Rajiv Gandhi: A true Indian hero
Soon after the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in her garden, the leaders of the ruling Congress Party decided that elder of her two sons Rajiv should take her place. She had been shot at point-blank range by her Sikh bodyguards in retaliation for the raid ordered by her on the Golden Temple, holy of holies of the Sikh community, one of India’s smallest religious communities — about 20 million.
The raid resulted in the death of scores but there was no damage to the temple. The Sikhs considered the raid a flagrant attack on their religion and instructed her bodyguards to kill her which they did. So she paid with her life for the attempt to wrest the temple control from the militants inside it. To the majority of Sikhs that was an unpardonable offense.
When the news of her death reached the masses of the majority Hindus — over 800 million outnumbering every other religious community including the Muslims who were about 200 million. The Hindus in Delhi mainly were electrified and went on a rampage killing Sikhs and destroying their properties on a large scale not seen since the partition of India in 1947. The wounds of assassination and the mass revenge caused a grievous national wound but the leaders elected the easy way out and put Rajiv in her place, and supported him with all their might.
That was 1984 and Rajiv became premier like his mother and his grandfather Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru. He was popular and overwhelmingly elected and could have won the next general election after losing an earlier one.
In April 1991 I went to see him in Delhi. We met in his house and had a nice chat I thought which I reported in this paper. His charming wife Sonia was there as were his kids Rahul and Piryanka and the then loyal Najma Hepatualla.
There were no formalities and we took a few pictures together that also found their way to this newspaper. The surprise came on our way out to the garden as hundreds of dignitaries gathered to attend a Ramadan iftar dinner hosted by Rajiv.
As he held my hand some ambassadors including Arabs thought that I was someone close to him, and were kind enough to greet me. One of them actually requested me to tell the premier that he wanted to see him. I did and Rajiv said fine and gave me an appointment for the ambassador to go to him. The two became close friends but unfortunately not for long since Rajiv was brutally assassinated one month later by the Tamil Tigers. A woman carrying a garland approached him during an election rally near Chennai-former Madras — and shouted out to him to approach her. When he did she garlanded him and triggered an explosive device that shattered him into pieces. That was exactly a month after our meeting. I felt extremely sorry for him and for his family and India in general. There was a vacuum that the country could not refill until the election of Manmohan Singh, and his partnership with Sonia. The interview took place in his modest house in New Delhi where also many ambassadors live including the Saudi whose house was a former palace with all its attendant glory. He had hired it from its owner at a high price in those days and was kind enough to host me to a Ramadan feast since I was staying at the Sheraton Palace Hotel not far away.
His driver picked me up just before Maghreb for iftar at Race Course Road. After the interview I saw Sonia standing alone for a while in the garden so I dared to go over to greet her because going through the usual protocol would have taken time. I told her who I was and from where and she warmly welcomed me to Delhi. We exchanged a few words and took some pictures which were published in this paper. She has since taken over the mantle of leadership of the Congress party and with Manmohan Singh, managed quite well I think.
The following letter is from Russi Karanjia’s nephew. I had written an article about Karanjia last week. The letter is being reproduced:
Dear Mr. Luqman,
I was delighted to read your article in Friday’s Arab News on Russi Karanjia. Russi was my uncle, my father’s eldest brother. My father, too, is a journalist, the former editor of Filmfare and Screen. I will send copies of your article to Russi’s daughter and also to my dad.
I have been living in Dhahran for over 10 years and work as a writer/editor for Saudi Aramco’s training Department. I hope to be able to meet you in person some day.
Deshad Karanjia Kumana