Firoz Gandhi, whose 111th birth anniversary we commemorate today, was a multifaceted individual – a freedom fighter, a distinguished parliamentarian, a journalist, and, above all, a staunch anti-corruption advocate. Tragically, he passed away at the young age of forty-eight due to a massive heart attack, merely four days before his birthday.
Born on September 12, 1912, in Bombay (now Mumbai) to a Parsi family from Gujarat, Firoze Gandhi faced early adversity when he lost his father at the tender age of six. Subsequently, he, along with his mother and siblings, relocated to Allahabad, where they lived with his aunt, a surgeon at Lady Dufferin Hospital.
After completing his graduation in Allahabad, he pursued further studies at the London School of Economics, albeit several years later.
Feroze’s involvement in the independence movement began in 1930 during the civil disobedience phase led by Mahatma Gandhi. It was during a demonstration outside his college, Ewing Christian College, that Firoz Gandhi’s path intersected with the well-known Nehru family. Kamala Nehru, the wife of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, who was leading the procession, fainted from exhaustion. Feroze immediately came to her aid, an encounter that marked the beginning of a profound relationship with the Nehrus, lasting until his demise 28 years later.
While imprisoned for the first time during the civil disobedience movement, Feroze forged a close friendship with Lal Bahadur Shastri, who would later become the Prime Minister of India. After their release, they frequently visited Anand Bhavan together.
In 1961, a year after Feroze’s passing, Shastri, now the Home Minister, reminisced about their association, highlighting Feroze’s remarkable dedication, patriotism, and understanding even at a young age.
During the freedom struggle, Feroze’s mother, Rattimai, approached Mahatma Gandhi after the death of Motilal Nehru, who urged Feroze to give up politics and resume his studies. Gandhi responded that if he had seven young men like Feroze working for him, India would achieve independence within seven days. This resolute response did not deter Rattimai, but she chose not to interfere with Feroze’s chosen path.
The 1930s marked significant events in the freedom struggle and in the Nehru family. Prominent Congress leaders assumed the presidency after the Salt Satyagraha (1930), including Sardar Patel, Jawaharlal Nehru, Rajendra Prasad, and Subash Bose. In this period, Kamala Nehru, who had been battling tuberculosis, gave her consent to the marriage of her daughter, Indira, to Feroze, who had proposed three years earlier. The marriage, solemnized on March 26, 1942, during the Ram Navami festival, was significant due to its inter-faith nature and stirred controversy. Mahatma Gandhi’s blessings helped quell the opposition.
Feroze’s fourth and final jail term came during the Quit India Movement. Alongside Indira, he was arrested in mid-September and sentenced to one year of rigorous imprisonment in Naini jail. There, he shared a cell with Lal Bahadur Shastri, his future political ally.
After independence, Feroze played a key role in managing the National Herald newspaper, founded by Jawaharlal Nehru in 1937. He ensured its financial stability and expanded its reach with Urdu and Hindi editions.
Elected as a Member of Parliament from Rae Bareli in the 1952 and 1957 general elections, Feroze gained national prominence for his impactful contributions on the parliamentary floor. His advocacy led to the arrest of Rama Krishna Dalmia and the subsequent nationalization of the insurance sector. Additionally, he exposed the Haridas Mundhra scandal involving the Life Insurance Corporation (LIC).
Feroze’s commitment to socialism was evident when he championed the nationalization of Telco, despite belonging to the Parsi community, like the Tatas.
Tragically, Firoz Gandhi’s life was cut short by a heart attack, leaving a profound impact on the nation and his life companion, Indira Gandhi, who was deeply affected. His contributions and principled stand on various issues continue to resonate, even over six decades later.