“The main enemy is the BJP”: Rajiv Gandhi in March, 1991

Former Prime Minister of India, late Rajiv Gandhi with UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi

Rajiv Gandhi would have been 74 in 2018 if he had not been assassinated 27 years ago. PM at age 40, he was assassinated before his 47th birthday. NH remembers the former PM and what he stood for

Excerpts from two interviews with Rajiv Gandhi were reproduced in National Herald on his second death anniversary on May 21, 1993. The first interview was conducted in 1983 when he was General Secretary in the All India Congress Committee. The next interview was conducted in March, 1991, two months before he was assassinated.

Some of the questions and several of the answers are still relevant. Reproduced are parts of the two interviews with questions from 1991 first:

How do you intend to promote the issue of secularism?

By fighting the BJP—the source of the communal venom.

This is a negative way of looking at it. Surely the Congress (Indira) has a more positive strategy?

At the moment the poison of communalism let loose by the BJP has pervaded the whole atmosphere because of what the Janata Dal Government did by boosting and magnifying the importance of the BJP and bringing them ‘up front’ during their tenure. We have to fight all this. Secularism is very clearly one of the foundation blocks of our country; and any weakening of secularism is going to damage the country.

Do you think the Congress (I) campaign in the 1989 elections, which had snakes and scorpions (in the publicity material), was a sensible one?

It didn’t click at that time. Perhaps it was too aggressive and too violent in its presentation but the points it raised, one could see them happening in 15 months. The perceptions were very accurate.

What is your constituency? What exactly is your vote bank?

India.

Who is your main enemy?

Very clearly, the BJP.

Not VP Singh?

No.

Why?

I don’t think VP Singh is going to cut into the Congress (I) votes.

Are you for scrapping the public sector?

No, not at all.

Are you for retaining Article 370?

Yes, we are; because that is the only one (Article in the Constitution) which links Kashmir to India.

Congress and corruption (1983)

You are supposed to be a gentleman—one who is unable and unwilling to use the kind of political methods successful politicians usually deploy…

I think the distinction between the right and the wrong must be kept. To be successful by devious means is not correct. The end does not justify the means.

How do you then expect to survive in this ‘political mess’ which is in sharp contrast to the clean, professional life you led in the past?

I think one has to have faith in truth and in the people.

The AICC is reportedly organising big things in big ways—rallies, regional meets, plenary sessions etc. Aren’t these mere pre-election gimmicks to get mass support?

Well, you can look at them that way, if you want to but we see the elections at least a year away. Therefore, it would be very early to start pre-election gimmicks. Our attempt is to rebuild the party from its real base—which is the people of India—and such an attempt will appear an election gimmick only to those who are used to election gimmicks.

How do you intend to tackle corruption within the party?

The first thing is to legalise donations. This may not end corruption but it will be a major step and I hope the Government will do it soon.

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