Rajiv Gandhi was a professional Pilot for Indian Airlines (now Air India) before entering politics. While at Cambridge, he met Italian-born Sonia Maino whom he later married. He remained aloof from politics despite his mother being the Indian Prime Minister, and it was only following the death of his younger brother Sanjay Gandhi in 1980 that Rajiv entered politics. After the assassination of his mother in 1984 after Operation Blue Star, Indian National Congress party leaders elected him Prime Minister.
Rajiv Gandhi led the Congress to a major election victory in 1984 soon after, amassing the largest majority ever in Indian Parliament. The Congress party won 411 seats out of 542. He began dismantling the License Raj – government quotas, tariffs and permit regulations on economic activity – modernized the telecommunications industry, the education system, expanded science and technology initiatives and improved relations with the United States. In 1988, Rajiv reversed the coup in Maldives antagonising the militant Tamil outfits such as PLO.
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He also was responsible for sending Indian troops (Indian Peace Keeping Force or IPKF) for peace efforts in Sri Lanka, which soon ended in open conflict with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) group. In mid-1987, the Bofors scandal broke his honest, corruption-free image and resulted in a major defeat for his party in the 1989 elections. Rajiv Gandhi remained Congress President until the elections in 1991. While campaigning, he was assassinated by a female LTTE suicide bomber Thenmuli Rajaratnam.
His widow Sonia Gandhi became the leader of the Congress party in 1998, and led the party to victory in the 2004 elections. His son Rahul Gandhi is a Member of Parliament. Rajiv Gandhi was posthumously awarded the Highest National Award of India, Bharat Ratna, joining a list of 40 luminaries, including Mrs. Indira Gandhi. As a religious leader, he (like his mother and other family elders) “served as Acharya” of his family Gurudev’s (Rabindranath Tagore) Adi Dharm Ashram (and Brahmo Mandir) in Viswa-Bharati at Shantiniketan (West Bengal) for about 5 years.
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