Rajiv era

Indira's untimely death led to Rajiv Gandhi era in Indian politics. He promoted me as Minister of State for Finance on the very first day he took over as Prime Minister. He was a very mild mannered man who had the ability to spot talent. He knew that I was a committed Congress worker. Before his mom's death, Rajiv was the General Secretary of Congress and he had seen me organizing Loan Melas across the country. I had invited Rajiv to one of the melas held in Ram Leela Maidan and he was very much impressed by the theme. "Poojary ji is doing good job." he reportedly said to Indira. This is perhaps the reason why he promoted me to the Minister of State rank. "Do not stop Loan Mela programme. It is really helping poor. Our Government should always be with the poor like Indiraji did,'' he told me after my elevation.

Rajiv, as Prime Minister, implemented several path-breaking programmes. Giving voting rights to 18-year-old youth was one of them. His plan to computerise operations was met with stiff opposition from Industrialists and Banks. Government and Bank employees vehemently opposed it fearing loss of their jobs. However, Rajiv was firm on his decision and he managed to persuade all the Stakeholders and implemented it. Today, people are talking about 'Digital India'. It was Rajiv Gandhi who sowed the seeds for automation. Now, India is recognised globally as the talent bed for software and software services is a major contributor to India's economy. The biggest employers today are software companies. This was the India that Rajiv Gandhi had envisioned and laid foundation for. He brought a revolution in the Telecommunication Sector. It was Rajiv who dreamt of providing phone connections to every India. Now mobile phones have reached every nook and corner of the country. Even daily wage workers possess cell phones now. It is sad to hear some people saying that no development took place under Congress government, conveniently forgetting that they are adding just a few floors on to a gigantic structure built by the congress.

Unfortunately, people hurled corruption charges against Rajiv also. He was accused of taking kickback in procuring Bofors war guns. Later people realised that it was these Bofors guns that pushed back the enemy during Kargil war against Pakistan. Defence experts said these Guns are the best (at those times). I want to reassure the world that Rajiv did not take kickback in the Bofors deal. I had told this then and I will tell the same again. In fact, he saved money for India through hard bargaining. In the beginning, the estimate of the deal was Rs 1,450 crore. Rajiv asked for lower prices. The Company did not agree for the same initially. It was only after Rajiv threatened to cancel the Deal, the Company agreed to cut the price. The proposal was first mooted in 1977-78 when Janata Party Government was in power. Had the Government purchased the Guns then, the cost would have been Rs.2,100 crore. It was after hard bargaining that Rajiv Gandhi Government finalized the procurement agreement in 1986. The deal price was Rs 1,950 crore and the Government of India executed the Sale Deed for Rs 210 crore lesser that the deal price. Rajiv had saved Rs 210 crore for the country.

When Opposition parties created a hue and cry over the issue in Parliament, Rajiv summoned me and H K L Bhagat and advised us to speak on behalf of the Government. "You have to speak Poojary ji. You have to defend the Government,'' he told me. He has confidence in him. K C Pant was the Defence Minister then and Rajiv did not trust him. But Pant strongly insisted that he would speak in Parliament and finally he spoke. He could not give befitting reply to the questions raised by the Opposition. Pant shortly left the Congress party.

I was pleasantly surprised by the faith and trust Rajiv had in me. Bofors was a big issue facing the party and Rajiv wanted me to defend the government together with H K L Bhagat. It was a huge responsibility. I did not have a political lineage and had studied in a municipal school. He never discriminated on the basis of caste, creed and religious barriers. He was a honest and simple man who had the capability to spot talent. The country should have been indebted to Rajiv for his work. Instead, he was showered with charges of corruption. I know there was not even an iota of truth in those charges. Common people also believed the same and voted Congress to power again.

People should not make uncharitable remarks about the Gandhi family without understanding its contribution and sacrifices to the development of the country. People forget the conditions prevailing when India became independent. Congress brought about massive industrialisation and developments in agrarian economy while upholding India's Secular credentials. Development is possible only when there is peace and harmony in society. Without peace, the country, the government machinery and its people would be busy dousing fires stoked in the communal cauldron or in stoking new fires. Gandhi family realised the importance of peace and ensured that country remained peaceful despite attempts made by fringe elements of the society to divide the social fabric on caste and communal lines. While doing so, it sacrificed the lives of its members. Two members of the Gandhi family have been killed on-duty. The contribution of the family to the country is immense. Congress' history is closely linked with India's history and nobody can de-lineate these.

Nobody can say that Congress did not do anything for the country. Who built two-lane roads in India? In 1947, majority of the country had no electric supply. Who provided them power? India was suffering from food scarcity. Who filled this scarcity? I was a 10 year-old boy when the Freedom struggle was at its peak. We used to shout slogans like 'Jai Congress', 'Jai India', 'Jai Mahatma Gandhi'. Police used to take us in their jeeps and drop us at deserted places far away from our village and we used to come back home and again shout slogans – undeterred by police action. Such was the spirit and enthusiasm. Nobody can erase the history of Congress.

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