The politics and the necessity of forgetting Feroze Gandhy

“Love is so short, Forgetting is so long,” wrote Pablo Neruda in his much popular poem ‘Tonight I Can Write the Saddest Lines’.

When the silence rises in the current political scenario where Rahul Gandhi and his associates are too keen to rewrite and manipulate their own familial history to capitalize on a resurgent Saffron wave sweeping across the nation, to which they credit the rise of Narendra Modi; one can only pause and lament such cynical shamelessness of the Congress and their prodigal prince. Mostly men are helpless creatures of their circumstances and better remembered than judged past their times. Their lives must, however, be read, understood and analysed so as to understand whether the circumstances then created must be amended or allowed to perpetuate till eternity. Forgetting is neither a solution, not appropriate. Congress, however, has always had a narrow politics-centric view which forced them to modify, manipulate and even malign the history to suit their current political designs. We often complain that the Congress has erased from our modern history anything which is non-Congress.

We are wrong there. As I had pointed out in my previous post on Lokmanya Tilak, they have been equally brutal with their own. As Sonia Gandhi took the mantle, given her own history of decade-long contemplation on taking Indian citizenship, then taking the whole constitutional structure for a ride by becoming a parallel power structure without constitutional accountability; the Congress went with a vengeance of anything in the history which wasn’t only non-Congress, rather they clinically anything which was non-Family. In the process, they graduated from erasing non-family personalities in Congress to erasing even family personalities who stood independent of Nehru-cult even from within the family.

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The same family which went great lengths expressing grief over the demise of DMK Patriarch at the age of 94, forget to post even one message commemorating the death anniversary of Grandfather of Rahul Gandhi (or Ghandy) and Father-in-Law of Mrs Sonia Gandhi on the 8th of September, who left with his life largely unlived at the age of 48.

Today is his Birthday and if we go by the silence today on his birthday. The Congress scion, the Grandson, who in his urge to prove his Brahminical antecedents hasn’t even bothered to even retweet a solitary, customary tweet placed by the party commemorating the Birth Anniversary of his Parsi Grandfather. Congress and Congress-leaning Political Pundits, refuse to believe this rejection of Congress is due to misgovernance and corruption of the government and utter disdain towards national sensibilities and political decorum.

Their favourite theory is that suddenly the Hindu majority population of India, which has always been tolerant and welcoming to conflicting faiths and ideas, has grown intolerant and has chosen, in Narendra Modi. Thus, the only way to correct this aberration is to become Hindu-er than BJP. They tend to ignore how the whole lot of Hindus pleaded with the Congress to give the second term to the most-loved President of India, who incidentally was a Muslim, and was hated by the Congress. So now that the alignment with the Churches in North-East has failed, declaration of Congress as a Muslim party has failed in bringing political benefits to the party, being Brahmin is the next bet for the party which continues to fall on the scales of political and public probity. In such an environment, where the political strategy is limited to establishing Rahul Gandhi as Janeudhari Brahmin, a Parsi Grandfather does not fit into the narrative.

This could probably explain the singular and solitary  impersonal tribute to the Congressman and Grandfather of Rahul Gandhi from the Party, and an absolute and confounding silence from the Prince himself whose grandfather’s birth anniversary it was today on the 12th of September, 2018 (well, the death anniversary too passed this week only on 8th of September and was treated by the Congress with equally cold silence).

The current Congress leadership has been using the surname of the same gentleman, after twisting “Ghandy” to Gandhi, giving the impression of being the inheritor of the legacy of Mahatma Gandhi, by virtue of having Feroze Ghandy as the grandfather, whose surname sounded similar; but refuses to acknowledge the existence of the man whose name they continue to milk shamelessly.

This is, however, not the tendency of the current breed, rather this has been the trend since long. The way his name has been buried under the Earth is an example of the vengeful forgetfulness of the first family of their own who do not fit in the narrative and their grand idea of divine right to rule over this nation. Books and books have been written about Nehru, Indira and the family, but rarely would you find any biography of Feroze Gandhi. The family has been pushing any memory of his into the oblivion with a steadfast silence that for a family which has painted the country “Nehru-Gandhi”, we do not find even a mention, forget the memorial of Feroze Gandhi.

In his book “Feroze: The Forgotten Gandhi”, Swedish writer Bertil Falk laments how there is so little of material in public domain available for the man who once held such prominent place in such a prominent family. When he set about to write the biography, and in the process of research, came across Mr PD Tandon. He quotes Late Shri PD Tandon, senior Journalist who observed the Nehru Family over three generations as a loyalist, very closely, who responded to Mr Falk’s statement that he thought that Feroze is underestimated with “He was not underestimated. He was not overestimated. He was estimated. That’s it.

He too had no answer when asked by Falk as to why would a man like Feroze not deserve even one decent biography. All that we have in the name of this extremely honest and well-written biography of Feroze Gandhi is a biographical sketch by Feroze’s associate from Rae Bareli Shri Onkar Nath Bhargava, published in 1971 and another by Shanti Bhushan’s Deshbakt Firoz Gandhi published in 1976, and later translated into English in 1977 as Feroze Gandhi: Socialist, Democrat, Secular.

Feroze Gandhi could quote from Bhagwad Gita extempore, spoke pure Allahabadi dialect and was a true middle-class Parsi, unlike foreign educated Nehru who came across the realities of rural India only when he came across the peasant movement, when in his thirties. In spite of wild speculations about something as basic as the religion of Feroze Ghandhy, the Nehru Family maintained a studied silence. Feroze was born to on 12th September 1912, in Mumbai, fifth child to a simple and religious Gujarati Parsi, Jehangir Faredoon Ghandy and Rattimai Commissariat.

