Rajiv Gandhi became the youngest Prime Minister of India, at 40 years of age, and was perhaps one of
the youngest elected heads of governments in the entire world. He was a pilot with Indian Airlines
for 14 years, and remained aloof from politics till the death of his younger brother, Sanjay Gandhi in
June 1980, after which he was persuaded by his mother, Indira Gandhi, to assets her. He then, formally entered politics by getting elected to Lok Sabha from Amethi, a constituency in UP, which got vacated after his younger brother’s death.
Rajiv Gandhi became the Prime Minister on 31st October, 1984 just after the assassination of his mother and Prime Minister on India, Indira Gandhi. The general elections scheduled for early 1985 were preponed, though polling in Assam and Punjab was postponed till 1985, due to insurgency in those states. When the results were declared, Rajiv Gandhi led Congress received the biggest mandate in the nation’s electoral history, winning 401 seats out of 508 Lok Sabha seats.
Rajiv Gandhi served as the Prime Minister till 2nd December, 1989. During the 5 years of his Prime Ministership, India saw multiple events, which will be covered in this chapter.
Some of the major highlights of his tenure from 1984-1989 were:
- Punjab crisis
- 1984 Sikh Riots
- Bhopal Gas Tragedy
- Punjab and Assam Accords
- India’s Computerization Programme
- Strengthening Panchayati Raj Institutions
- Jawahar Rozgar Yojana
- Shah Bano Case
- Operation Blackboard
- National Policy on Education
- Bofors Scam
- Indian Peace Keeping Force
In the 1980s, Punjab was engulfed by a separatist movement, which gradually transformed into a campaign of terror, often described as a low intensity war. The genesis of this problem lay in the growth of communalism in Punjab, in the course of the twentieth century and, in particular, since 1947, which metamorphosed into extremism, separatism and terrorism after 1980.
In the period after independence, Punjab saw growth of communalism between Hindus and Sikhs who were pitted against each other. The Akali Dal, formed as a political wing of the Sikhs in 1920, and its leadership adopted certain communal themes which became the constitutive elements of Sikh communalism. The Akalis denied the ideals of a secular polity, and asserted that religion and politics cannot be separated as they were essentially combined in Sikhism. Akali Dal also claimed itself as the
sole representative of the Sikh Panth, which was defined as a combination of the Sikh religion and the political and other secular interests of all Sikhs. With passage of time, the influence of extremists’ kept on growing.
In 1966, Punjab was created, and with it all the major demands that the Akali Dal had raised and agitated for, over the last few years were accepted and implemented. The Akali Dal had 2 options:
- Give up communal politics and become either a purely religious and social organization, or
- Become a secular party appealing to all Punjabis
The Akalis, however, moved towards separatism and continued their communal tendencies.
1984 Sikh Riots
The assassination of Indira Gandhi led to anti-Sikh riots across the country, particularly, in Delhi and Punjab.
Armed mobs stopped buses and trains in and near Delhi, pulling off Sikh passengers for lynching and some were burnt alive. Lot of Sikhs were dragged from their homes and hacked to death, and Sikh women were reportedly gang-raped in Delhi area.
As per estimates, around 8000 Sikhs were killed in more than 40 cities in India, with more than 3000 killings in Delhi alone. Unofficial death estimates are far higher than this figure. Apart from Delhi, other cities where the riots were severe were Kanpur and Bokaro.
Congress government was in a complex situation, and many leaders of Congress were allegedly, involved in flaming the riots. Rajiv Gandhi succeeded Indira Gandhi as the Prime Minister, and ordered an independent judicial enquiry into the Sikh riots. He also signed the Punjab accord.
In 2000, the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government set up Justice Nanavati commission to
investigate the killing of innocent Sikhs during the riots. The commission submitted its report in 5 years, in February 2005. The report was criticized heavily as it didn’t mention clearly the role of members of the Congress party , like Jagdish Tytler, in the 1984 anti-Sikh riots. There were widespread protests in the aftermath of the report, leading to resignation of Tytler from the Union ‘council of minister 1. After the report, the then, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh apologized to the Sikh community for Operation Blue Star and the riots that followed.
Rajiv Gandhi initiated negotiations with the Akali leaders to provide a lasting solution to the Punjab problem.
