Former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi died 29 years ago on this date campaigning for Lok Sabha election, which his Congress party went on to win. Rajiv Gandhi is still remembered as the prime minister who saw India’s future in fast changing information and industrial technology with a call that the country should lead in 21st century.
After his schooling in Dehradun, Rajiv Gandhi completed his A-levels (a qualification certificate for college education) in London to get enrolled at the Trinity College in Cambridge. He studied engineering there for three years but did not obtain a degree.
In his interviews later, Rajiv Gandhi said he was not interested in “mugging for exams”. On his return to India, he joined the Flying Club in Delhi, where he was trained as a pilot. He later obtained commercial licence for flying.
He was employed by the Indian Airlines (now Air India) as pilot on domestic routes. He usually flew on Delhi-Jaipur route and, earned a monthly Rs 5,000.
His mother, Indira Gandhi was the prime minister of the country then. Yet, he had no qualms in earning his salary as a pilot. In a TV interview, Rajiv Gandhi later said he enjoyed flying as it gave him “freedom” and took him away from routine life.
Rajiv Gandhi’s love for flying was manifested in his driving at breakneck speed. Rajiv Gandhi has perhaps been the only prime minister who chauffeured his own car.
A book, “My date with history: A Memoir” by journalist Suman Chattopadhyay, narrates Rajiv Gandhi self-driving his car during 1986 Bengal election campaign.
“He drove like a Grand Prix driver on the state roads, sanitised, well in advance, by the security forces,” the book says. His security details often fell far behind him struggling to keep pace with Rajiv Gandhi.
It is now well-documented that Rajiv Gandhi did not want to join politics. The accidental death of his brother Sanjay Gandhi changed it all for him.
According to one version of why Rajiv Gandhi left his career as a pilot to join politics, Badrinath Shankaracharya Swami Swaroopanand influenced the decision. He was among the high-profile dignitaries who visited the Gandhis to pay homage after Sanjay Gandhi’s death.
He advised that Rajiv Gandhi should stop flying planes. Indira Gandhi had responded saying he would not be able to support his household if Rajiv Gandhi stopped flying planes. Swaroopanand then suggested that Rajiv Gandhi should instead enter politics.
Though unwilling, Rajiv Gandhi agreed ultimately saying “if mother gets help…