Indian Decade

Insulting Rajiv Gandhi

Is spending a fortune on newspaper ads the best way to remember Rajiv Gandhi?

Former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi was born on August 20, 1944. But although he was tragically assassinated in May 1991, it's still impossible to miss his birthday if you live in India.

Each year, the anniversary of his birth proves to be a big gift-giving occasion for media organisations across the country as public sector units, government departments and ministries get into a game of one-upmanship over who commemorates the red letter day better.

Newspapers on the day are crowded with effusive, colourful and prominent ads to celebrate his birthday. Those who roll out these ads are hoping their gesture of extravagance doesn’t go unnoticed by the Gandhi family in Delhi. Buying expensive print space is, after all, something of a ritual — especially when the Congress Party is in government. Ministers, key officials and various organisations know outdoing each other with memorable copy is an excellent opportunity to show their loyalty to the ‘First Family’, even if it comes at the expense of taxpayers.

In a fantastic column on the subject in June this year, after similar advertisements fought for space on the anniversary of Rajiv Gandhi's death, historian and columnist Ramchandra Guha said such embarrassing flattery is a grave insult to Rajiv's memory, and isn't a luxury a poor country can be allowed to afford. Spot on.