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History, The Rajiv Gandhi Government

peace accords, economic liberalization, guerrilla war, northern India, Indian troops

With elections looming the Congress quickly selected Rajiv Gandhi to succeed his mother as prime minister. In the days following the assassination, Sikhs in Delhi and other cities in northern India were killed in the thousands. Gandhi responded to the unrest among the Sikhs by agreeing to expand the boundaries of Punjab state. In yet another tragedy that year, a gas leak from a pesticide plant at Bhopal resulted in the deaths of at least 3,300 people; more than 20,000 became ill.

Despite this internal turmoil, the 1984 elections, secured by the young, fresh leader Rajiv Gandhi, promised both continuity and change and brought an enthusiastic turnout; the Congress (I) party scored its most impressive victory ever. Gandhi quickly moved to negotiate peace accords in Assam and Punjab and accelerated the economic liberalization begun by his mother. His political inexperience, however, quickly surfaced. His uncertainty on how to handle a Supreme Court decision that antagonized orthodox Muslims cost him Muslim support and at the same time encouraged renewed stirrings of Hindu nationalism. The Punjab accord unraveled when the moderate leader with whom he had negotiated it was assassinated. Also, Gandhi sent Indian troops in 1987 to Sri Lanka to help suppress a rebellion by Tamil guerrillas. A peace agreement was signed in July, but violent clashes continued, and Indian troops were left embroiled in that guerrilla war.

Although economic growth accelerated to record levels, it was fueled by large-scale external borrowing; the government was also spending a great deal on modernizing its armed forces. A military exercise to test new weapons and new tactics brought India and Pakistan to the brink of war in 1987, and a kickback scandal involving the purchase of artillery from a Swedish firm weakened Gandhi’s government.

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