In August 1985, Rajiv Gandhi and Longowal signed the Punjab accord. The major provisions of the accord were:
- Rangnath Mishra commission was set up to enquire into the 1984 riots.
- Families of innocent persons who were killed after 1st August 1982 would be compensated fairly, and there would be compensation for any property damaged, too.
- Chandigarh was to be given to Punjab by overruling the recommendation of Shah Commission, which had suggested that it be given to Haryana.
- The Hindi speaking villages of Punjab were to be handed over to Haryana as compensation. A commission was to be constituted to determine as to which areas would go to Haryana.
- Part of Anandpur Sahib Resolution dealing with centrestate relations was to be referred to the Sarkaria commission.
- River water:
- a) Ravi-Beas system: Punjab, Haryana and other states would continue to get their existing share of water from this system
- (b) Tribunal headed by a Supreme Court judge would verify the river water claims of Punjab and Haryana, and its recommendations to be binding on both the states.
- (c) Sutlej-Yamuna link canal would be constructed and be completed before 15th August 1986.
- Central government may take steps to promote Punjabi language.
- Army recruitment: Merit would remain the sole criteria for selection in the army. Hence, all citizens would have the right to enroll themselves in the army.
A faction of Akalis which included Prakash Singh Badal and Gurcharan Singh Tohra (‘Shiromani Gurudwara Parbandhak Committee’ President) opposed the accord, and called it a ‘sell-out’. Longowal was assassinated by the Sikh militants who opposed the accord.
Aftermath of the Accord and end of terrorism in Punjab
Elections for state assembly in Punjab was scheduled in September 1985. Longowal was assassinated by the Sikh militants who were opposed to the accord. In spite of this, elections were held on time, with a voter turnout of 66%, which was comparable to 64% in 1977. Akali Dal secured an absolute majority in the state assembly for the first time in their history.
Surjit Singh Barnala became the Chief Minister. The Akali government was ridden with factionalism. Militant groups soon started taking advantage of the soft policies of the state government. Therefore, there was resurgence of terrorist activities with time, and the state government was not able to contain them. Post this, the central government dismissed the state government and imposed President’s
Rule in May 1987.
In spite of imposition of President’s Rule in Punjab, terrorism went on increasing, with support from Pakistan. The central governments headed by VP Singh and Chandra Shekhar tried to solve the Punjab problem through negotiations and by appeasement of terrorists and extremists.
In 1988, the government launched Operation Black Thunder, which was undertaken by Punjab police and paramilitary forces. It succeeded in flushing out terrorists. From mid-1991 onwards, Narsimha Rao government followed a hard policy towards terrorism. The police became increasingly effective and by 1993, Punjab had been, virtually, freed of terrorism.
The issue of outsiders migrating into Assam has a long history, starting from the British era during which migration of tea-plantation workers was encouraged. Partition led to a large-scale refugee influx from Pakistani Bengal into Assam besides West Bengal and Tripura.
In 1971, after the Pakistani crackdown in East Bengal, more than one million refugees sought shelter in Assam. Most of them went back after the creation of Bangladesh, but nearly 100,000 remained. After 1971, there occurred a fresh, continuous and large-scale influx of land-hungry Bangladeshi peasants into Assam. This demographic transformation generated the feeling of linguistic, cultural and political insecurity, in native Assamese and imparted a strong emotional content to their movement against illegal migrants in the 1980s.
The demographic transformation of Assam also created apprehension amongst many Assamese that the swamping of Assam by foreigners and non-Assamese Indians would lead to the Assamese being reduced to a minority in their own land and consequently, to the subordination of their language and culture, loss of control over their economy and politics, and, in the end, the loss of their very identity and individuality as a people. Though illegal migration had surfaced as a political matter several times since 1950, it burst as a major issue in 1979 when it became clear that a large number of illegal immigrants from Bangladesh had become voters in the state.
Afraid of migrants acquiring a dominant role in Assam’s politics in the elections in January 1980, the All Assam Students Union (AASU) and the Assam Gana Sangram Parishad (Assam People’s Struggle Council), a coalition of regional political, literary and cultural associations, started a massive anti-illegal migration movement.
