Rajiv Gandhi, an Indian politician and parliamentarian, was the youngest ever Prime Minister of India. The third consecutive member of his family to hold the post, Rajiv Gandhi became Prime Minister at only the age of 40 in 1984, shortly after his mother’s assassination.
Born on August 20, 1944, in Bombay, he was a mere three years of age when India attained independence. As his grandfather was sworn in as the first Prime Minister of India, his family migrated to New Delhi from Lucknow. Rajiv Gandhi spent much of his childhood with his grandfather in the Teen Murti House, where his mother was the Prime Minister’s hostess.
Despite hailing from a renowned family of freedom fighters and politicians, Rajiv Gandhi had little interest in the field himself. After completing his early education in Dehradun, he enrolled in Imperial College, London for his higher studies. During his time in London, he enrolled in a course in Mechanical Engineering.
His true passion had always been flying. Therefore, upon his return to India, he took the entrance exam for the Delhi Flying Club and passed with flying colours. He would eventually go on to obtain a commercial licence and officially become a pilot for Indian Airlines, a domestic carrier of the time.
It was the death of his brother Sanjay Gandhi in 1980 due to a plane crash that would inevitably push Rajiv into the political arena. He faced pressure from both inside the Congress Party as well as from outside forces to assist his mother, then Prime Minister, in overseeing the running of the country. Winning the by-elections held due to his Brother’s death, he became the Member of Parliament from the Amethi constituency of Uttar Pradesh.
The world tasted the true essence of his leadership for the first time during the Asian Games held in India in 1982. Rajiv Gandhi was entrusted with ensuring the timely construction of the required infrastructure, and the smooth running of the games. He took the challenge head-on and succeeded too.
It was yet another tragic event that propelled Rajiv Gandhi to the post of Prime Minister. After the vicious assassination of his mother in 1984, he was left with no choice but to follow through with the responsibility he was charged with. In a landslide victory during the elections held in 1984, the Congress Party claimed 401 out of the 508 Lok Sabha seats and Rajiv Gandhi was named the Prime Minister of India.
Rajiv Gandhi was a pragmatic leader and was known to seek counsel from other members of his party and abstained from making reckless decisions. His administration took strenuous measures to reform the government bureaucracy and liberalise the country’s economy. His stint as a political leader was short, and though he expressed his reluctance in gaining the leadership role, his work as the Prime Minister of the country proved that he too could lead the country well.
Here are 10 facts you might not know about Rajiv Gandhi:
- On 20 August every year, the birth anniversary of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi is observed as Sadbhavana Diwas or Harmony Day.
- Rajiv Gandhi went to Welham Boys’ School in Dehradun for some time but soon he was enrolled into the elite Doon School located in the foothills of the Himalayas. Later, his younger brother Sanjay Gandhi was also sent to this school where the two completed their early education together.
- Rajiv Gandhi was very enthusiastic about music. He appreciated Western and Hindustani classical and modern music. He also had a passion for listening to the radio and often indulged in photography.
- After his death, his wife, Sonia Gandhi came out with the book “Rajiv’s World: Photographs by Rajiv Gandhi”. The book has photographs clicked by Rajiv over four decades and spans categories such as nature, wildlife and portraits.
- After completing his A-levels in London, Rajiv Gandhi studied engineering at Trinity College in Cambridge. However, after studying there for three years, he did not obtain a degree. He then went on to study mechanical engineering at Imperial College London but did not complete his studies there either.
- In 1981, just a year after he made his debut into the realm of politics, Rajiv Gandhi was made the president of the Indian Youth Congress, the younger congress faction.
- Rajiv Gandhi was given the title of Mr Clean upon his entry into politics as his lack of prior association with the sector had left his image so untarnished that the opposition could seldom find something about him to criticise.
- Rajiv Gandhi was the last member of the renowned Nehru-Gandhi family to hold the position of prime minister in India.
- On May 21, 1991, while on an election campaign at Sriperumbudur near Chennai, Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated by a human bomb that killed 17 others and left 44 injured. The attack was planned by a militant group from Sri Lanka.
- He was posthumously awarded India’s highest civilian award, Bharat Ratna in 1991, by the Indian government.