Some time back a Sikh activist asked that former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s Bharat Ratna should be revoked over the 1984 anti-Sikh riots. He then released the infamous video where Rajiv intolerantly stated, “When a big tree falls, the earth shakes a little.” It is a testimony to the so called freedom of the press in India that they kept this video hidden for decades now.
The Sikhs have every right to make such a demand. But a less discussed fact is that Rajiv wasn’t good news for the Muslim and Hindu communities either. You could call it the “Great Silence” of our intellectuals, when it comes to discussing the communal nature of the Congress party.
If you remember, Rajiv came in 1984 with the largest Lok Sabha tally in the history of Independent India and the greatest hope among the people. He left in 1989 making sure that the Congress would never get 272 seats (the half-way mark) in the same House ever again.
The Rajiv regime saw Bofors (which arguably still remains the biggest scam brand name) and the mishandling of the devastating Bhopal gas tragedy, among other things. But here is why he was bad for Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs.
Hindus: From 1947-84, Jammu & Kashmir had problems but it never went out of hand. However in 1984, the Congress dismissed a very popular Farooq Abdullah government that set the State back. Subsequently in 1985 directly under Rajiv, Kashmiri Pandits started getting persecuted and leaving the Valley in huge numbers.
While Rajiv fiddled like Nero when Rome was burning, reports say that his Governor Jagmohan created a fear psychosis and encouraged Pandits to leave. The number of Kashmiri Pandits who left is in the tune of lakhs.
They suffered religious persecution, but Rajiv didn’t seem to care one bit. This exodus gave a free hand to hardliners in the Valley and that further led to militancy that claimed tens of thousands of lives. That subsequently led to terrorist attacks across the rest of India.
It was a chain reaction that harmed everyone in the end. Rajiv was never held accountable for that and to this day #AdarshLiberals skirt this issue.
Hindu-Muslim Hardliners: For the sake of argument, if there are 1% Hindu and Muslim hardliners, then it makes sense to ignore them and concentrate on the remaining 99%. Rajiv did exactly the opposite.
He overturned the Shah Bano verdict to appease the Muslim hardliners. Then to balance that, he opened the locks of Babri Masjid to appease Hindu hardliners. As they say two wrongs don’t make a right and he further muddied the waters by banning Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses.
The schism that Rajiv created between the Hindus and Muslims has been getting wider to this day. In chaos theory it is said that “The flapping of a butterfly’s wings in Brazil can set off a tornado in Texas”.
That is better put in the following rhyme…
For want of a nail the shoe was lost.
For want of a shoe the horse was lost.
For want of a horse the rider was lost.
For want of a rider the message was lost.
For want of a message the battle was lost.
For want of a battle the kingdom was lost.
And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.
Similarly we can say…
The Shah Bano decision led to the unlocking of the Babri Masjid locks.
The unlocking of the Babri Masjid locks led to LK Advani’s Rath Yatra.
LK Advani’s Rath Yatra led to AB Vajpayee’s becoming Prime Minister in 1996.
NDA1 (1998-2004) laid the foundations for NDA2 (Narendra Modi’s ascent).
The Shah Bano incident is one of the most underrated events in the history of Independent India.
You can say that Rajiv sowed the seeds of his party’s eventual decline. The Congress has always done that. They backed the separatist Bhindranwale and the LTTE. Both turned against them.
Muslims: Rajiv’s overturning of the Shah Bano verdict denied decent alimony to Muslim women all across India. Recently 70,000 Muslim women petitioned Modi to bring about changes in Muslim Personal Law in India. That shows what Muslim women actually think.
Towards the fag end of his term, Rajiv let the pedal off governance. In 1989 the Bhagalpur riots, both Bihar Congress Chief Minister SN Sinha and Rajiv were powerless as close to 1000 Muslims lost their lives.
The Grand Old Party totally destroyed governance in Bihar when they changed a CM in 1983, 1985, 1986 and twice in 1989.
Hundreds were also killed in the Gujarat riots of 1985 where again a Congress Chief Minister was in charge. There were many communal incidents in the State throughout the 1980s. The Muslim community did not live in peace under Rajiv as Prime Minister.
Sikhs: Close to 3000 Sikhs were killed in India and tens of thousands fled their homes in the worst communal incidents in India after the Partition riots. Police looked on and goons ran wild as the Congress regime did nothing. Yes. We’re talking about the Congress-sponsored Sikh genocide of 1984.
Rajiv put leaders accused of participating in the riots in his Cabinet. What message did that send? The Sikh community’s wounds haven’t healed to this very day.
Bonus: Freedom of Speech
The Satanic Verses came out in September 1988 and in the very next month Rajiv banned it. That set the tone for worldwide protests and attacks and in a few months Ayatollah Khomeini announced his infamous fatwa.
The Muslim hardliners got a great fillip from this incident and we are still suffering the consequences. Rajiv also tried to severely curb press freedom by introducing the Defamation Bill in 1988. The bill attempted to create new offences like “scurrilous writings” and “criminal imputation” which could have easily landed journalists in jail.
Congress President Sonia Gandhi learnt well from Rajiv and totally crushed media criticism during UPA (2004-14) and still continues to do so. The UPA had also introduced the Draconian Section 66A of the IT Act.
Rajiv was the most communal PM in India’s history.
Sonia oversaw the most corrupt regime in India’s history.
And yet this is the most celebrated couple in the history of India for our intellectuals.
The author is a Bengaluru-based journalist. He has previously worked for organizations like the Hindustan Times, CyberMedia, the Centre for Science & Environment and IT market research firm IDC India.