They demanded that the central government should seal Assam’s borders to prevent further inflow of migrants, and also to identify all illegal aliens and delete their names from the voters list. The groups demanded postponing elections till their demands were met, and the support towards this movement was so strong that elections could not be held in 14 out of 16 constituencies.
The years from 1979 to 1985 were full of political instability in Assam; the state government collapsed; President’s rule was imposed in the state, and there was widespread violence, agitation, frequent strikes etc. which paralyzed normal life for prolonged periods.
Elections were scheduled in 1983, but they were boycotted by large parts of the population. There was a complete breakdown of law and order, and riots on the basis of linguistic and communal identities took place.
After Rajiv Gandhi came to power, he signed the Assam Accord on 15th August, 1985. as per the accord:
- All foreigners who had entered Assam between 1951 and 1961 were to be given full citizenships, including the right to vote
- Entrants between 1961 and 1971 were to be denied voting rights for 10 years, but could enjoy all other citizenship rights
- Migrants who entered the state after 1971 would be deported.
- A second oil refinery, a paper mill and an institute of technology were also promised to ensure economic development of the state.
- The central government promised to provide legislative and administrative safeguards to protect the cultural, social and linguistic identity and heritage of Assamese people
In the aftermath of the accord, the existing assembly was dissolved and fresh elections were held in December 1985. A new party, Assam Gana Parishad (AGP), was formed by the leaders of the anti-foreigners movement, which was elected to power by winning 64 of the 126 assembly seats. Extreme and prolonged political turbulence in Assam ended for the time being, though fresh insurgencies were to come up later, for example, as that of the Bodo tribes for a separate state and of the secessionist United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA).
Bhopal Gas Tragedy
In 1970 Union Carbide India limited (UCIL), a subsidiary of Union Carbide and Carbon Corporation (an American multinational), established a pesticide plant in Bhopal. The plant produced a pesticide Sevin (Carbaryl) using Methyl Isocyanate (MIC). A number of minor leaks had been reported in the plant, since 1976, but the management had ignored them.
On the intervening night of 2nd-3rd December, 1984, about 45 tons of the dangerous gas Methyl Isocyanate (MIC) stored in three tanks, escaped from the plant in Bhopal and drifted over to the densely populated neighbourhoods around the plant, killing thousands of people immediately and creating a panic situation, as tens of thousands of others attempted to flee Bhopal. The chemical tragedy was the worst industrial disaster witnessed in the history of India and perhaps the worst in the world at that point in time.
MIC is produced by combining Phosgene (a deadly poisonous gas which was used in the First World War) and Methyl Amine. It is an intermediate chemical used in the manufacture of pesticides. When exposed to the gas, in humans, it causes burning sensation in the eyes, removes oxygen from the lungs, thus resulting in breathing problems and chest tightness. It ultimately turns fatal and leads to death.
The leak also polluted drinking water, soils, tanks and pond water which adversely affected, newly born babies, pregnant women and others in the city. Thousands of animals were also killed.
As per official estimates, it led to death of 2259 people, caused 5.6 lakh injuries and with thousands were
permanently disabled. However, unofficially deaths have been put at around 20,000. Some half a million survivors suffered respiratory problems, eye irritation or blindness, and other maladies resulting from exposure to the toxic gas.
The incident had severe long term consequences on the survivors. Neither the Dow Chemical Company, which bought out the Union Carbide Corporation in 2001, nor the Indian government properly cleaned the site. Soil and water contamination in the area was blamed for chronic health problems and high instances of birth defects in the area’s inhabitants. In 2004, the Indian Supreme Court ordered the government to supply clean drinking water to the residents of Bhopal because of groundwater contamination. In 2010, several former executives of Union Carbide’s India subsidiary—all Indian citizens—were convicted by a Bhopal court for negligence which caused the disaster.
Causes of Tragedy
The cause of the incident is a matter of intense debate. Investigations later established that substandard operating and safety procedures at the understaffed plant had led to the catastrophe. However, it is also believed that the mixing of water with the gas was the immediate cause of the leak . Other reasons ascribed to the incident are as follows:
- Human negligence in the maintenance of the gas.
- Negligence of the Union Carbide management in installing similar safety standards in the plant as were implemented in the US.
- Failure of the government to enforce environmental standards on the company.
