The Forgotten Gandhi

Indira-Gandhi-with-her-husband-Feroze

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

By Asit Manohar

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.