On Rajiv Gandhi’s 25th death anniversary, I recall the devastation I felt when I was recalled for duty past my dinner time. I stayed closest to my place of work – a news agency – and there were no mobile phones at the time. All my colleagues were on trains on their way back home in the distant suburbs and by the time they got the message and started back, much time would have elapsed. So I was startled when some stones began to hit my third floor window and some one came tearing upstairs to inform me that two of my colleagues (peons) were at the gates, desperately asking for me. I rushed down in my night clothes and when they informed me about the emergency, my mind just went blank. I charged upstairs in tears and changed back into street clothes and got into the waiting cab to be driven back to office.
That night, I single-handedly operated the photo-fax machine and uploaded the pictures to all subscribers. Soon there were photographers from all newspapers in the city making a beeline to my office to look at pictures that I might not have sent across to them. We were the earliest to have got that technology in the city and the papers were eager for some ‘exclusive’ pictures that all would not publish the next morning. I was the first, perhaps, to see the devastating photo of Rajiv lying on the ground with clothes torn off his back and Tamil Nadu Congress leader GK Moopanar sorrowfully spreading a blanket across him – that was a picture never released and I do not know if any one ever published that in so many years. I kept up the transmissions till other colleagues arrived at four in the morning after a bath and change of clothes and then stretched out on a desk, in complete exhaustion.
Today as I see hash tags on social media avowing that Rajiv Gandhi was the one who first launched digital India and changed the way a nation came into the 21st century from the 19th century we were stuck in. I am also reminded about how my career graph shaped up parallel to India’s communication revolution. In 1984, I was assigned to cover the Lok Sabha elections in remote towns and districts – I remember strap hanging in the buses to reach the villages and then having to locate the nearest post office from where I could send either a telegram or a teleprinter message. It was a very painful exercise and there was no guarantee that the report would reach my head office the same day – some reports took three days between writing and publication.
The next election, in 1989, after covering Rajiv’s election rally in Solapur on April 14, after he flew to Mhau to commemorate Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar, I trotted off to the nearest post office, again looking for another teleprinter machine and operator. The post master of that village post office was surprised. “Why do you want to send your message through teleprinter?” he asked. “We have a fax machine, Madam. If there is a supporting machine on the other side, your report will be there in minutes.”
We did have one and all I needed to do was make a long distance call to the news editor to make sure my report had not arrived garbled at the other end. In 1991, fax machines were everywhere and made use of with ease but by 1996, I was using a laptop – though I had to go looking for a working telephone to connect. By 1998, though, I had the luxury of e-mails but they might still take hours to reach the recipients. The situation improved through the elections of 1999 but by 2004, there was no doubt that my reports would be on the desk of my editor within minutes. In 2009, I was still using a lapop but now with the ease of a data card and in 2014, I did not have to tug along heavy computer bags. A tablet sat snugly in my handbag and the policemen checking me for security as I entered meetings of Narendra Modi or Rahul Gandhi knew exactly what it was. “Just switch on the tablet in front of us and switch on and off your mobile phone so that we are sure they are not wired for bombs,” they said. I obliged and they waved me through.
I agree the ease of communication today is entirely owing to Rajiv Gandhi – I still remember a visit to Russia in 1992 where foreign correspondents working for British and American newspapers told me India was an important transit point for their messages – the former Soviet Union had still not improved their communication facilities and only the lines to India worked. So they sent their reports to their New Delhi bureaus which faxed them onwards to their native countries. That was not just lack of development or backwardness – Soviet bosses believed in not giving too much freedom to communicate to their people lest information become a weapon in their hands against governments. Rajiv Gandhi, though, never thought of anything as bizarre as that. I remember attending one of his events where he earnestly and passionately told listeners, “The industrial revolution bypassed India. We cannot afford the information revolution to do the same.’’
There is much that I admired about Rajiv Gandhi but what I am very greatful to him for is this – I had to book fixed time calls to communicate with my parents when he first became Prime Minister. Gradually, I could get to a STD booth and wait in a long line to call my parents. Then one of these booth owners offered me the facility of the conference call so that I could sit at home and immediately connect with my parents. Then I got my first mobile phone in 1996 and suddenly I could talk with them whenever I wished.
Can anyone in the younger generation even imagine a life without that mobile phone? He/she has only Rajiv Gandhi to thank for that.
Every five years for the past decade or two, there is one name that crops up in my part of the world for President of India: that of Dr B K Goyal, eminent cardiologist and a face that was often on Doordarshan in the decade of the 1980s, in the era when President Zail Singh and Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi used to come calling on people like the Frontier Gandhi (Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan) at the Bombay Hospital, where Dr Goyal is still a consultant. Read more
As a reporter just coming into my own in the late 1980s, I recall following both then incumbent Prime Minister VP Singh and former PM Rajiv Gandhi rather closely through the series of elections, both Lok Sabha and Assembly, between 1989 and 1991. Read more
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Mayawati had Kanshiram, Sheila Dixit had her father-in-law Umashankar Dixit, J Jayalalithaa had M G Ramachandran, Uma Bharti first had the patronage of Rajmata Vijay raje Scindia and later of L K Advani who she acknowledged as pita-tulya (akin to a father) and, of course, her brother standing beside her through thick and thin. Read more
Minutes after senior Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader L K Advani had apologised to Sonia Gandhi for falsely accusing her and her family of having Swiss bank accounts of their own, Tushar Gandhi, the great-grandson of Mahatma Gandhi, had tweeted Read more
I can hardly believe that it is two decades since the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi.
Just a few days before he was killed he was campaigning in Bombay. I was working for a wire service at the time and my Bureau Chief had given me stern instructions: the then union government had withdrawn his security cover and Rajiv was a sitting duck for assassins. Read more
I was working for a wire service when Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated. A few months later, I received a call from my editors in New Delhi: the Amethi seat was up for a by-election and Sonia Gandhi had decided she wanted to give it to Amitabh Bachchan. Her children were too young, she was not into politics (then) and she would rather it stayed with “family”. Read more
Rajiv Gandhi was not sure what he must do. Of course, he did not have to sing for his supper but Sunil Dutt was urging him on. “Please come up on to the stage,’’ said Dutt. “Sing along with us.’’
Rajiv’s trademark shy, dimpled smile came out rather hesitantly and he half got up from his plush chair. “Come, come. Please come up,’’ went on Dutt sa’ab. Read more
I was working for a wire service whole of the time that Rajiv Gandhi was Prime Minister and also when he died. Read more