- Ignorance of initial leaks and failure to take preventive measures
India’s Computerization Program
If we trace the history of computing in India from 1955 to 2010, there are 4 important breakpoints caused by changes in the political climate and consequent changes in the government policies on the adoption of computing.
The period from 1955 to 1970 was a period of exploration with no specific government policies guiding computing technology. A number of initiatives were taken in education such as the establishment of the Indian Institutes of Technology (NTs) and also starting the designing and production of computers. The Bhabha Committee was appointed by the Government of India in 1963, which realized the importance of electronics and computers in national development and suggested establishment of
the Department of Electronics (DoE) in the Government of India (Gol) to promote rapid growth of electronics and computers. This department was established in 1970 and was the first breakpoint.
From 1971 to 1978, the DoE laid stress on self reliant indigenous development of computers and a company called the Electronics Corporation of India Ltd. (ECIL) was financed to design, develop and market computers using components which were mostly made in India. ECIL made computers called TDC 312 and TDC 316 which were similar to the PDP series computers made by the Digital Equipment Corporation of the USA. The DoE also initiated many Research and Development (R&D) projects with assistance from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
The second break point was in 1978, after the government led by the Congress party was defeated in 1977. IBM which was at that time refurbishing obsolete 1401 computers in India was asked by the government to reduce equity, to take an Indian partner and to manufacture IBM 360 series
computers. IBM refused and closed its operations in India in 1978.
The new government decided to open up computer manufacturing to the private sector and a number of companies started making minicomputers using imported microprocessors.
In 1984 and 1986, the government removed numerous controls on the computing hardware industry and on imports when Rajiv Gandhi became the Prime Minister. The new policy allowed the import of fully assembled motherboards with processors and reduced import duties. This led to a sharp reduction in price and a speedier spread of computer use. In 1986, software companies were allowed to import computers at reduced import duty rates to enable them to export software. Software development was recognized as an industry deserving many tax concessions. Foreign manufacturers were allowed to the home market; so, that the quality and competitive prices were ensured, and use of computers in offices and schools was also encouraged.
The year 1986 also saw the change in the mind-set of the general population and the politicians about the relevance of computers due to the success of the computerized ticket reservation system of the Indian Railways. The new reservation system reduced the waiting time in queues for customers wanting to reserve seats on trains. These timely interventions are the reason as to why Indian IT companies like TCS, Infosys, etc. are the world leaders today, with subsequent growth of service sector in India.
The third break point came in 1991, when India was about to default on the payment of foreign debt. The country was bailed out by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) which forced India to open its economy and reduce controls on the local manufacturing companies. One of the major initiatives taken by the DoE at this time was the establishment of Software Technology Parks (STPs) with satellite communication links which enabled Indian software companies to develop software applications on their international clients’ computers from India.
The fourth break point came in 1998, when the new government under Atal Bihari Vajpayee declared “IT
as India’s tomorrow”, and took a number of proactive measures to promote software companies. An IT task force was appointed to recommend changes in the policies of the government. Measures were taken to give a tax holiday on the export earnings of the Indian software services companies for ten years and import duty was exempted on computers and software packages imported for exporting
software. Multinational companies were welcomed to set up software development and Research and Development (R&D) centers. Software and services exports grew rapidly from USD 2 Billion in 1998 to USD 50 Billion in 2010. Information Technology was contributing 6.4% of GDP in 2010 and was providing employment to 2.4 million software professionals.
Even though the initiatives taken by the government of India, in the 1970s to establish a self-reliant hardware industry in the public sector was not successful, it provided the confidence and the human resources which catalyzed the growth of the private hardware and software industry in the 1980s and the 1990s.
Strengthening of Panchayati Raj institutions (PRIs)
The importance of Panchayati Raj Institutions can be gauged by the fact that Mahatma Gandhi emphasized on their importance to revitalize the village life, and argued that the nation as a whole cannot make progress, unless villages progress.
Article 40 of the Constitution of India declared that:
The state shall take steps to organize Village Panchayats and to endow them with such powers and authority as may be necessary to enable them to function as the units of self-government,’ which paved the way for introduction of Panchayati Raj as a scheme of democratic decentralization in India. The evolution of panchayats in India after independence can be categorized in 4 distinct phases:
- Phase of ascendency (1959-1964)
- Phase of stagnation (1965-1969)
- Phase of decline (1969-1983)
- Phase of revival (1983 onwards)
The phase of revival and renovation of panchayats (1983 onwards) is associated with the government of Rajiv Gandhi. He infused new blood into this institution by removing certain hurdles and handicaps. Rajiv Gandhi constituted a committee under the chairmanship of LM Singhvi to write a concept paper on Panchayati Raj.
