There is a crucial difference between the two — Rajiv Gandhi, a scion of a political dynasty, got the job of the prime minister on a platter when his mother, Indira Gandhi, was assassinated. Modi has come up the hard way, virtually battling it out to the top position by taking on his mentor, LK Advani, within his party and the Gandhi dynasty outside.
In their varying circumstances, both won handsome victory. For thirty years after Rajiv Gandhi (Congress) won a landslide in 1984, no party had won an absolute majority on its own. We had a successive spectacle of coalition governments. Under the leadership of Narendra Modi the BJP overcame that three-decade-long jinx though it is still a part of a broader coalition.
It was a historical coincidence that both Rajiv Gandhi and Narendra Modi were accused of criminal neglect as head of the government which led to a virtual genocide – of thousands of Sikhs in Delhi in 1984 and thousands of Muslims in Gujarat in 2001. But given the political culture of India, both these gentlemen were not hauled up for crime; rather both won handsome endorsement of the people at large. Kudos to our democracy!
Having won decisive electoral victories, both Rajiv Gandhi and Narendra Modi put the controversies behind and got down to the task of delivering on their promise.
Rajiv Gandhi symbolised youthfulness (he was barely 40-year-old when he became the prime minister); his tech-savvy persona made headlines. When he made that by-now famous statement that barely 15 paisa out of a rupee reached the target groups (he said this during a visit in 1985 to the Kalahandi district of Orissa infamous for starvation deaths) and vowed to change the reality (to the effect that at least 85 paisa out of a rupee would reach the beneficiary), everyone thought that here was a saviour India was desperately looking for.
Rajiv’s technology missions held out big hopes.
His effort to put an end to unethical politics – the classical Aya Ram Gaya Ram syndrome – by enacting an Anti-Defection Law reassured that elected representatives would not sell their vote and soul in exchange for thick wads of currency notes.
Rajiv Gandhi’s secular credential came to light when he endorsed the Supreme Court’s judgement in the Shah Bano case in 1985, despite the loud protestations of the Muslim clerics.
But all the good intentions and efforts came crashing down when the Congress suffered electoral losses in several states – Kerala, West Bengal and Haryana (1985-86). Rajiv Gandhi was reminded of the virtue of realpolitik and told not to stray from the dotted lines. Rajiv fell for it and then began the downslide – the reversal of all the progressive steps.
In a clear volte face, the Rajiv Government decided to overturn the implications of the Shah Bano judgement by enacting the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Act in 1986 – an Act that, contrary to what the name suggests, subjected Muslim women to the depredations of the regressive personal law; not surprising that the Act pleased the Muslim fundamentalists.
Rajiv Gandhi’s downward slide gathered momentum with the onslaught of the Bofors scandal; he was so distraught that his government even piloted the abhorrent Defamation bill in the Lok Sabha (which was later withdrawn because of huge protest) to gag the press.
Rajiv was seen as a beacon of hope when he was swept into power in 1984; barely three years down the line, his credibility lay shattered.
Narendra Modi came to power in Delhi two years ago; he had projected an image of a doer; in the election meetings in 2014 he repeatedly announced that he just needed 100 days in power in Delhi to bring back the black money stashed abroad (so much so that Rs 15 lakh would be get deposited in every citizen’s bank account); he assured the countrymen that under his stewardship millions of jobs would be created every year so that unemployment would be history. He told us that with regard to the cleaning of the sacred Ganga he would get the job done in five years what the previous governments could not accomplish in several decades.
Here is a leader who would transform the fate of India – everyone thought. He started off well; he set up an SIT for black money on the first day of taking oath; he set up a separate ministry for Ganga rejuvenation; he fast-tracked the amendment of the Land Acquisition Act to ensure that industries get off the block fast and start generating employment.
But once the Lok Sabha election brouhaha subsided and the Modi government came face to face with the grim reality of the day-to-day administration, all the big talk appeared to be mere bluster. When the ruling BJP suffered a humiliating defeat in the Delhi state election, and a defeat in Bihar stared it in the face, even a self-proclaimed warrior like Narendra Modi developed cold feet about amending the Land Acquisition Act that the Congress government had passed in 2013 and that the BJP had labelled as anti-business.
The government could have persisted with the amended Land Acquisition Act just as it did with the Goods and Services Tax (GST). But electoral considerations came into play; even if GST is forced down the nation’s gullet, it would not lead to an electoral setback as it would not adversely affect the interest of any specific group. But shoving down the Land Acquisition Act would have angered the powerful farmers lobby and that would have dangerous repercussions for the BJP’s political prospects. So, Narendra Modi quietly sacrificed his signature electoral plank at the altar of practical politics.
Narendra Modi had promised to get back the black money in 100 days; more than 700 days have passed; the government had announced an amnesty scheme; just Rs 4000 crore came out of it. By the ruling party’s estimation, two thousand lakh crore (yes, Rs 2,000, 00000 crore) of black money floating around and not even one millionth part of it has been recovered yet.
Celebrities like Amitabh Bachchan are supposed to be under the scanner (thanks to the revelations of the Panama Papers) but they have been given pride of position in the government-sponsored programmes; it is because considerations of electoral politics overrides all other priorities.
That is generally true of all sundry politicians for whom political survival is the biggest priority. Rajiv Gandhi gave early indications of being different. But he quickly fell in line. Narendra Modi had also come to power with proven credentials that considerations of good governance would be his sole guiding light. But he seems to have come to early grips with the arcane ways of national politics. As he is a quick learner he has fast adjusted to its commands to survive in power.
That leaves us with the question: Is Narendra Modi is going the Rajiv Gandhi way?