Politicians of my generation were inspired by Rajiv Gandhi: Bhupesh Baghel


Before I entered politics, on my trips to Raipur I had heard stories of Indira Gandhi’s son, a pilot who sometimes flew Indian Airlines planes to Raipur. His name was Rajiv Gandhi. Never did I imagine then that I would have the honour of meeting him.

If not for Rajiv Gandhi’s untimely martyrdom, the picture of the nation would have been quite different. The politicians of my generation have taken inspiration from him, and we continue to do so.

The day I saw Rajiv for the first time is still fresh in my mind. It was at a public rally in Bhilai on May Day 1985. By then, I was an active member of the Youth Congress. I did not get a chance to meet him personally, but I was blown away by his personality and was deeply inspired by his leadership. He was original and simple. He was the prime minister of India. And yet, he showered kindness and warmth on everyone he met. At that moment, almost instinctively, my mind had accepted him as the leader to look up to.

Evidently, I was not the only one who did that. When Rajiv became prime minister, he had instantly become an idol for the youth. Maybe he was inspired by Martin Luther King Jr, when he said, “I am young, I, too, have a dream”. He said those words for the New India, and a sense of responsibility had begun to take form in our minds.

Today, in retrospect, I feel he was not only envisioning a dream, but was also living it. He was, at every moment, working to make it come true. Every step undertaken by him was like a little revolution. Revolutions whose effect would be seen on India and the Indian democracy for a long time. Be it reducing the voting age to 18, pushing for panchayati raj, 33 per cent reservation for women in politics, the introduction of personal computers, and an expansive network of telephone lines within the country.

Rajiv took decisions with honesty and frankness. He was concerned about everyone—youth, women, farmers, tribals and labourers—regardless of their identity.

Nobody can deny the fact that he was a simple person and politics is crooked. He was deceived. He was very particular about political decency. Even after winning 197 seats, he admitted that the people had rejected us and said that our job was now to sit in the opposition. Will any modern-day politician do this? Rajiv’s colleagues advised him against attending V.P. Singh’s oath-taking ceremony, but he went to the ceremony with the strong belief that no matter who takes the oath, he is after all the prime minister of the country.

If not for his untimely martyrdom, the picture of the nation would have been quite different. The politicians of my generation have taken inspiration from Rajiv, and we continue to do so.

His vision is reflected in our government’s decision to grant rights to tribal people, in the empowerment of the women self-help groups, in the Suposhan Yojana programme to combat malnutrition, and in our rural health programme Haat Bazar Clinic Yojana. When we launched the NYAY scheme for the farmers, we named it after him. Today, this scheme has benefitted over 20 lakh farmers.

Rajiv Gandhi is our north star. Even over the roughest seas, he will show us the right route.

Bhupesh Baghel is the chief minister of Chhattisgarh.