A MAN MISREMEMBERED
India Today|November 30, 2020
Wajahat Habibullah’s book is a long overdue revision of the widely-accepted view of Rajiv Gandhi’s political life. He is the least remembered of the prime ministers who lasted a full term or more, and when he is remembered, it is usually for his failures. His very considerable achievements are forgotten.
Mark Tully

MY YEARS WITH RAJIV Triumph and Tragedy by Wajahat Habibullah

WESTLAND

356 pages

As an IAS officer working in the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) at the end of Indira Gandhi’s premiership and continuing there through most of Rajiv’s time, Wajahat saw Rajiv’s political career at close quarters. Friends with him since their Doon School days, Wajahat is an admirer of Rajiv. But this book is not a hagiography. Rajiv made very serious mistakes. None of them are glossed over.

Though Wajahat describes Rajiv as a hands-on prime minister, the explanations for two of his major mistakes create the impression of a prime minister who didn’t maintain sufficiently tight control over the government. When Wajahat asked Rajiv why he had allowed the locks on the Babri Masjid to be opened, he replied: “I knew nothing about this development until I was told about it after the orders had been passed and executed.” The foolhardy Operation Brasstacks, held near the Pakistan border in the Rajasthan desert and involving half the Indian army, nearly led to war with Pakistan, yet Wajahat says that while the troops were being deployed, the prime minister had “no inkling of the exercise”. The then chief of army staff, Gen. K. Sundarji, had, apparently, deliberately kept Rajiv in the dark. According to Wajahat, it was also Sundarji who persuaded Rajiv to mount the disastrous peacekeeping operation in northern Sri Lanka. But Wajahat blames Rajiv himself for mishandling the Bofors crisis by repeatedly issuing denials which were then contradicted by facts he didn’t know of at the time. Perhaps because Wajahat was a civil servant and wasn’t involved in politics, readers won’t learn much about the political problems Bofors created for Rajiv.

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