Book Name- Feroze the forgotten Gandhi
Author – Bertil Falak
Publisher – Roli Books
Pages –304 pages
Price – 695
Who was Feroze Gandhi? What did he do? Fifty per cent Indians living today would be justified in posing these questions. Let me enlighten them. Feroze Gandhi was Indira Gandhi’s husband, father of Rajiv and Sanjay Gandhi, and Jawaharlal Nehru’s son-in-law. The Parsi family of Feroze lived in Allahabad. They were middle class. They knew the Nehrus well. Feroze Ghandhi (he changed it to Gandhi after his marriage) and Indira Nehru got to know each their during their five years in England. Their contemporaries were an exceptional group: PN Haksar, Jyoti Basu, Mohan Kumaramangalam, Nikhil Chakravarty and Mulk Raj Anand.
Neither Indira Nehru nor Feroze excelled academically, neither obtaining a degree. This, in way, proved to be a disadvantage in their future lives.
While in London (1935-40), the two fell in love. Indira Gandhi has written, “Feroze had been proposing to me since I was sixteen, it was on the steps of the (Basilica) of Sace Coeur, Paris, that we finally decided. It was the end of summer, Paris was bathed in soft sunshine…”
The marriage took place in March 1942 at Allahabad, according to Vedic rites. Jawaharlal Nehru was not in favour of the marriage, but a determined and strong-headed Indira Nehru would have none of it. All this the author describes with empathy and gentle vigour. Beril Falk has provided a few unknown but fascinating details. One that caught my eye was of Pandit Lakshmi Dhar Shastri performing the marriage ceremony. When I joined St Stephen’s College in 1948, Dhar was professor of Sanskrit. He made no concession to sartorial niceties.
Falk’s research has taken several decades. He has (in a pure way) fallen for his hero and admires him immensely. He is not blind to Feroze’s faults. These were numerous, including vigorous philandering. He had no qualms skirting the truth. A loyal and staunch friend with a warm heart, he felt at home with labourers, peasants and the deprived.
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Both husband and wife were jailed during the 1942 Quit India movement. Feroze went underground and was not apprehended for almost a year. He was a popular prisoner as is attested by fellow jailbirds. He operated a clandestine radio station with some success. He was an accomplished and ebullient prankster.
Feroze and Indira shifted to Teen Murti House, with their two children in 1948. Cracks appeared in the marriage. Feroze hated being a kept son-in-law and after he became a Lok Sabha MP, he shifted to his quarters to which he was entitled. He soon made his mark in Parliament by exposing the LIC ( which had invested money in companies owned by Calcutta businessman Haridas Mundhra), which led to the resignation of then finance minister TT Krishnamachari, a Nehru favourite. Jawaharlal Nehru was not amused.
Falk has reproduced Feroze Gandhi’s memorable speech in the Lok Sabha on December 16, 1957 on the scandal. Para three is worth quoting: “Mr Speaker, there is going to be some sharpshooting and hard hitting in the House today, because when I hit, I hit hard and expect to be hit harder. I am fully conscious that the other side is also equipped with plentiful supplies of TNT.”
Feroze Gandhi neglected his health and ate indiscriminately. He suffered two heart attacks before succumbing to the third one in the first week of September 1960. He died at the Willingdon Hospital (now Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital). He was 48. His wife was in Kerala and rushed to Delhi.
At the time, I was the private secretary to RK Nehru, secretary general in the Ministry of External Affairs. We were among the first to arrive at the hospital. The Prime Minister soon appeared, feeling lost and forlorn. Feroze Gandhi’s body was taken to Teen Murti House, where a distraught and tearful Indira Gandhi sat next to her husband’s body. A very large number of the needy, poor and labourers came to pay their respects to their leader at Teen Murti House. I was standing next to Jawaharlal Nehru, who said to me, “I had no idea Feroze was so popular.”