He was adopted by his maternal aunt, Shirin Commissariat, who was the first Parsi woman to become a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons and was in-charge of Lady Dufferin College. Bertil Falk puts to rest two rumours about Feroze Gandhi, namely that of a Muslim father named Nawab Khan and another of a rich Hindu father named Raj Bahadur Kamla Prasad Kakkar. Feroze as a boy remained aloof of the turbulent politics of the time for long. This despite the fact that when the Prince of Wales visited India in the middle of raging local hostilities against the British in the aftermath of Jalianwala Bagh massacre on 11th November 1921, he was escorted to the port in safety by Jehangir Fareedon Gandhi. The prince was accompanied by his young relative Louis Mountbatten. Feroze was in Allahabad at that time, under the guardianship of his aunt Shirin. His first brush with the freedom movement was when he was Sixteen in 1928, most likely accidental.

One day, Feroze saw a frail woman fainting under the summer sun protesting against the British outside Ewing Christian college and jumped to help. This woman was later to become his Mother-in-law and was called Kamala Nehru. On 1st of April, 1930, Feroze left school and joined the freedom movement. Feroze was imprisoned in 1930 for taking part in Civil Disobedience movement. Feroze organized 1932 movement in Allahabad. Feroze was a ground-level worker and not an eloquent speaker. He was promptly arrested once again.

When he came out of the prison in 1933, he proposed to Indira Nehru. Feroze was Twenty-one then and Indira, Sixteen. Indira refused believing it was too early to get married. Feroze by that time, at the age of Twenty-one, was no longer a political novice, having been to the prison thrice. Feroze accompanied Mrs Kamala Nehru to the Sanatorium in Bhowali in her last days. When Indira was sent to England for studies, Feroze was to follow her, armed with a recommendation from Nehru to study in the London School of Economics. His days there were primarily spent in activism, working with Krishna Menon for India League. Bertil quotes a confirmation of Feroze’s stint in London from Emma Caseley, Acting Alumni Relations Manager of London School of Economics Foundation. She wrote to Bertil and I quote from Bertil’s account:

“According to our records, Feroze Jehangir Gandhi, date of Birth 12th September 1912, was admitted to the School to read for BSc (Econ) degree in September 1937. In the April of the following year, he appears to have had a severe attack of pleurisy and to have decided soon afterwards to withdraw from his course in the School. The last record of his attending a lecture at the School relates to 4th May 1938. In our files, his name is spelt as Gandhy.”

He never returned to LSE after May 1938, but he did not return to India either. He stayed put in London. Of the five years, Feroze spent in London, he studied for Eight Months. He did not receive his graduate degree. Indira moved to Switzerland from London at the end of 1939 and stayed there for around one year. Feroze was to return to India in 1941 only, with Indira as his fiance. They married in 1942, after initial opposition of Nehru. Feroze was not much welcomed in the family and as per Aruna Asaf Ali’s account, Nehru’s sister Vijaylakshmi Pandit resented this new addition to the Nehru family with the same intensity with which she disliked Kamala Nehru. While she called the former “Mill-operator’s daughter, this new man in the household was from “a shopkeepers’ family”.

in 1942, when Police crackdown happened, Feroze with his earlier history of freedom struggle was a much bigger name than Indira. He was sent to the prison for the fourth time in his life, this time after a gap of Nine years. Next few years, before and after independence was spent by Nehru in trying to tame the young men, domesticating him and putting him in a job which would match the status of the elite Nehru family. He was initially installed in the National Herald as Director-in-Charge in early 1947. The then Manager, TN Singh resigned. It was Feroze who was to lead the organization to bankruptcy. To be fair, Feroze tried his best but lacked intellectual heft or academic background to run a Newspaper. As fate would have it, Feroze entered into the Constituent Assembly from Uttar Pradesh, at the behest of the then Chief Minister and a good friend of Nehru, Shri GB Pant and became the last person to sign on the Constitution on 24th of January, 1950, Nehru being the first to put his signature. Feroze was slipped into parliament silently and silently he stayed there, until 1952, when he decided to earn what he got as Nehru’s son-in-law.

In 1952, Feroze decided to drop out of the by then, bankrupt media house and contest elections from Rae Bareli. He remained a silent backbencher in the parliament for long and then on 6th of December, 1955 decided to make a speech which attacked the Government for corruption like never before, charging Bharat Insurance Company owned by Dalmia-Jain Group with misappropriation of funds to the tune of 22 Lakh rupees. This resulted in the nationalization of about 250 Insurance companies and merged into Life Insurance Corporation of India. His another speech on 16th of December,1957 about Mundhra Scam charging a conspiracy between Haridas Mundhra and the Government, he made then Finance Minister, TT Krishnamachariresign and earned for himself the name of Giant Killer. This time LIC was on his target, having made dubious investments in Mudhra’s companies. A committee was appointed under Chief Justice of Mumbai High Court, MC Chagla. The committee confirmed wrongdoing, sentencing Haridas Mundhra for 22 years. Quite unlike Rahul Gandhi, Feroze Gandhy was quite meticulous in his research and substantive in his charges.

The way a middle-class Parsi man has been erased out of not only family history, rather also out of the collective memory of the nation, does raise questions about the first family of Indian polity whose own record and built-up reports of hardships faced in the independence struggle seem to be trumped up and exaggerated, to say the least. This is not an attempt to judge the past through the eyes of the present. This is an attempt to understand the present in the light of the past.

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