The LM Singhvi committee presented its report in 1986. To reform local governance and the Panchayati Raj, Rajiv Gandhi introduced the 64th Constitutional amendment Bill in 1989, which was defeated in the Rajya Sabha. The key features of the this bill were:
- Giving Panchayats a constitutional status
- Making it mandatory for all states to establish a 3 tiered system of Panchayats in which representatives would be elected directly for a term of 5 years.
- Panchayats were to be given expanded authority and funding over local development efforts.
- Panchayats would have the power to raise finances and spend them on specified activities, without the prior approval of state governments.
In spite of the noble intentions of the bill, it was defeated in the Rajya Sabha, but, eventually Panchayati Raj reforms were brought about by the 73rd Amendment Act of 1992.
Jawahar Rozgar Yojana
The high incidences of poverty in India can be attributed to rural unemployment and underemployment, which particularly affect the poorest segments of the rural population. A major objective of the 6th Five Year Plan (1980- 1985) was poverty alleviation. And the strategy adopted aimed at redistribution of income and consumption in favour of the poorer sections of the population by significantly increasing employment opportunities in the rural areas. To achieve this objective, the National Rural Employment Program was started in October, 1980, to replace the Food
for Work Programme.
After this, the Rural Landless Employment Guarantee Programme was launched on August 15, 1983. Its principal objectives were improving and expanding employment opportunities particularly for the rural landless labour to provide guaranteed employment to at least one member of every rural landless labour household up to 100 days in a year.
The importance of employment programme in reducing rural poverty was reflected in the Seventh Five Year Plan (1985-90) which emphasized food, work and productivity; with the objective of providing productive employment to everyone seeking it and assigning priority to activities which contribute most effectively to this purpose. Therefore, the emphasis was to maximize both the direct and long-term employment opportunities through the investments made in this programme.
In the budget speech of 1989-90, the Jawahar Rozgar Yojana was announced as a new scheme to provide intensive employment in backward districts having acute poverty and unemployment.
When the 7th five-year plan came to an end, the government merged 2 major programs: National Rural Employment Program (NREP) and Rural Landless Employment Guarantee Program (RLEGP) into a single program, the Jawahar Rozgar Yojana, which was launched on 1st April, 1989 as aforementioned.
Key features of Jawahar Rozgar Yojana:
- Central assistance would be released directly to the districts.
- Not less than 80% of the allocations under the program were to be received by the village panchayats.
- The scheme was aimed at the people below poverty line. It aimed to provide 90 to 100 days of employment to people residing in rural and most backward areas.
- Panchayat Raj Institutions were given the responsibility to include every single rural area as a beneficiary of the Yojana.
The program was launched with the hope that it would provide fuller employment opportunity to at least one member of each family living below the poverty line. It was also hoped that the distribution of resources to village panchayats would result in increasing the coverage of the program to all rural areas, and also ensure better implementation of the program.
Shah Bano Case
Shah Bano, a 62-year-old muslim woman and a mother of five from Indore, was divorced by her husband in 1978. She filed a suit in the Supreme Court seeking alimony from her husband. The court in 1985 gave the verdict in her favour, and ordered her husband to provide her with alimony.
The Supreme Court argued that there is no doubt that the Quran imposes an obligation on the muslim husband to make provisions for or to provide maintenance to the divorced wife. The apex court invoked section 125 of Code of Criminal Procedure, which applies to everyone regardless of their caste, class, creed or religion, and ruled in favour of Shah Bano, ordering that she be given maintenance money, similar to alimony.
The case was considered a milestone as it was a step ahead of the general practice of deciding cases on the basis of interpretation of personal law and also dwelt on the need to implement the Uniform Civil Code.
