India was unlucky in its senior leadership right from the beginning. Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated in 1948 and Deputy Prime Minister Sardar Vallabhai Patel died in 1950. Even economic experts like our first Governor General C Rajagopalachari, who predicted the ills of the License Raj, and BR Ambedkar, the Father of the Reserve Bank and Financial Commission, were both sidelined as India’s 1991 economic collapse was inevitable.
However here’s looking at Prime Ministers and would be Prime Ministers who left early or mysteriously…
Chased away by Gandhi he left India to take on the British with the help of the Japanese. It was the 1945 INA trials and subsequent Bombay Mutiny that led to India getting Independence. He would probably have been India’s first Prime Minister had he been around in 1947.
Endgame: Disappeared mysteriously and probably died in oblivion sometime after 1945.
2. Syama Prasad Mukherjee: Founder of the Bharatiya Jana Sangh (BJS) which later became BJP.
One of the biggest opponents of then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, he was proving to be a strong opposition to the Congress and may even have replaced him ultimately.
Endgame: He virulently opposed a special status to J&K (much like Ambedkar) and died in a Kashmir jail after being administered penicillin, even though it was well known that he was allergic to it. Prime Minister (1998-2004) AB Vajpayee called it a “Nehru conspiracy” in 1950.
3. Feroze Gandhi: MP and son-in-law of Jawaharlal Nehru.
Seen as Prime Ministerial material by many, he was famous for raising the LIC scandal in Parliament, which severely embarrassed his father-in-law.
Endgame: Died early at the age of 47 in 1960 in virtual oblivion.
4. Lal Bahadur Shastri: Second Prime Minister.
Mr Clean. Mr Honest. Jai Jawan (gave decisive leadership during the 1965 war). Jai Kisan (moved India away from Nehru’s strong urban-centric policies). He also laid the foundations of the Green and White Revolutions of India. It is quite difficult to believe that he achieved so much because he was Prime Minister for less than two years.
Endgame: Died mysteriously in Tashkent in 1966.
5. Deendayal Upadhyaya: President of Bharatiya Jana Sangh.
Famous for his Integral Humanism doctrine, his dynamism inspired generations of RSS and BJS-BJP workers and leaders.
Endgame: Months after becoming BJS President, he was found isolated and murdered in a railway station in 1968.
6. Sanjay Gandhi: Virtual dictator of India during Emergency and Indira’s son and heir apparent.
One of the most controversial Indian leaders ever, he was the face of India’s 1975-77 Emergency and just 29 when it began. The Indira-Sanjay duo tortured thousands, jailed lakhs and sterilized millions by force. Sanjay became the face of sterilizations and slum clearances. His rise from a nobody to becoming Numero Uno in India was swift and spectacular.
Endgame: Died in 1980 in a plane crash.
Probably India’s most controversial Prime Minister, she cemented the dynasty, decimated the opposition even as a record number of senior leaders left her party under her rule.
Endgame: Assassinated by her bodyguards over the Punjab problem in 1984.
8. Rajiv Gandhi: Sixth Prime Minister.
He became infamous for the Sikh genocide and Bhopal gas disaster even before the general elections of 1984. He lost in 1989 being totally disgraced, especially due to the Bofors scam.
Endgame: Assassinated by the LTTE in 1991.
9. Rajesh Pilot: Central Minister.
A smart upcoming and dynamic leader, he would have been a candidate for Prime Minister in 2004.
Endgame: Died in a car accident in 2000.
10. Madhavrao Scindia: Central Minister.
Active in politics from the 1970s to 1990s, he wore many hats. Like Pilot, he too would have been a candidate for Prime Minister in 2004.
Endgame: Died in a plane crash in 2001.
11. Pramod Mahajan: Central Minister.
Was crowned the successor to the BJP’s Vajpayee-Advani regime and would have been the BJP’s candidate for premiership in the 2009 elections.
Endgame: Killed in 2007.