Feroze Gandhi may be the patriarch of the Congress’s first family, but the party as well as his family members seem to have neglected his cemetery in Allahabad, now rechristened as Prayagraj.
As per records available with DNA, Congress president Rahul Gandhi last visited the grave of his grandfather way back in 2011.
Inviting Rahul Gandhi to attend the Kumbh Mela in Prayagraj, Uttar Pradesh Deputy Chief Minister Dinesh Sharma recently said that the leader should also visit the tombstone of his grandfather. He asked Rahul Gandhi to pray for the “soul” of this forgotten Gandhi. Sharma’s remarks came at a time when Rahul has been hopping temples and asserting his gotra.
The tombstone of Feroze, considered India’s original anti-corruption crusader, sits in a neglected state in a corner of the Parsi cemetery at Stanley Road on Allahabad-Lucknow Highway. It’s just miles away from Anand Bhawan, once the seat of Nehru-Gandhi dynasty.
Tourists visit Anand Bhawan, the ancestral home of the Gandhi-Nehru family, but anyone hardly goes to Feroze’s tombstone. The cemetery has nearly 100 Parsi graves.
DNA has found that Rahul has visited the tombstone just twice. It was during November 2011, in the run-up to the 2012 assembly elections, he had last paid homage. He had then stayed overnight at Anand Bhawan. Earlier, Rahul had visited the cemetery in August 2008 and was accompanied by his uncle Rustom Gandhi, aunt Shehernaz and a few relatives.
Rustom, son of Feroz’s eldest brother Fardiun, lives in Prayagraj. DNA tried to contact him, but he wasn’t available for comments. Sources said Rustom stays away from the limelight.
Rahul’s sister Priyanka Gandhi had visited the tombstone of her grandfather once – in 2009.
UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi too had visited the grave of her father-in-law once in 2001. During that visit, locals said, she had expressed “concern” over the “deteriorating condition” of the place. Four years later, she assured financial support to revamp the grave. But the beautification is yet to happen.
A caretaker named Brijlal has been tasked with the upkeep of the grave. “This is a tombstone of late Feroze Gandhi. He was a great man. His vanshaj (descendants) must visit the place frequently,” said Brijlal.
“He is not dead who lifts thy glorious mind on high to live in hearts we leave behind is not to die,” reads the epitaph on the tombstone. Feroze died of heart attack in Delhi on September 8, 1960. Before his death, he had insisted that he should be cremated as per Hindu rites.
His elder son Rajiv Gandhi, who was 16 at the time, had lit the funeral pier at Delhi’s Nigam Bodh Ghat. His wife Indira and father-in-law Jawaharlal Nehru were present.
After the cremation, the mortal remains were divided into three parts. The first part was immersed in Sangam, second was interred in the cemetery and the third was immersed in Haridwar. An Uthamna ceremony as per Parsi custom was held at Hotel Finaro in Allahabad.
Feroze’s original surname was Gandhy. But he was so inspired by Mahatma Gandhi that he had changed the spelling of his surname from Gandhy to Gandhi when he was a member of Vanara Sena wing of the Congress during the independence movement.
He was a member of the provincial government from 1950 to 1952. He won India’s first general elections from Rae Bareli in 1952 and was re-elected five years later. Feroze never shied away criticising the then Congress government led by Nehru on the allegations of corruption. He brought a private member’s bill in Parliament to allow the press to cover parliamentary proceedings. Press Club of India owes its building to Feroze Gandhi Trust.