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India a Mandate for Cleanup and Change

4 minute read

Scarcely four years ago, he was a commercial airline pilot without a noticeable trace of political ambition. Two weeks ago, Rajiv Gandhi, 40, who became Prime Minister in late October following the assassination of his mother, Indira Gandhi, won the biggest electoral victory since India’s independence in 1947, capturing four-fifths of the seats in the lower house of parliament. Last week he moved quickly to replace some veteran ministers and administrators with a group of young technocrats and prepared to tackle such problems as demands by Sikhs for greater autonomy in the state of Punjab. The Prime Minister was in a relaxed mood as he discussed his plans with TIME New Delhi Bureau Chief Dean Brelis. Excerpts from the interview:

On the Sikhs. Most of the Sikhs are very good citizens. The exceptions are very, very few, and they have been misguided. The Sikhs have been a major part of India’s evolvement. They have been part of India’s independence struggle, and they are part of India’s history. They are very much Indian. We would like the Akali Dal (the main Sikh political party) to be categorical and say it will operate within our constitution and find a way of disassociating itself from extremists.

^ On Indo-Pakistani Relations. We would like to improve our relations very much and finish off this confrontation that has been there for years. President Zia ul-Haq spoke very positively when he was here in November, (but that) has not been translated into action by his officials. The arms buildup in Pakistan is certainly a danger. The types of weapons (supplied mainly by the U.S.) that are coming in are such that they are unlikely to be used in Afghanistan, which is the ostensible use for them. We would like a reduction in the level and sophistication of arms that are being supplied. We are in no mood for an arms race. We are forced to participate in this arms race, but we don’t want to. We have much better things to concentrate on.

On Superpower Relations. We have been friends with the Soviet Union for a long time. They were friends when we needed them and there are many issues on which we think alike without having to align with each other. That doesn’t mean that we don’t want to be friends with the U.S. We want to improve our relations in every sphere with the U.S. But we want to keep our option of individuality open.

On the Economy. The public sector has spread into too many areas where it should not be, (although) there are areas where the private sector cannot function. The public sector is used for opening up undeveloped areas, something the private sector cannot do. Nonetheless, we will be opening up more to the private sector so that it can expand and the economy can grow freely. We did a lot (of that) in the cement industry, and it is booming.

On Regional Autonomy. I’d like the chief ministers to run their states with little interference. But they must stay within certain national interests. You can’t have a state trying to run away from the union. The Communists in West Bengal have changed the whole educational system. They don’t think about India. They start teaching about Marxism. I don’t think that’s acceptable.

On Internal Dangers. There are lots of dangers. If you look at the castes, the religious groups, the various regional linguistic groupings, each is a prospective danger. But the real danger is economic stagnation. Whenever we have had a problem with minorities, it has been when there has been an economic problem. The elections have shown that the country stands united. I don’t think there is a problem (of internal differences) as long as we politicians don’t try to build on them.

On His Victory. I think it is a mandate for change, for cleanup, for efficiency, and it also reflects the fact that there is a new generation that is voting. The voting age has dropped substantially. More than half the electorate is under 40 for the first time.

On the Difference Between Being an Airline Pilot and a Prime Minister. Response time is the major difference. In an aircraft you have a limited response time. You know that you are flying, you take a certain action and get a response. Here it takes time to get a response.

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