The judgment became very controversial, and there were many protests from various sections of muslims. Muslims felt that the verdict was an attack on their religion, and their right to have their own religious personal laws. Therefore, muslims in general, felt threatened by a perceived encroachment on the Muslim Personal Law. At the forefront of these protests was the All India Muslim Personal Law
Under pressure from the muslims, the government headed by Rajiv Gandhi introduced a legislation which reserved the Supreme Court verdict . The Parliament passed The Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Act, 1986 which nullified the Supreme Court’s judgment. The act allowed maintenance to a divorced woman only during the period of 90 days after the divorce called as iddat, according to provisions of Islamic law. Therefore, the liability of the husband to pay maintenance was restricted to the period of ‘iddat 1 only.
The act was criticized heavily by many experts as this was a great opportunity to fight for women’s rights, but the law endorsed the inequality and exploitation that muslim women face. Rather than working on the implementation of the Uniform Civil Code as per the constitutional directive
principle, the government brought amendments to overturn Supreme Court’s ruling.
National Policy on Education(NPE) 1986
The general formulation laid down in the NPE 1968 did not get translated into detailed action. In early 1980s countrywide debates on educational reforms had begun. An urgent need to solve the problems of access, quality, quantity, utility and financial outlay, which had accumulated over the years was felt.
Thus, in May 1986, the new National Policy on Education (NPE) was introduced by Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. It was named as “Special emphasis on the removal of disparities and to equalize education opportunity”. The main objective of this policy was to provide equivalent opportunity to all including women, ST and SC communities for education.
Key highlights of NPE (1986)
- Expansion of scholarships.
- Promotion of adult education.
- Employment of more teachers from the SCs and STs communities.
- Incentives for poor families to send their children to school regularly.
- Development of new institutions.
- For primary education, the NPE adopted “child centric approach”, and then “Operation Blackboard” was launched to expand primary schools nationwide.
- Under this policy the Open University system was expanded with the Indira Gandhi National Open University, which was established in 1985.
- The policy also recognized “rural university” model, based on the philosophy of Mahatma Gandhi, to encourage economic and social development at the grassroots level in rural India.
After the release of the National Policy on Education of 1986, the central government launched the centrally sponsored program called Operation Blackboard in 1987.
Salient features of operation blackboard
- To provide students studying in primary settings with necessary institutional equipments and instructional material to facilitate their education.
- There was a provision to provide salary for an additional teacher to those primary schools, which had an enrolment of more than 100 students. The scheme was extended to all upper primary schools in the 9th Five Year Plan.
- All teachers would be trained using the materials provided by the scheme, under a particularly designed teacher preparation program.
- Central government was to provide funding for school equipments and buildings.
- Flexibility was provided for purchase of teaching learning materials relevant to the curriculum and the local needs.
- At least 50% of the teachers appointed, were to be women.
Another major incident during Rajiv Gandhi’s rule was a political scandal pertaining to defence deals. During the 1980s and 1990s, Bofors, a Sweden based company won a bid to supply 410 Howitzers to India. It was the biggest arms deal ever in Sweden; therefore money which was marked for developmental projects was diverted to secure this contract from India. Several politicians of Indian National Congress including the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi were accused of receiving illegal kickbacks from Bofors, in its bid to win the contract worth US $ 1.4 billion.
The scandal, which broke out in April, 1987, soon snowballed into a major attack on Rajiv Gandhi himself.
Bofors and the stink of corruption resurfaced in 1989, the Lok Sabha election year. Although, the Joint Parliamentary Committee Report had given a more or less clean chit to the Rajiv Gandhi, the Comptroller and Auditor-General’s report cast doubts on the procedure for selection of guns and raised other issues as well. In wake of these findings, the opposition demanded Rajiv Gandhi’s resignation. In the election of 1989, the Congress failed to secure a majority. V. P Singh formed a coalition government with outside support of the left parties and Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP).
Indian Peace Keeping Force
Since 1983, the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam), a militant organization based in northern Sri Lanka, had waged an intermittent Civil war against the Sri Lankan government, to create an independent state of Tamil Eelam in north and east of the island. This intermittent civil war took form of a major unrest in the country, as it pitted the majority Sinhalese against the minority Tamils.
When thousands of Tamils fled Sri Lanka in the aftermath of July 1983 persecution in Colombo, India tried to engage the Sri Lankan leadership to defuse the crisis. Later India and Sri Lanka signed the Indo-Sri Lankan Accord in 1987 with the intention to end the Sri Lankan Civil war.
