Rajiv Ratna Gandhi (August 20, 1944 – May 21, 1991), the eldest son of Indira and Feroze Gandhi, was the 9th Prime Minister of India (and the 3rd from the Gandhi family) from his mother’s death on 31 October 1984 until his resignation on December 2, 1989 following a general election defeat. Becoming the Prime Minister of India at the age of 40, he is the youngest person to date to hold that office.
Rajiv Gandhi worked as a professional pilot for Indian Airlines before coming into politics. He was married to Edvige Antonia Albina Maino (Sonia Gandhi)) , an Italian national he met while in college. He remained aloof from politics despite his mother being the Indian Prime Minister, and it was only following the death of his younger brother Sanjay Gandhi in 1980 that Rajiv was convinced to enter politics. Upon the assassination of his mother in 1984 due to her involvement in Operation Blue Star, Congress party leaders convinced him to become the new Prime Minister. Rajiv Gandhi led the Congress to a major election victory in 1984 soon after, amassing the largest majority in Parliament. He had the public image of being young, modern and Mr. Clean – an honest leader free of machine politics and corruption. He began dismantling the License Raj – government quotas, tariffs and permit regulations on economic activity – modernized the telecommunications industry, the education system, expanded science and technology initiatives and improved relations with the United States. He also was responsible for sending Indian troops for peace efforts in Sri Lanka, which soon ended in open conflict with the LTTE, which Rajiv refused to pullout and was withdrawn by V.P.Singh . The Bofors scandal broke his honest, corruption-free image and resulted in a major defeat for his party in the 1989 elections. He was awarded the Bharat Ratna posthumously in 1991.
Rajiv Gandhi remained the Congressional leader till the elections in 1991. He was assassinated while campaigning, by a female LTTE suicide bomber Thenmuli Rajaratnam. His Italian-born widow Sonia Gandhi became the leader of the Congress party in 1998, and led the party to victory in the 2004 elections. His son Rahul Gandhi is a member of parliament.
Early Life and Education
Rajiv Gandhi was born in India’s most famous political family. His grandfather was the Indian independence leader Jawaharlal Nehru, who would become India’s first Prime Minister after independence. Rajiv and his younger brother Sanjay were raised in Allahabad and Delhi, but suffered from the separation of their mother, who lived with Nehru to care for him, and their father Feroze Gandhi. Even as his parents were reconciled in 1958, Feroze died from a heart attack in 1959. Rajiv was educated at two highly exclusive private boarding schools for boys: at the Welham Boys’ School and The Doon School, and he later attended university in the United Kingdom, at Imperial College London, part of the University of London, and at the University of Cambridge, but he did not receive a degree. At Cambridge, he met and fell in love with an Italian student Sonia Maino. Maino’s family opposed the match, but Maino came to India to Rajiv and they married in 1969.
Gandhi began working for Indian Airlines as a professional pilot even as his mother became Prime Minister in 1966. He exhibited no interest in politics and did not live regularly with his mother in Delhi at the Prime Minister’s residence. In 1970, his wife gave birth to Rahul, his first child, and in 1972, Priyanka, his second child and only daughter. Even as Gandhi remained aloof, his younger brother Sanjay became a close advisor to their mother.
Entry into Politics
It was following his younger brother’s death in 1980 that Rajiv was pressured by Congress politicians and his mother to enter politics. Rajiv and his wife were both opposed to the idea, and Rajiv even publicly stated that he would not contest for his brother’s seat, but he finally accepted his mother’s urging and announced his candidacy for Parliament. His entry was criticized by many in the press, public and opposition political parties, who saw the role of Nehru’s dynasty intensifying in Indian politics.
Elected for Sanjay’s Lok Sabha (parliamentary) constituency of Amethi in Uttar Pradesh state in February 1981, Rajiv became an important political advisor to his mother. It was widely perceived that Indira Gandhi was grooming Rajiv for the prime minister’s job, and Rajiv soon became the president of the Youth Congress – the Congress party’s youth wing.
Rajiv was in West Bengal when Indira Gandhi was assassinated on October 31, 1984. Top Congress leaders, as well as President Zail Singh pressed Rajiv to become India’s Prime Minister, within hours of his mother’s assassination by two of her Sikh bodyguards. Some accuse him of not doing enough to stop the anti-Sikh riots which ensued, killing more than 5,000 people. Commenting on the violence, he said, “‘When a giant tree falls, the earth below shakes”. Many Congress politicians were blamed for orchestrating the violence. Assuming office, Rajiv asked President Zail Singh to dissolve Parliament and hold fresh elections, as the current Lokh Sabha had neared its five year term completion . Rajiv Gandhi also officially became the President of the Congress.
Owing largely to the feelings of sympathy in wake of Indira’s murder, the Congress party won a landslide victory – the margin of majority in Parliament was the largest in Indian history, giving Rajiv absolute control of government. Rajiv Gandhi also benefited from his youth and a general perception of being Mr. Clean, or free of a background in corrupt, machine politics. Rajiv thus revived hopes and enthusiasm amongst the Indian public for the Congress.
Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi began leading in a direction significantly different from Indira Gandhi’s socialism. He improved bilateral relations with the United States – long strained owing to Indira’s socialism and close friendship with the USSR – and expanded economic and scientific cooperation. He increased government support for science and technology and associated industries, and reduced import quotas, taxes and tariffs on technology-based industries, especially computers, airlines, defence and telecommunications. He introduced measures significantly reducing the License Raj – allowing businesses and individuals to purchase capital, consumer goods and import without red-tape and bureaucratic restrictions. In 1986, Rajiv announced a national education policy to modernize and expand higher education programs across India.Rajiv Gandhi was the founder of Jawahar Navodaya Vidyalaya System in the year 1986.
Rajiv Gandhi’s last public meeting was at Sriperumbudur on May 21, 1991, in a city close to Chennai, where he was assassinated while campaigning for the Sriperumbudur Lok Sabha Congress candidate Mrs Maragatham Chandrasekhar in Tamil Nadu.  The assassination was carried out by the LTTE suicide bomber Thenmuli Rajaratnam also known as Dhanu.