoke a few snickers.

When a martyr becomes the object of scorn for our current PM, it’s not okay with me.

And it shouldn’t be okay with any Indian.

Dear PM, I understand that you called the deceased Rajiv Gandhi a 'Bharastachari No. 1' to take revenge on his son, Rahul, who has been running a ‘Chowkidar Chor Hai’ campaign against you. Neither have I appreciated, nor approved of Rahul and the Congress Party calling you a Chor — nor will I forgive you for humiliating our (and yours also) former PM Rajiv Gandhi. It was insensitive on your part.

Perhaps you have forgotten that Rajiv Gandhi was not just a Congress leader. He wasn’t just Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi’s father. He was also India’s Prime Minister, whom we lost to a terror attack. And it was India’s first ever brutal assassination of a PM by a suicide bomber. His body was blown into pieces — so were his dreams to make India a super-power. He was a martyr who died for the nation. And that is a fact that no one can manipulate.

Rajiv Gandhi didn’t become PM by choice. He was a successful professional pilot in Indian Airlines. Nor was he ready for Indian politics, neither did his wife Sonia wish him to be a part of it.

But as destiny had it, his brother’s untimely death forced him into politics — and his mother’s assassination became the reason for him to lead the country. The then-Congress party members took the decision, and he had to oblige. He owed it to them and the country. And so, he became the youngest Prime Minister of the country — at the age of 40.

rajiv-quality-time_0_051919044614.jpgOnce upon a non-political time: THe late Rajiv Gandhi and his wife, Sonia Gandhi, in a relaxed setting. (Photo: India Today)

Modi ji needs to revisit history and learn that during the 1984 election, it was the RSS that rallied round to support Rajiv Gandhi, despite being the BJP’s parent organisation. Term it sympathy or the emotions that the entire nation, including the RSS, had after Indira’s assassination — but the country awarded Rajiv Gandhi with the biggest mandate in the nation’s history, a mandate of 415 in a house of 543.

The BJP, on the other hand, just won two seats in the 1984 election.

So, I want to ask Mr Modi that if the country was so disappointed in Rajiv Gandhi or Indira Gandhi, then what led to the immense Rajiv wave and his subsequent win? Why didn’t Indira Gandhi’s assassination become a matter of glee for the nation?

In retrospect, the nation was running high on emotions. But was there ever any hate?

Or, is it something that the BJP ‘invented’?

Stranger to facts

On May 4, 2019, in a rally in Uttar Pradesh, our PM said that Rajiv Gandhi’s life ended as “Bhrashtachari No. 1”. The act is wrong for several reasons. The clearest is that it was morally reprehensible. While our PM has constantly shown his expertise at abusive oratory, making a dead person its target shows, to my mind, that he lacks ethics.

And, apart from being morally wrong, Mr Modi is factually wrong too. No charge made by VP Singh or the Janta Dal related to the Bofors case was ever proven in any court of India against Rajiv Gandhi.

narendra-modi-bow-to_051919045442.jpgShocking statement: PM Narendra Modi's 'Bhrashtachari No. 1' remark against Rajiv Gandhi appalled many. (Photo: PTI)

Then, on May 8, 2019, in an election rally in Delhi, he accused Rajiv Gandhi of using the INS Viraat as a "personal taxi". But this fakery didn’t last long as the allegation was unflinchingly denied by the Naval commanders who were on board INS Viraat at the time.

Former Chief of Navy Retired Admiral L Ramdas and Vice Admiral (retired) Vinod Pasricha have both refuted the PM’s claims. They corroborated the fact that Rajiv Gandhi went to Lakshadweep on board INS Viraat with his family in his official capacity. His relatives and friends came to Lakshadweep later, when Rajiv Gandhi’s meeting concluded.

And all this makes sense, for, as a sitting PM who, along with his family, was an SPG protectee, he couldn’t travel through common means of transport for security reasons.

Of course, he later took a vacation — but that’s not a crime. Every individual needs some time to rejuvenate. And there is nothing wrong with that. Just because Narendra Modi doesn’t go on vacations doesn’t mean that those who do can’t serve the nation any better. In the US, Donald Trump takes vacations. The former US President Barack Obama — PM Modi's good friend — took 328 vacation days in the eight years that he was in office. He also used Air Force One for his family vacations.

Back in our country, former PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee took holidays too.

viraat-india-today.j_051919045711.jpgClearing the mess: Former Naval Chief Admiral L Ramdas refuted PM Modi's claims about Rajiv Gandhi and INS Viraat. (Photo: India Today)

Now, let’s go back to 2016 when a Canadian citizen — movie star Akshay Kumar — was hosted on INS Sumitra under Modi ji’s watch. The INS Sumitra is also the presidential yacht of India. Wasn’t that a breach of security and another ‘misuse’ of a PM’s rights?

Seems like it’s time for Mr Modi to stop grandstanding and start focusing on the issues that really matter to the nation. For we voted him to bring a change, not to harbour hate.

1984, A Poll Plank the BJP Doesn’t Want To Let Go

The BJP and PM Modi have never lost an opportunity to evoke the 1984 riots. But now, plunging into crudity, Narendra Modi challenged Rahul Gandhi to win votes in Delhi, Madhya Pradesh, and Punjab, in the name of Rajiv Gandhi.

Our PM must understand that had Punjab hated Rajiv Gandhi, then the people of Punjab wouldn’t have voted for the Congress after 1984. In the last 35 years, the Congress has made its government thrice in the state. In 2017's Punjab Assembly Elections as well, the Congress scored 77 seats, and the BJP got merely 3 of them. Not Congress, it is the BJP which is struggling in Punjab.

