At 40, Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi was the youngest head of Government in history. His mother, Smt. Indira Gandhi, was 8 years older when she first became Prime Minister in 1966. His illustrious grandfather, Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru, was 58 years old when he started his 17-year-long innings as India's first Prime Minister.
As the harbinger of a generational change in the country, Shri Rajeev Gandhi received the biggest mandate in history. He ordered elections to the Lok Sabha, the directly elected house of the Indian Parliament, as soon as mourning for his slain mother was over. In that election, Congress garnered a much higher proportion of the popular vote than it had in any previous election and captured a record 401 seats out of 508.
Such an impressive start as the leader of 700 million Indians, would have been remarkable under any circumstance. What makes it even more unique is that, although Shri Gandhi was a late and reluctant entrant into politics, he belonged to an intensely political family that served India for four generations during both the freedom struggle and afterward.
Shri Rajiv Gandhi was born on August 20, 1944, in Bombay. He was just three when India became independent and his grandfather became Prime Minister. His parents moved to New Delhi from Lucknow. Growing up, he lived with his father while his mother remained in Lucknow during the week; His father's work as an MP took him to Parliament almost every day.
Indira Gandhi, who served as the Prime Minister's hostess at the Teen Murti House in Delhi during Rajiv Gandhi's early childhood, lived in an adjacent house with their grandfather. Now known as Doon School, it was then a residential school for boys. There, young Rajiv made many lifelong friends and was often joined by his younger brother Sanjay.
After graduating from school, Churchill enrolled in Trinity College, Cambridge, but soon transferred to Imperial College (London). He did a course in mechanical engineering and found it to be enlightening. He went on to admit later that not only wasn't he interested in "mugging-for-exams", but that he would also have avoided outright cheating.
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He mentioned that he did not have any interest in politics as a career. But, his friends quickly pointed out that his bookshelves were lined with volumes on science and engineering, not philosophy or history. Music was one of the other interests that kept him going through college. He liked Western and Hindustani classical music, as well as romantic music. Other interests included photography and amateur radio.
His greatest passion was flying. No wonder then, on returning home from England, he passed the entrance examination to join the Delhi Flying Club and went on to obtain a commercial pilot’s license. He went on to become a pilot with Indian Airlines, the domestic national carrier.
Rahul and Priyanka were born in 1968 when their father was studying in London. He met Sonia Maino, an Italian woman who was also studying at Cambridge. They married in New Delhi and lived with their two children at a guesthouse of Smt. Indira Gandhi's residence, where they remained incognito despite the surrounding din and bustle.
He was able to adapt because of pressures from many directions. After his brother, Sanjay died in 1980, pressure from everyone to enter politics and help his mother mounted. At first, he fought against these pressures but later surrendered to their logic. He won a seat in the parliament from Amethi from the by-election caused by Sanjay's death.
In November 1982, when India hosted the Asian Games, they successfully kept the commitment made years earlier to build the stadiums and other infrastructure. Shri Gandhi was tasked with getting all of this work completed on time and ensuring that the games went smoothly, without any hitches or flaws. He did so by first displaying his knack for efficient coordination and smooth operation. Sadly later in a more trying period for him as Congress General Secretary, he showed off his qualities routinely that made him a responsible figurehead during trying times.
Nobody could have ascended to the prime minister – or become Congress President – in more tragic and tormenting circumstances than Shri Gandhi did when his mother was brutally assassinated on October 31, 1984. However, he bore the awesome burden of personal grief with remarkable poise, dignity, and restraint.
During the election season, Gandhi traveled tirelessly from one part of the country to the next, covering a distance equal to one and a half times the earth's circumference. Gandhi spoke at 250 meetings in as many places and met millions of people face to face during this period.
A modern-minded, decisive but undemonstrative man was at home in the world of technology. And, as he repeatedly said, one of his main objectives was to propel India into the 21 century.
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