The Man Who Saw Tomorrow
When Rajiv Gandhi was born in 1944, not many would have thought that during his tenure as India's youngest Prime Minister spanning just over five years, he would usher in many path-breaking developmental policies and legislations that would transform this country forever. A trained pilot, he was a reluctant politician in the beginning, but once he ascended to the Prime Minister’s chair, he brought the country to rapid progress. A perusal of a long list of his achievements leaves one with a mixed feeling of awe and admiration. If he had been alive at present as a 71 year old seasoned politician, he would have been one of the most respected and sought after world leaders today.
He mentored many game changing legislations, policies and programs. It is common knowledge that he singlehandedly brought India to the centre-stage of IT revolution globally. Many are also aware that he was the first Prime Minister to bring about economic liberalization. He reduced taxes and tariffs to rationalize tax structure. It is now in public domain that he had deliberated upon and prepared a road map of economic reforms before 1991 Lok Sabha elections. The agenda of economic reforms was included in his party’s 1991 election manifesto also. Unfortunately, destiny denied him a chance to implement his brand of reforms. It was later left to Finance Minister Manmohan Singh in the Narasimha Rao government to fulfill the agenda.
In addition, his impeccable belief in decentralization of power and his commendable work in promoting Panchayati Raj institutions and reservation of women in local bodies brought about a sea change in the lives of common people. Besides, his faith in the raw power of the youth inspired him to involve them in national discourse and reduce the minimum age for voting from 21 to 18 years.
He realized and utilized the power of telecommunication in his endeavor to take India into 21st century. In 1985 as then almost all towns and villages in India had near zero telecom infrastructure. Even in a modern city like Chandigarh there was only one public call office in Sector 17.
Rajiv Gandhi began the telecom revolution in 1987. Within no time, his government set up lakhs of public telephone pay booths across the country, in villages, in cities, in mohallas, in every nook and corner. This provided jobs to lakhs of the unemployed. He along with Sam Pitroda, who is now known as ‘Father of Indian Telecom’, prepared a blueprint for development of Indian telecom industry. Even today, the same blue print remains the guiding principle of telecom revolution in India.
Rajiv Gandhi also pioneered the consumer movement in India, when he radically changed a seller’s market into a buyer’s market. He enacted an all important ‘Consumer protection act 1986’ and set up consumer courts at district, state and central level. The vision of 1986 led to birth of a vibrant consumer revolution in the country.
He foresaw the grave threat the environmental pollution would pose in future and promulgated ‘Environment Protection Act’ in 1986 and established Pollution Control Boards at District, state and national levels. The act made polluters of environment liable for penal action including jail term for the first time in the history of India.
The laws passed by Rajiv Gandhi government to fight graft in the country also had widespread consequences. The prevention of corruption Act 1988, which has led to prosecution of thousands of corrupt Public Servants, since then, was legislated by his government. Equally importantly, he brought forward Benami (fictitious) transactions (Prohibition) Act in 1988 which, for the first time rendered ownership of a Benami property as illegal and liable for confiscation. The act provided for jail term for Benami owners.
However, the supreme court of India in some subsequent judgments diluted the provision of this act, when the Honorable Court rendered the penal provision of the act inapplicable to Benami transactions entered into prior to enforcement of this act. He was also wary of corrupt and disloyal political party hoppers in Indian polity. He enacted an innovative ‘Anti defection law’, which made defection by a legislature from one party to other quite difficult.
Further, he did path-breaking work in the field of judicial reforms. The Administrative Tribunals which were given the jurisdiction of High Courts in service matters were his brain child. To add to this, in 1987, his government passed ‘Legal Services Authority act’ that established ‘Lok Adalats’ in the country aimed at providing fast and affordable legal services to the weaker sections of the society.
Rajiv Gandhi gave six technology missions in 1987 which focused on raising the quality of people’s lives in a time bound manner. They were Immunization, Literacy, Oil seeds, Telecommunication, Drinking water and Dairy Production. Just to quote the effect of one of them, India had maximum incidents of Polio in the world in 1987. By 2013, India was declared a Polio free country.
His contribution towards educational reform can also not be easily forgotten. He established All India Council of Technical Education (AICTE) that helped to open thousands of private professional colleges and universities throughout the country. Today, India can boast of world’s largest resource of technical manpower. He also started a novel concept of open universities and National open school for those who could not afford regular education.
The list of such reforms having salutary effect on the people across the board can be quite long. To quote just a few, he established National Capital Region(NCR) planning Board to develop satellite cities in periphery of Delhi. He also enacted important legislations like ‘Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic substance Act 1985’, ‘Motor vehicle Act 1988, National security guard Act 1986, Special protection group act 1988 and Expenditure tax act 1987’. He was the first to realize the need to clean rivers of India. Consequently, he unleashed a ‘Ganga action plan’ in 1986 to clean Ganga and other rivers of India. He also set up National housing Bank to promote construction of houses and a National diary development Board to usher in white revolution.
Undoubtedly, Rajiv Gandhi like all other great world leaders also had his share of let downs. This can be attributed to his lack of guile of a professional politician. There were times when he was betrayed by the very people, he trusted the most and that included those who claimed to be his sworn friends.
One of his best legislations, the Muslim Women (protection of rights on divorce) Act was perhaps the most misunderstood. This act boldly attempted to codify the Muslim Personal Laws for the first time in Independent India. The legislation was in line with the directive Principles of the constitution to have a uniform civil code. The Supreme Court in later judgments praised the act and categorically stated that the act did not nullify the “Shah Bano” judgment but actually supported it and extended the rights of Muslim women further. Many political analysts feel that if the real intent of the act had been understood fully by the people at large, it would have dealt a death blow to religious fundamentalism in India. It is not without reason that the act became an anathema to both Muslim and Hindu fundamentalists, simultaneously.
While there is no denying that Rajiv Gandhi became the Prime minister because of his family, his contribution to the country is immense and his legacy will live on for a long time...