Feroze, the forgotten Gandhi: 5 reasons why India needs to remember his legacy

First Published 12, Sep 2018, 9:39 AM IST
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Highlights

Why doesn’t the Congress as we know today, acknowledge Feroze Jehangir Gandhi as it does the other Gandhis? Why didn’t Nehru like him? MyNation looks back at the legacy of one of the most democratic voices of the Congress ever and why that legacy is still important five decades after his death

New Delhi: All his life he was known as the husband of Indira Gandhi, India’s former Prime Minister. But he had an individuality and quite a strong one, needless to say. Feroze Gandhi was not just a husband or a son-in-law of India’s most powerful family; he was a young freedom fighter who was very close to Kamala Nehru. A brilliant parliamentarian, he is often called as the ‘conscience keeper’ of the government of his time.

Decades ago, on September 12, 1912, he was born as Feroze Jehangir Ghandy. He later changed his surname from Ghandy to Gandhi, influenced by the Mahatma - the original Gandhi. He passed away on September 8, so it would be expected of the Congress party to remember him on his death anniversary. But the father of Rajeev Gandhi, grandfather of Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Vadra, husband of Indira Gandhi and son-in-law of Pandit Nehru was lost in oblivion with the Congress Twitter handle not even sending out a tweet in his remembrance. 

Why doesn’t the Congress as we know today acknowledge Feroze Gandhi as it does the other Gandhis? Was the man, who has often been called an unofficial spokesperson of the opposition of his time, in spite of being a true blue Congressman wronged by the Congress party? Why didn’t Nehru like him? Why is it a sin to talk about him in Congress circles, even today? MyNation looks back at the legacy of one of the most democratic voices of Congress ever and why that legacy is still as important even five decades after his death.

1. Exposed first ever Indian scam

How many people of today’s generation know that in spite of being a Congressman by heart, Feroze Gandhi fought against his own party, his own father-in-law? The year was 1958. The member of Parliament from Raebareli exposed the first financial scam of independent India - The LIC scam. The crusader was Feroze and at his receiving end was a government led by his father-in-law. On the floor of the house, he alleged an investment of Rs 1.24 crore - quite a handsome sum in those days - was made by the LIC in a sinking firm, suggesting a scam where the Nehru government was complicit. An inquiry found the allegation to be true, and the then finance minister TT Krishnamachari had to step down. It was a major loss of face for Nehru, but that didn’t stop Feroze from performing his duty.

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2. Exposed money laundering by Dalmia

If you thought UPA 2 was corrupt with its 2G, Adarsh and Coal scams, the very first government of independent India under Jawaharlal Nehru was no less. And if the country knows about it, it’s because of only one man, Feroze Gandhi. Right after independence, the crony capitalism raised its ugly head with business houses trying to influence government policies. In December 1955, Feroze pointed out gross irregularities by the Dalmia-Jain company and proved how the monopolists exploited the people. Feroze revealed how Ramkrishna Dalmia, in his capacity as chairman of a bank and insurance company, used his position for the acquisition of Bennett and Coleman. Gandhi also exposed how Dalmia started transferring money through illegal means, from publicly-held companies for personal benefit. Everything was very similar to the shady dealings of the UPA 2. But back then, it was red-flagged by somebody from within - not just from within the party, but also the first family.

3. 'Conscience keeper' during ticket distribution

He may have been a young MP with utopian ideals in a country that has just achieved independence after a prolonged struggle, but Feroze Gandhi fought for those ideals as well. It’s only his conviction that prompted him to oppose the candidature of Partap Singh Kairon as chief minister of Punjab. Kairon and his family were facing serious corruption charges. Feroze didn’t think about political consequences before charging Karion with being in cahoots with smugglers.  Feroze famously said, “What explanation is there when a person with six previous convictions to his credit…had the daring to appear before a court of law and file an affidavit to the effect that the Chief Minister had directed the withdrawal of the case pending against him and that the order would reach the court from the Home Secretary?” It’s another matter that Nehru chose to ignore Gandhi’s opposition and went with a man with dubious records. But history will remember Feroze as someone who dared to stand up.

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4. Fought for freedom of the press

If journalists today can report on parliament proceedings, the credit goes singularly to one person. Reporting of parliamentary procedures were prohibited even after Indian obtained independence. It was 1956 when Feroze moved a private member’s bill in the Parliament asking for the freedom of the press. Later it was made a law known as Parliamentary Proceedings (Protection of Publication) Act 1956. It allowed the Parliament reportage and brought in transparency, as he sought. It is because of Gandhi that everytime a politician is caught napping or Rahul Gandhi winking, the country gets to know about it.

5. The anti-dynast

A self-made man with a deep sense of self-respect, this Gandhi was the epitome of everything against dynastic politics that is plaguing the current Indian polity, more specifically in the Congress Party. He refused to be a part of the first family. That is why when Indira Gandhi chose to move into Teen Murti Bhawan after Nehru was sworn in as prime minister, Feroze chose to stay back. He could have very well been the nucleus of the coterie of Pandit Nehru but chose to become the face of a faceless opposition from his humble residence at Jantar Mantar Lane. Bertil Falk, the man who essayed the most comprehensive and exhaustive book on Feroze sums him up, “When Feroze Gandhi started to hunt corrupt businessmen and capitalists and in passing, got institutions nationalised, he stumbled upon the fact that people of the administration were involved in corrupt dealings. It soon dawned on him that even the Congress party was infected by corruption, which was at its worst there because his party was the party in power. He realised that it happened right under the very nose of his father-in-law, the prime minister.”

Feroze Jehangir Gandhi stood against everything that most of the political parties in today’s India stand for, including the Congress. The young foreign educated MP, impregnated with ideals of nationalism was the original anti-corruption crusader, for whom the nation always came first. His legacy is a legacy of inconvenient truth for the Congress. No wonder then that over the years, the very mention of him even on his death or birth anniversary have become extinct. Feroze died alone in Ram Manohar Lohia hospital, away from the glory of power. And ever since, his legacy has been allowed to be forgotten by the party he was an intrinsic part of. In 2018, the nation needs to remember this soul, more than ever before.

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