Parsis: The Zoroastrians of India Pakistan and The World

Nehru’s son-in-law Feroze, a crusader, who exposed corruption in his party’s government

It is because of a private member’s bill introduced by Feroze Gandhi in 1956 that it is possible for media to report Parliament proceedings.

New Delhi: He was just 48 when he passed away on 8 September 1960. But the inscription on Feroze Jehangir Gandhi’s gravestone at the Parsi cemetery in Allahabad best describes how full and glorious a life he led: “He is not dead who lifts Thy glorious mind on high. To live in hearts we leave behind is not to die.”

To those who don’t know much about him, Feroze Gandhi was Indira Gandhi’s husband, grandfather to Rahul and Varun Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi-Vadra.

But, more importantly, the two-time MP from Rae Bareli, a constituency now represented by his daughter-in-law Sonia Gandhi, was a fighter, who never shied away from taking on his own party’s government when his father-in-law Jawaharlal Nehru was the prime minister of the country.

Feroze_Gandhi_and_Indira_Gandhi

Personal life

Feroze Gandhi was born in a Parsi family in Bombay on 12 September 1912. He was youngest of his five siblings. After his father’s death in early 1020s, his mother along with the kids shifted to Allahabad. It is where Feroze spent a good part of his life. In 1930, he came in contact with Kamala Nehru, Jawaharlal Nehru’s wife and later quit studies to take part in India’s freedom struggle. His surname was Ghandy, which he changed to Gandhi after getting inspired from Mahatma Gandhi. He actively participated in freedom movement and soon became a known face in Allahabad.

He was regular to the Nehru family’s ancestral house, Anand Bhawan, in Allahabad and came close to all the family members. When Nehru’s wife Kamala fell ill, Feroze took care of her and even went to Lausanne in Swtizerland, where she was recuperating from her tuberculosis. Kamala Nehru died in February 1936.

In the later years while studying in England, Feroze and Indira came close and they got married in March 1942. During the Quit India movement both Feroze and Indira went to jail. The couple had two sons Rajiv and Sanjay born in 1944 and 1946 respectively.

A journalist-turned-politician

Having started as a journalist, Feroze Gandhi understood the importance of freedom of press.  After independence, journalists were not allowed to report on the parliamentary proceedings and it could attract a suit against publication of any such proceedings. Feroze had won the first general elections of independent India in 1952 and was an MP in the House. He was a backbencher who would prefer listening to talking. But when he spoke he made relevant observations and in the later years created trouble for his government.

Noted Swedish journalist Bertil Falk in his book Feroze: The Forgotten Gandhi describes the incident which allowed press coverage of the parliament proceedings in India

In 1956, Feroze Gandhi introduced a private member’s bill advocating press freedom that later became a law as Parliamentary Proceedings (Protection of Publication) Act 1956.

During his speech in Parliament on the bill brought by him, Feroze Gandhi said, “For the success of our parliamentary form of government and democracy and so that the will of the people shall prevail, it is necessary that our people should know what transpires in this House. This is not your House or my House, it is the House of the people. It is on their behalf that we speak or function in this chamber. These people have a right to know what their chosen representatives say and do. Anything that stands in the way must be removed.”

This was one of the rare occasions in Parliament when a private member’s bill was passed by all and became a law, which made it possible for the media to report Parliament proceedings.

Today, when we have two channels — one each for Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha — which telecast live proceedings from Parliament, we should thank Feroze Gandhi for facilitating it.

That, several years later, in 1975, a Congress government led by his wife, Indira Gandhi, enforced Emergency in the country, almost destroying the idea of free and independent press, is a different story.

A Congressman in opposition to his own govt

In the years after independence, the Congress was the largest party in government and there was virtually no opposition. But even as a Congress MP, Feroze Gandhi made an exception and at times played a crucial role in keeping the democratic fervour alive by raising issues that trouble the government of those days.

In fact, Feroze Gandhi unravelled a financial scam that led to the resignation of then finance minister.

On 16 December 1957, Feroze Gandhi raised the issue of a scandal in the newly nationalized Life Insurance Corporation of India (LIC) in the Lok Sabha. He raised flag on an investment of Rs 1.25 crore by the LIC in different companies of a Kolkata-based industrialist and stock speculator Haridas Mundhra. Despite the fact that it was a Congress government and it was headed by his father-in-law Nehru, Feroze didn’t hesitate in making sharp allegations against the government.

During his Lok Sabha speech he said, “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.”

It was possibly independent India’s first financial scam. In his address in Parliament, he presented his well-researched facts and demanded an inquiry by an in-house committee. He was not in favour of a judicial inquiry as in his speech he said, “I am not much enamoured of the word judicial.”

“When things of such magnitude occur silence becomes a crime. Public expenditure shall be subject to severe public debate, is a health tradition, especially so in an era of growing public enterprise,” he explained why he, as an MP, was raising an issue that could embarrass his own father-in-law’s government.

However, a one-man commission was formed under former chief justice of Bombay High Court, M.C. Chagla. Within two months, the commission submitted its report indicating involvement of then finance minister T.T. Krishnamachari. Krishnamachari was forced to quit on 18 February 1958.

After India got independence in 1947, Feroze and Indira stayed in Allahabad. Feroze at the time worked as managing director of  National Herald newspaper. In 1950 he became member of provincial parliament and in 1952 contested the first general elections of the country from Rae Bareli. He got elected as an MP and moved to Delhi. In 1957, he got re-elected from Rae Bareli. He died on 8 September 1960 after suffering from a heart attack at Willingdon Nursing Home which is now Dr Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital.