The most famous surname in India, of course, is`Gandhi’, linked as it is to the Father of the Nation. But the irony is that,contrary to common man’s perceptions, the political beneficiaries of thissurname—be it Sonia Gandhi, her son Rahul Gandhi or his cousin VarunGandhi—have nothing to do with the family or caste of Mahatma Gandhi. The surname `Gandhi’ was first used by Jawaharlal’s daughter late IndiraGandhi. There are many theories as to how she happened to adopt thissurname. Indira, as we all know, was head over heels in love with FerozeKhan, a family friend of the Nehrus.
According to one story, Feroze Khan’s father, Nawab Khan, was a Muslimand mother a Persian Muslim. Jawaharlal Nehru did not approve ofthe inter-caste marriage for political reasons. Nehru obviously thought that ifIndira Nehru were to marry a Muslim, she would cease to be the heir to thefuture Nehru dynasty.
Mahatma Gandhi intervened at this stage and adopted Feroze Khan, gave him hislast name (family/caste name) and got the name of Feroz Khan changed to FerozGandhi by an affidavit in England. Thus, Feroze Khan became FerozeGandhi. Though Mahatma belonged to Bania/Gandhi caste (the surname`Gandhi’ was used by Gujaratis belonging to Vaishya, amerchant caste), the proposal was acceptable to Nehru for politicalreasons. Indira Nehru married Feroze (Khan) Gandhi in 1942 and became IndiraGandhi. Indira thus had the privilege of being the daughter of Nehru and thewife of `Gandhi’. This was how what we now refer to as the Nehru-Gandhi dynastywas born and the famous surname immensely helped the future generationsof this dynasty politically.
The erstwhile Jan Sangh, the precursor to BJP, objected to the use ofGandhi surname by Indira and her children, late Rajiv and Sanjay, saying theyactually belonged to the `Nehru-Khan dynasty’. The BJP once had a dig atthe Congress saying the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty, which earned itsname by changing the surname of Feroze, would one day changethe name of India after the dynasty. In recent times, BJP is silent onthe surname issue , may be because two `Gandhis’ have joined its ownranks—Maneka Gandhi and Varun Gandhi.
BJP cannot be expected to rake up the surname issue again as it plans to groomVarun as a bulwark against Congress’ Gandhi, Rahul. It could be Gandhiversus Gandhi in future. So let not the Congress or the BJP take undueadvantage of the surname. Let the two parties clear the air about their legaland moral entitlement to use the `Gandhi’ surname for their leaders-in-waiting.