Main features of the Indo-Sri Lanka accord signed between Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and Sri Lankan President Jayewardene were:
- The accord expected to resolve the Sri Lankan Civil War by enabling the 13th amendment of the Sri Lankan Constitution.
13th Amendment: The Sri Lankan Parliament passed the Thirteenth Amendment to the constitution on November 14, 1987 with the objective of creating provincial councils based on the provisions of the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord of July 1987; also, the establishment of a high court in each province, and to make Tamil one of the official languages with English as the link language.
13th Amendment Plus’ After the defeat of the LTTE, Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa had given assurance to India as well as the international community that the government would go beyond the Thirteenth Amendment to devolve substantial powers to the Tamil majority areas under ‘13th Amendment Plus.’
- As per the agreement, Colombo agreed to devolve power to the provinces
- Sri Lankan troops were to be withdrawn to their barracks in the north, and the Tamil rebels were to surrender their arms.
An Indian Peace Keeping force (IPKF) was sent to Sri Lanka to implement the Accord, on Sri Lankan request. The main task of IPKF was to disarm the militant groups (all the warring groups and not only LTTE). This was to be quickly followed by the formation of an Interim Administrative Council.
IPKF was not expected to be involved in any significant combat, but gradually, within a few months, IPKF got embroiled with LTTE to ensure peace. The differences arose because LTTE tried to dominate the Interim Administrative Council, and refused to disarm themselves (which was a precondition to enforce peace).
IPKF was in an unenviable position with the Tamils resenting, it because the objective of the army was to disarm LTTE, which was fighting for the interest of Tamilians; and the Sri Lankans were resentful towards the IPKF because they saw it as a foreign army. IPKF suffered a great loss as around 1,200 were killed in action and several thousands wounded. The Indian intervention ended abruptly when
Sri Lanka’s democratic process showed the door to the architects of the accord in 1989.
Rajiv Gandhi’s Assassination
Rajiv Gandhi had to pay with his life for his involvement in the Sri Lankan Civil War through IPKF. Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated in a suicide attack on 21st May, 1991 in Sriperumbudur near Madras, in Tamil Nadu. Rajiv Gandhi was campaigning for general elections while were to be held in 1991. The blasts, which also killed 14 others, were carried out by LTTE militants.
Rajiv Gandhi Era: A Critical Appraisal
The first impression of Rajiv Gandhi’s era is that Rajiv Gandhi was a reluctant entrant into politics; forced to take the reins of power due to the assassination of his mother, who was in a hurry to find a quick fix to complex problems like Assam, Punjab and Sri Lanka.
- He ushered in a technological revolution, and brought in far reaching changes in Indian polity by enacting laws to ban defection, introducing reforms to panchayati raj system, and by taking the first steps towards economic reforms by liberalizing the licensepermit raj system.
- He aimed to bring about reforms in multiple parts of the administration as well as other bureaucratic structures.
- Rajiv Gandhi propelled India towards technological revolution by initiating computerization of various government functions in the country, in spite of opposition from large sections of society, especially the opposition political parties.
- The accord in Punjab and Assam paved the path for peace in the years to come.
- The biggest criticism was the reversing of the Supreme Court judgment in the Shah Bano case, and supporting the Muslim orthodox groups, which was seen as an appeasement of the Muslims.
- Rajiv Gandhi failed to deal strictly with management of the UCIL after the Bhopal gas tragedy and allowed them to escape the country without being held accountable for their negligence and dereliction of duty. He also failed to provide tangible succour to the victims and survivours of the tragedy who still continue to suffer.
- The intervention in Sri Lankan Civil war has been criticised as a step without preparedness, resulting in casualties to army and causing resentment is both the Tamil and Sinhalese population of the island neighbour.
- The government under Rajiv Gandhi came under a barrage of criticism for its handling of Bofors and HDW submarine scams, which ultimately , led to its loss in the next general elections.
- The anti-sikh riots in the aftermath of Indira Gandhi’s assassination in 1984, and alleged role of Congress and its top leaders in the riots seriously diluted the country’s and the Congress party’s secular credentials. Rajiv Gandhi personally never made an attempt to bring a closure to the issue and sought to rationalise it by saying, “When a big tree falls, the earth shakes”.