Rajiv Gandhi is unforgotten 20 years after his assassination | Asia| An in-depth look at news from across the continent | DW | 20.05.2011
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Rajiv Gandhi is unforgotten 20 years after his assassination

Rajiv Gandhi began his career as a pilot but was coaxed into entering politics after his brother's death. He led India's Congress party to a landslide victory in 1984, and at 40 became India's youngest PM ever.

Rajiv Gandhi was India's most popular PM

Rajiv Gandhi was India's most popular PM

"India is an old country, but a young nation. I am young and I too have a dream. I dream of India - as strong, independent, self-reliant and in the front rank of nations of the world, in the service of mankind."

These are the historic words with which Rajiv Gandhi won the hearts of the Indian people. This man with a vision went on to become the most popular Indian prime minister to date.

Reconciliation with Pakistan was high on his agenda, while his comprehensive economic reforms and focus on the IT sector made India fit for the 21st century.

Rajiv's marriage to Sonia Gandhi caused a sensation - she is now a popular politician

Rajiv's marriage to Sonia Gandhi caused a sensation - she is now a popular politician

Important family pedigree

However, Pankaj Vohra, the political editor of the Hindustan Times in New Delhi, explains that it is not only his deeds that were significant but his family pedigree.

"Rajiv Gandhi was a very simple person," he points out. "He was not a politician as such. He was the son of Indira Gandhi, arguably the most charismatic mass leader of the last century, and the grandson of another prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru. That itself gave him a very elevated status."

Born in 1944 in Mumbai, Rajiv Gandhi was a symbol of modernity. His wedding to Sonia Maino in 1968 caused a sensation – not only was she foreign, she was also a Christian.

Meanwhile, his anti-corruption and nepotism stance earned him the nickname "Mr Clean."

Rahul Gandhi is expected to become prime minister in future

Rahul Gandhi is expected to become prime minister in future

He was also a popular politician comparable to US President Barack Obama, says Mani Shankar Aiyar, a former minister from Gandhi's own ranks, able to clear tension in the air.

"He was always very self-confident and very calm. There was a determination to maintain the fundamental values of our nation. Democracy, secularism, non-alignment in the sense of an independent voice in the world, and socialism in the sense of giving priority to problems of poverty over the vain pursuit of prosperity were his fundamental principles," he says.

Promises not always met

Mr Clean he may have been but apparently not squeaky clean. When Gandhi ran for office a second time in 1989, there were rumors he had known of payments by the Swedish arms firm Bofors to members of his party. It was also said he might have accepted bribes himself.

And despite his overtures to the people and especially the poor, in the end he was not able to fight off accusations that he was not as close to ordinary Indians as he pretended. He did not fulfill his promise to combat poverty in India.

India's Congress party remains very popular despite a spate of corruption scandals

India's Congress party remains very popular despite a spate of corruption scandals

Moreover, he made many enemies when he sent peacekeeping forces to Sri Lanka to put an end to the civil war there in 1987. The 100,000 Indian troops he sent are said to have killed 20,000 Tamils.

Four years later, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam had their revenge when Gandhi was campaigning in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu. A woman bent down to touch his feet and blew herself up, killing him instantly.

Rajiv Gandhi once said that he would like to be remembered for turning a developing country into a super power. There is no doubt that he set the foundation stone for today's India. That's why he remains unforgotten – 20 years after his death.

Author: Priya Esselborn / act
Editor: Ziphora Robina

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