Embarrassing letter on Rajiv Gandhi by ex-British diplomat is now made public

20th September 2020

20th September 2020

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

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, according to the report.

It was added by the British diplomat that, “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,” David Goodall, New Delhi's the then British high commissioner had analysed Rajiv Gandhi.

National Archives have declassified the analysis penned by Goodall.

The British diplomat had written two confidential notes describing how much effort he had to put to explain that it would be difficult for a Gandhi-scion to return as the prime minister to then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher regarding Rajiv Gandhi.

Goodall wrote in his note, “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”.

He also added 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."

In 1984, the then PM Indira Gandhi was assassinated and her son Rajiv Gandhi had to be sworn in as the Prime Minister.

It was also mentioned in the note of Goodall that Rajiv Gandhi signally lacked judgment in his choice of close advisers.

According to the British diplomat, 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.

It was further stated by Goodall that Rajiv Gandhi had his own set of personal insecurities which could be the reason behind his “monarchical proclivities”.

He also wrote that Rajiv Gandhi only trusted his wife Sonia Gandhi who was also an influence on his choice of friends.

The note suggested only one positive thing about Rajiv Gandhi 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.

Goodall also pointed out in his note that 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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