NEW DELHI, India Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi was groomed for power by his mother and now, at the end of his first year at the helm of government, it is clear he has learnt his ‘lessons’ well, may be better than the teacher.
In the year since Indira Gandhi was assassinated by two of her Sikh bodyguards on Oct. 31, 1984, Rajiv has achieved much that she could not and set his own course in suidins the world’s largest democracy.
When he was elected last December to the office he first inherited, he was a politically not known and owed his victory to his mother’s death. He told the nation what it already knew: Government corruption was rife in his mother’s 16year rule and the bureaucracy was mired in red tape. He promised quick solutions to violent protest movements in Punjab and Assam which had claimed more than 20,000 lives since 1983, including his mother’s.
Barely seven months after assuming power, he has made a clever move to retum stability to the Punjab state by conniving with power hungry Sikhs.
A month later he settled the problem of uncontrolled Bangladeshi immigration into the northeastern Assam state.
Both were long festering problems that were purposely complicated by Indira Gandhi and her son’s alacrity in dealing with them helped him to project a better image to the people.
“The (people) want to see him succeed and they are giving him a chance,” a Western diplomat said. “He seems firmly in the saddle.”
When Rajiv, 41, was named Prime Minister, few thought he had the toughness to be heir to the Gandhi Nehru dynasty begun by his grandfather, Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first Prime Minister.
The Cambridge educated Rajiv had been content to fly jets for Indian Airlines and only reluctantly became his mother’s political protégé after her chosen successor, Sanjay, his younger brother, died in a 1980 plane crash.
Rajiv worked quietly behind the scenes for his mother, but as general secretary of the Congress (1) Party he also forded his own political alliances.
Many political analysts believe Gandhi’s decisive style of leadership is the major difference between his government and Indira Gandhi’s turbulent, often autocratic rule.
“India has benefitted from Rajiv’s calm,” one political analyst said. “The passions have cooled.
Mrs, Gandhi was notably indecisive and used confrontation and divide and rule tactics to keep opponents at bay.” Gandhi’s foreign policy remains basically the same as his mother’s favoring close ties with the Soviet Union over the United States. Although he has opened a window for more imports of high technology from the United States, India relies on the Soviets for its military equipment.
India remains unhappy over a $3.2 billion U.S. military and economic aid package for archenemy Pakistan., with whom India has fought three wars since both gained independence from Britain in 1947.
Just before Mrs. Gandhi’s assassination, speculation was rife that another war was imminent. Last week at the United Nations, however, Gandhi and Pakistan’s Gen. Mohammed Zia ulHaq met in private discussions, and a calming of rhetoric may be in the offering.
Domestically, there has been a marked difference between Mrs. Gandhi and her son, primarily in dealing with states controlled by other parties. In Mrs. Gandhi’s last year she was accused of toppling the state governments of Kashmir and Andhra Pradesh to consolidate her power.
“Rajiv Gandhi has not interfered in Non-Congress (Party) governments’ diplomat said.
Some critics blame Gandhi for having too much of a “hands off” policy.
Earlier this year, the western state of Gujarat exploded in caste and Hindu Moslem violence that left 200 dead. It was only near the end of the carnage that Gandhi forced the resignation of the chief minister, a member of his own party.
In Punjab, however, Gandhi intentionally ran a low key campaign that allowed the Akali Dal party to win the state assembly election, giving it the task of con trolling militant Sikhs. The next major test isin Assam, where elections are expected before yearend. In 1983, Mrs. Gandhi ordered elections there, ignoring calls for a delay so that illegal immigrants from neighboring Bangladesh could be eliminated from electoral rolls. Most voters boycotted the polls and her party won, igniting ethnic bloodshed that left 4,000 dead, mostly immigrants.
Rajiv Gandhi inherited a sound economy that in recent years has achieved self-sufficiency in food production. India now exports grain. In an effort to promote modernization, Gandhi has implemented tax reductions to encourage business expansion and cut import duties especially on computers and other high-tech equipment. Opposition parties complain the new policies benefit only the wealthy, will lead to dependence on the West and ignore the needs of the masses. About 40 percent of India’s 750 million people live in poverty.