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Rajiv Gandhi never tried enough, was indecisive and easily influenced: Read how former British diplomat assessed Rajiv Gandhi in 1989

Former British Diplomat had assessed that Rajiv Gandhi was never going to return as Prime Minister ahead of 1989 general elections

A startling disclosure by a former British diplomat to India has revealed that the then British government had a very poor opinion of Rajiv Gandhi as a Prime Minister and the British government had considered that the Rajiv Gandhi ran an “oriental court”, where he was “king among courtiers”, reports Hindustan Times.

According to the report, David Goodall, the British high commissioner in New Delhi in 1989, had penned a confidential assessment to the British government explaining Rajiv Gandhi’s tenure as a Prime Minister on the eve of the 1989 general election. He had predicted that Rajiv Gandhi was not going to return as Prime Minister of India.

The British diplomat had added, “Indeed with Ministers his status is more that of a king among courtiers than first among equals. We are told that in cabinet no-one, with the possible exception of KC Pant, the Defence Minister, dares to contradict him. With 24 re-shuffles in four years, no Minister has been allowed to remain in one job long enough to establish an independent political reputation”.

“In other respects too, the atmosphere is that of an oriental court; indeed comparisons, not altogether far-fetched, are sometimes drawn with the late Shah of Persia…Alongside the urbanity and the gentleness appear flashes of unpredictable petulance,” Goodall had analysed former PM Rajiv Gandhi.

The “astute and perceptive analysis” written by Goodall, which was welcomed by the Foreign office then, has been declassified and released by National Archives.

One of the declassified files on Rajiv Gandhi/ Image Source: Hindustan Times

The British diplomat had sent two detailed confidential notes on Rajiv Gandhi, where he had written how he had a difficult time explaining to an “incredulous” then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher that Gandhi-scion will not return as the prime minister.

The notes are particularly critical of Gandhi’s ways of functioning and his over-dependence on a “coterie”. The de-classified notes have references to former foreign secretary M K Rasgotra and former diplomat Ronen Sen to substantiate the assessment of Gandhi’s “appalling” working methods.

In his note, Goodall wrote, “The small coterie of privileged bureaucrats and political associates on whom he relies for advice are liable to go in and out of favour with disconcerting suddenness; and the question who currently has the Prime Minister’s ear is the perennial topic of speculation among both Indian and foreign political observers in Delhi”.

Goodall wrote that for Rajiv Gandhi, who had been Prime Minister of India for over four years, “inexperience” cannot be good enough an excuse.”It has become clear that Gandhi also has problems of indecisiveness and a tendency to lose interest in the implementation of policies,” he added. Rajiv Gandhi swore in as Prime Minister of India after assassination of Indira Gandhi in 1984.

Rajiv Gandhi was inaccessible to party workers, ineffectual in foreign affairs

The British diplomat further noted that Rajiv Gandhi signally lacked judgment in his choice of close advisers. According to Goodall, Rajiv Gandhi could not revive Congress and had become aloof and inaccessible to party workers. This is also one of the accusations levelled against his son, Rahul Gandhi. Further, the note stated that Rajiv Gandhi lacked “any profoundly thought-out political philosophy of his own”, and was ineffectual in foreign affairs.

Goodall further stated that Rajiv Gandhi had his own set of personal insecurities which could be the reason behind his “monarchical proclivities”. He wrote that Rajiv Gandhi only trusted his wife Sonia Gandhi who was also an influence on his choice of friends.

Perhaps, the only ‘positive’ thing about Rajiv Gandhi the note suggested was that he was very good looking and very attractive person to be with. That along with his lineage, the Nehru-Gandhi family he came from, and the family’s links with Britain.

In his note, Goodall pointed out while Rajiv Gandhi tried to make things work, he wasn’t trying hard enough. Moreover, he never succeeded, ‘either by force or character’.

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Staff reporter at OpIndia

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