Feroze Gandhi and Robert Vadra couldn’t be more apart. But then the times are so different too.
Among the primary lessons in statistics is that comparisons must be made only of things that are similar in nature. Chalk can’t be compared to cheese. But sometimes it is useful to indulge in such a comparison if only to drive home the contrast between the two. In substance, texture and taste.
Like Robert Vadra, son-in-law of Congress president Sonia Gandhi, the legendary parliamentarian, Feroze Gandhi, also married into the ruling party’s first family. His wife Indira Gandhi, was the daughter of Jawaharlal Nehru.
Feroze, unlike Robert, entered public life very young, participated and led agitations on the street, landed up in jail and finally represented Rae Bareli, from where he was elected to the Lok Sabha, until his death. He did not owe his rise in politics to being Jawaharlal Nehru’s son-in-law and his political fortunes did not balloon after marriage. Feroze was not known to have acquired property at any point in his life.
Robert is not a politician and he cannot be blamed for the absence of a glorious movement like the freedom struggle which his wife’s grandfather had plunged into as a young man. It is also unfair to blame him for not having entered public life or fought an election. He chose not to. Like Feroze, who could not have imagined he was marrying the future Prime Minister’s daughter when he wed Indira Gandhi, it cannot be anyone’s case that Robert married Priyanka Gandhi in pursuit of fame and fortune. Their wedding took place in 1997 and at a time when Sonia Gandhi was merely a “special” person in the Congress party; the party, led by Sitaram Kesri was sustaining the United Front government from outside. In the year of his marriage, this young man simply set up a brass handicraft business; hailing from Moradabad, it was only natural for him to indulge in brassware.
But then, a few years after his mother-in-law became the most powerful person who could instruct the Prime Minister on anything and everything and had the entire Congress party at her beck and call, the son-in-law expanded his business, entering uncharted areas including real estate and hospitality, two sectors that recorded exponential growth. The huge increase in his assets that occurs during this time has been commented on by Arvind Kejriwal and India Against Corruption, who allege the existence of a nexus between Robert and real estate giant DLF. If DLF was indeed being helpful to him, only the naive will agree that its benevolence had nothing to do with Vadra being Sonia Gandhi’s son-in-law.
Dalmia, Mundra cases
For Feroze Gandhi, even the whiff of impropriety was enough to set him off on a crusade. Despite being a Congress MP, he emerged as a whistle-blower against the Congress government headed by his father-in-law. It was Feroze who raised the scandalous ways in which Ramakrishna Dalmia, a leading businessman then and also a Congress supporter, was siphoning funds collected as insurance premium to further his own business. Neither did Congressmen hurl innuendoes at Feroze nor did Nehru’s government shun him. Instead, the government decided to nationalise the insurance industry and thus the Life Insurance Corporation (LIC) of India came into existence.
The Feroze Gandhi saga did not end there. It was his exposé, on the floor of the Lok Sabha, that the LIC had, under instruction from the then Finance Minister T.T. Krishnamachari, indulged in bad business decisions to bail out Haridas Mundra, a businessman known to have been one of the donors to the Congress election funds.
Krishnamachari was Nehru’s Man Friday, yet he was asked to quit the Union cabinet. And it was in this process of exposing the Mundra scandal by Feroze Gandhi that the then Lok Sabha Speaker, Ananthasayanam Ayyangar, ruled that the scope of Article 105 of the Constitution to empower MPs to use as documents even correspondence marked confidential in the course of exposing an act of wrongdoing by a public servant.
It is unfair to compare chalk and cheese. Future chroniclers will note how both sons-in-law reflected the nature of their times. If earlier propriety was everything, property now is king. By the metric of today’s political culture, Feroze Gandhi seems naive, an underachiever and a misfit in the world of his chosen vocation. Robert, on the other hand, is anything but a misfit.
(V. Krishna Ananth is Associate Professor, Department of Journalism and Mass Communication, Sikkim University.)