Feroze Jehangir Gandhi: India’s First Anti-Corruption Crusader

Late Rajiv Gandhi’s 71st birthday was celebrated with much fanfare by the Congress Party on 20th August 2015 (commonly known as Sadbhavna Divas).

3Astonishingly the same party forgot that 12th September 2015 was an equally important day in the history of the Congress party, being the birth anniversary of Feroze Jehangir Gandhi the father of India’s youngest Prime Minister. The founder of the Gandhi dynasty, Feroze intentionally remained the least-known member of this dynasty.

Feroze, a Parsi Zoroastrian was born in Mumbai at the Tehmulji Nariman Hospital and was the youngest of five offspring’s of Jehangir Faredoon Gandhi and Ratimai Gandhi.

After the death of his father, Feroze along with his mother, moved to Allahabad to live with his unmarried maternal aunt, Shirin Commissariat, a surgeon at the city’s Lady Dufferin Hospital.

Feroze was a brilliant student and went for further studies to London School of Economics. In 1930, Feroze a noted freedom fighter was jailed for 19 months at Faridabad Jail with Lal Bahadur Shastri and was imprisoned again in 1932 and 1933.

Love blossomed between Feroze and Indira Gandhi in England. Though in opposition to marrying a Parsi with no family background by Nehru and Mahatma Gandhi, and preposterously advised by Vijayalakshmi to take Feroze as a lover rather than a husband, Indira stuck to her resolve and married Feroze with their blessings in March 1942.

Though history and the Congress has been cruel to Feroze, here are some interesting facts about Feroze:

a) He was the 1st Chairman of Indian Oil Corporation Limited;

b) He was the Managing Director of now infamous “The National Herald”, a newspaper founded by Jawaharlal Nehru;

c) He won independent India’s first general elections in 1952 and retained the seat in 1957, from Rae Bareli constituency in Uttar Pradesh which is still held by his daughter in law Sonia Gandhi;

d) Feroze Gandhi College was established by him in Rae Bareli district on 8th August, 1960.

The Indian National Congress which has been rocked by various scams, notably the 2G and Coalgate scams to name a few. Ironically, Feroze was India’s first anti-corruption crusader for a party that is now embattled in many scams.

Here are two instances of his corruption crusade:

a) He exposed Ram Kishan Dalmia, as chairman of a bank and an insurance company which had allegedly sought to takeover Bennett and Coleman and started transferring money illegally from publicly held companies for personal benefit. In December 1955, he raised the matter in Parliament, documenting extensively the various fund transfers and intermediaries through which the acquisition had been financed. The case was investigated by the Vivian Bose Commission of Inquiry. In the court case that followed, where Dalmia was represented by the leading British attorney Sir Dingle Mackintosh Foot, he was sentenced to two years in Tihar Jail.

b) Nehru, set up a one-man commission headed by Justice M. C. Chagla to investigate the corruption scandal regarding LIC pursuant to same being highlighted in 1958 in parliament by Feroze. Chagla’ report stated that Haridas Mundhra, the forerunner of financial scamsters of modern India had sold fictitious shares to LIC, thereby defrauding LIC to the tune of Rs. 1.25 crore. Mundhra was sentenced to prison. The Mundhra scandal also saw T. T. Krishnamachari, the then Finance Minister having the ignominy of being the first minister in free India to have resigned due to his involvement in this scam.

Feroze suffered a second heart attack in 1960 and died at Willingdon Hospital, New Delhi on 8th September 1960. Feroze was cremated in Delhi and his ashes were buried at the Parsi cemetery in Allahabad which lies in total neglect.

This is in staring contrast to the carefully preserved bedrooms and belongings of Pandit Nehru and Indira Gandhi at Anand Bhawan and Moti Lal Nehru’s gracious mansion with its well manicured lawns at Allahabad. The man who gave the “Gandhis” their name, the memory of Feroze and his stature now lies as deplorable as the party itself.

There have been strange rumours about Feroze’ origin and the most bizarre of them is that he was a Muslim. To put the rumour-mill to rest Feroze was in fact a Parsi Zoroastrian, a minuscule minority to which I also belong.

Incidentally my father also belongs to Allahabad and I have visited the said Parsi cemetery in Allahabad on a number of occasions. My grandmother, uncle and aunts lay buried in the said cemetery only meters away from the tomb of the legend himself – “Feroze Jehangir Gandhi”

Published on News World India