Moreover, the Congress in Punjab has a good line up of Sikhs — as opposed to the BJP that doesn’t have a single Sikh leader in Punjab. The BJP roped in Navjot Singh Sidhu, but he left too.

In fact, I openly challenge Mr Modi to get five Sikh leaders in Punjab in his name — and let’s see how much support he receives.

Bringing in religion or the R-factor, the BJP continues to exploit Rajiv Gandhi’s infamous lines, “When a big tree falls, the ground shakes”. While I have huge respect for Rajiv Gandhi, I do not support this statement that he made right after his mother’s assassination. In my opinion, he should have been more careful with his choice of words as that was an insensitive remark.

But if you put yourself in his shoes, you would understand that these words were not of a PM — they were of a son. And they were the sentiments of a son who had just lost his mother — a mother who was shot with 33 bullets by her bodyguards.

A son’s emotions replaced a PM’s rationality, and his party had to bear the brunt decades later.

A Great Life, Ended By Hatred

Today, when Narendra Modi claims to be the father of Digital India, he forgets that it was Rajiv Gandhi who brought the digital revolution in the country with computers and technology. He computerised the railway reservation system. He lowered the voting age from 21 to 18 years. He brought the Panchayati Raj System. He brought the telecom revolution in the country. And he signed the peace accords of Assam and Mizoram.

His contributions were many. But nobody talks about them.

Still untold is an account of the large-heartedness that Rajiv Gandhi was blessed with. He was a man who cared for all, regardless of their political associations. When he was PM, he deliberately included Atal Bihari Vajpayee in an official delegation to the UN, so that he could get his kidney treated in the US. Rajiv Gandhi saved Atal ji’s life — and never boasted about it. This chapter of his life’s story is purposely hidden from the country.

Why doesn’t Mr Modi talk about this ‘misuse’ of the PM’s power that Rajiv apparently did? Maybe because it will not suit the propaganda the BJP loves to run around the Nehru-Gandhi family.

It’s true that Rajiv Gandhi made his fair share of mistakes, but we must not ignore the fact that he was a first-timer in politics at that time. He was a novice but he managed to put India on the growth path and prepare it for the 21st century. He was surely ahead of his times.

vacay_051019103849_051919050357.jpgWhat's wrong with taking a break? Rajiv Gandhi was a PM who believed in time off with family and friends. (Photo: Twitter)

On the contrary, Mr Modi had been a three-timer as Gujarat CM before becoming the country’s PM — and still, he made mistakes like demonetisation and the careless imposition of GST. So, why do we expect perfection from Rajiv Gandhi alone? The contributions he made in such a small timespan were numerous. And, had he come back to power, he would have been a much finer PM — without the mistakes.

Also, let’s not forget that Rajiv Gandhi handled the country at an extremely difficult juncture. Punjab was on the boil at that time. His immediate task was to restore peace there. And that, he did. He struggled, yet developed the nation, while simultaneously bearing the pain of losing his mother to violence.

But one thing is for sure. The BJP hated him then. It hates him even today. And his death had a lot to do with the BJP. The party backed the VP Singh government when the latter refused to provide additional security to him, even when intelligence indicated a threat to his life from both Khalistani and Sri Lankan militants. He was left with just one Personal Security Officer (PSO).

Call it a security lapse or a decision guided by disrespect — but we lost one of the biggest patriots of the nation to hatred.

The Un-Prime-Ministerial Modi

Most of Mr Modi’s remarks are not only crass but to a great extent, to my mind, “un-Prime Ministerial”. His statements bring disrespect to the high office he holds, and he continues to feign nonchalance. But the world sees it all. He has drawn harsh criticism for his statements on Rajiv Gandhi from everyone, including BJP allies like the Shiv Sena. Quite rightly so.

But note that conveniently enough, Mr Modi hasn’t unfolded the entire legacy of Rajiv Gandhi. If 1984 was a blot upon Rajiv Gandhi’s legacy, then allowing the ‘Shilanayas’ in Ayodhya and opening the locks of the Ram Mandir are his biggest contributions to Hindus — he was determined to build the Ram Mandir had he made a comeback at the centre. Meanwhile, our PM Narendra Modi is too strapped for time to visit Ayodhya in his five-year tenure.

After Rajiv’s death, Narendra Modi, LK Advani and others of their ilk tried to appropriate Rajiv’s legacy with the Ram Rath Yatra to polarise Hindus. It’s been 28 years that we lost Rajiv Gandhi, and India still awaits its Ram Mandir. 

Two generations haven’t seen Rajiv Gandhi, but with his constant vilification, Mr Modi is sowing seeds of hatred against him in the minds of the youth. I wonder, how does Modi ji’s conscience allow him to do that? Is that the best example he is setting for the youth? He needs to remember that our culture, our values do not approve of this. When he mocks a dead person, it shows his lack of empathy and his poor knowledge of Hindu culture and traditions that prohibit criticising or speaking ill of the dead.

modi-roadshow-reuter_051919051303.jpgRajiv Gandhi was determined to bring a Ram Mandir. 'Hindu Hriday Samrat' PM Modi has yet to visit the site. (Photo: Reuters)

It’s understandable that being a politician, he can slam the opposition. But in this manner? More so, when you call yourself one of the biggest nationalists ever.

A true nationalist would never have mocked another.

Perhaps the air of triumphalism around Mr Modi has blurred his vision. There’s a good chance that he will secure a second term. But power doesn’t necessarily mean respect.

He may win. But he has lost respect.

Also read: A Viraat Row: No, Rajiv Gandhi didn't treat INS Viraat as his private taxi

Writer

Sadhavi Khosla Sadhavi Khosla @sadhavi

Entrepreneur, blogger and political analyst based in Gurgaon.

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