INDIA : PILOT TURNED PRIME MINISTER
Rajiv Ratna Gandhi 20 August 1944 – 21 May 1991 was the seventh Prime Minister of India, serving from 1984 to 1989. He took office after the 1984 assassination of his mother, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, to become the youngest Indian Prime Minister.
Gandhi was a scion of the politically powerful Nehru–Gandhi family, which had been associated with the Indian National Congress party. For much of his childhood his maternal grandfather Jawaharlal Nehru was Prime Minister. Gandhi attended college in the United Kingdom, where he met and began dating Antonia Maino, an Italian waitress. He returned to India in 1966 and became a professional pilot for the state-owned Indian Airlines. In 1968, he married Maino—who changed her name to Sonia Gandhi—and the couple settled in Delhi to a domestic life with their children Rahul and Priyanka. For much of the 1970s, his mother was prime minister and his brother Sanjay despite this, Gandhi remained apolitical. After Sanjay’s death in an aeroplane crash in 1980, Gandhi reluctantly entered politics at the behest of Indira. The following year he won his brother’s Parliamentary seat Amethi and became a member of the Lok Sabha—the lower house of India’s Parliament. As part of his political grooming, Rajiv was made a general secretary of the Congress and given significant responsibility in organising the 1982 Asian Games.
On the morning of 31 October 1984, his mother was assassinated by her bodyguards to avenge Operation Blue Star; later that day, Gandhi was appointed Prime Minister, even though Pranab Mukherjee and P V Narasimha Rao were more politically experienced and were senior members of the party. Gandhi’s leadership was tested over the next few days as organised mobs rioted against the Sikh community, resulting in the deaths of thousands in Delhi alone. That December, a nationwide sympathy vote for the Congress party helped it win its largest-ever Lok Sabha majority—411 seats out of 542.
Rajiv Gandhi’s period in office was mired in controversy; the Bhopal disaster and the Shah Bano case. In 1988, he reversed the coup in Maldives, antagonising militant Tamil groups such as PLOTE, intervening and then sending Indian Peace Keeping Force troops to Sri Lanka in 1987, leading to open conflict with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam . In mid-1987, the Bofors scandal damaged his corruption-free image and resulted in a major defeat for his party in the 1989 elections.
Gandhi remained Congress President until the elections in 1991. While campaigning for the elections, he was assassinated by a suicide bomber from the LTTE. His widow Sonia became the president of Congress party in 1998, and led the party to victory in the 2004 and 2009 parliament elections. His son Rahul is a Member of Parliament and Vice President of the Congress. In 1991, the Indian government posthumously awarded Gandhi the Bharat Ratna, the country’s highest civilian award.