The For­got­ten Gandhi

The Grand Old Party owes a lot to Feroz Gandhi be­cause they are able to hold Rae Bareli and Ame­thi due to his good works that helped Gand­his reap po­lit­i­cal div­i­dends from 1967 on­wards


The man who gave his name to In­dia’s most cel­e­brated po­lit­i­cal fam­ily, the Gand­his, is rarely men­tioned. He used to move freely among the poor. If his worker could not find a bride for his son, he would help him. If an old lady needed medicines he saw it to she got them. While at Rae Bareli he would stay at his com­mu­nist op­po­nent’s house. He was a leader who was loved across party lines. The fan­tas­tic in­di­vid­ual we are talk­ing about is none other than Feroze Je­hangir Ghandy also known as Feroz Gandhi. Grieved by his de­ci­sion to leave stud­ies to par­tic­i­pate into the In­dian Free­dom Strug­gle, his mother met Ma­hatama Gandhi beg­ging fa­ther of the na­tion to re­lease her son so that he could con­tinue his stud­ies. But, Gandhi’s re­ply was epic, “If I could get seven boys like Feroze to work for me, I will get Swaraj in seven days.”

Feroz rep­re­sented the Rae Bareli con­stituency, which his daugh­ter in-law So­nia Gandhi still rep­re­sents, from 1952 till his death in 1960. In fact, it was Feroz Je­hangir’s work that the Nehru-Gandhi fam­ily is able to hold on to Rae Bareli and Ame­thi Lok Sabha seats, say Swedish jour­nal­ist Ber­til Falk, whose book ‘Feroze, The for­got­ten Gandhi’ was pub­lished re­cently. Be­ing in­spired by Ma­hatma Gandhi, Feroze changed the spell­ing of his sur­name from ‘Ghandy’ to ‘Gandhi.’ So, it’s a myth that Feroz be­came Gandhi due to his mar­riage to Indira Gandhi. He had taken over the ‘Gandhi’ sur­name al­most a decade be­fore his mar­riage to Indira Gandhi.

Ber­til Falk, the 84 year old Swedish au­thor re­calls that Feroze Gandhi was the first whis­tle blower in in­de­pen­dent In­dia. In the years af­ter in­de­pen­dence, many In­dian busi­ness houses had be­come close to the po­lit­i­cal lead­ers, and now some of them started var­i­ous fi­nan­cial ir­reg­u­lar­i­ties. In a case ex­posed by Feroze in De­cem­ber 1955, he re­vealed how Ram Kis­han Dalmia, as chair­man of a bank and an in­sur­ance com­pany, used these com­pa­nies to fund his takeover of Ben­nett and Cole­man and started trans­fer­ring money il­le­gally from pub­licly held com­pa­nies for per­sonal ben­e­fit. Feroz

fought cor­rup­tion within his own Congress party. In the par­lia­ment in 1958, he raised the Hari­das Mundhra scan­dal in­volv­ing the gov­ern­ment con­trolled LIC in­sur­ance com­pany. This was a huge em­bar­rass­ment to the clean im­age of Nehru’s gov­ern­ment and even­tu­ally led to the res­ig­na­tion of the Fi­nance Min­is­ter TT Kr­ish­na­machari.

From the Dalmia case to the Mundhra case and sev­eral other cases, he fought cor­rup­tion ve­he­mently. A pro­fes­sional jour­nal­ist, Feroz Gandhi fought for free­dom of speech and press free­dom in in­de­pen­dent In­dia. It is not easy for a pri­vate mem­ber Bill to be­come law in this coun­try. Only 14 times has it hap­pened. One of them was Feroze Gandhi’s press law. When In­dia got in­de­pen­dence, a re­porter who re­ported what was said in the par­lia­ment could be pros­e­cuted. Feroze saw that and came up with a Bill to pre­vent that. That Bill be­came a law. Fif­teen years af­ter his death, his widow Indira Gandhi brought in the Emer­gency and one of the first things she did was to throw her hus­band’s press law into the dust­bin... What we have today is an ex­ten­sion of Feroze Gandhi’s press law.

Feroz used to do an is­sue-based pol­i­tics and of­ten stand above caste and creed if re­quired. At one point he also sug­gested that Tata En­gi­neer­ing and Lo­co­mo­tive Com­pany (TELCO) be na­tion­al­ized since they were charg­ing nearly dou­ble the price of a Ja­panese rail­way en­gine. This raised a stir in the Parsi com­mu­nity since the Tatas were also Parsi. He con­tin­ued chal­leng­ing the gov­ern­ment on a num­ber of other is­sues, and emerged as a par­lia­men­tar­ian well-re­spected on both sides of the bench. He fought hard against his own Congress Party when Nehru per­suaded by Indira sacked the EMS Nam­bu­dri­pad led com­mu­nist gov­ern­ment of Ker­ala in 1959.

It would be in­ter­est­ing to know when Feroze won in­de­pen­dent In­dia’s first gen­eral elec­tions in 1952, from Rae Bareli con­stituency in Ut­tar Pradesh. His wife Indira Gandhi came down from Delhi and worked as his cam­paign or­ga­nizer — an ini­ti­a­tion of the Rae Bareli’s bon­homie with the Gandhi-Nehru fam­ily which got in­cepted by Feroz Gandhi and his good work that helped him rep­re­sent the seat till his death in 1960. This bond helped Indira Gandhi seep through the Lok Sabha poll test in 1967 and 1971.

There were in­her­ent sim­i­lar­i­ties and con­tra­dic­tions be­tween Feroze and Indira plus the po­lit­i­cal dif­fer­ences that cut into the mar­riage. “Feroze did not see In­dia grow but fi­nally, it was his vi­sion of In­dia that tri­umphed when Indira Gandhi was de­feated af­ter Emer­gency,” Falk told The Hindu af­ter the re­lease of his bi­og­ra­phy on Feroz Gandhi. Feroze, the au­thor said, had an early hint of Indira’s strong lead­er­ship style and warned her not to suc­cumb to the temp­ta­tion of au­thor­i­tar­i­an­ism start­ing from 1955, when she be­came a mem­ber of the Congress Work­ing Com­mit­tee (CWC).

Asked about who among his dy­nasty is close to him Falk replied to an In­dian news­pa­per, “No one. I don’t think any of the pre sent fam­ily mem­bers even know much about Feroze ... They (how­ever) owe a lot to Feroze Gandhi ... they are still hold­ing on to places such as Rae Bareli and Ame­thi be­cause of Feroze Gandhi, be­cause of the work he did there.”

At an age when In­dia is re­dis­cov­er­ing non-Nehru lead­ers like Ram Manohar Lo­hia and Deen Dayal Upad­hyay, it is time to ap­pre­ci­ate that the big op­po­nent of Nehru was his son-in-law, Feroze Gandhi who needs to be re­ha­bil­i­tated in the twenty-first cen­tury In­dia.

Feroz rep­re­sented the Rae Bareli con­stituency, which his daugh­ter in-law So­nia Gandhi still rep­re­sents, from 1952 till his death in 1960. In fact, it was Feroz Je­hangir’s work that the Nehru-Gandhi clan is able to hold on to Rae Bareli and Ame­thi Lok Sabha seats

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