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A Gandhi shows the way in US: Stop peddling family name

world Updated: Mar 25, 2014 01:30 IST
Yashwant Raj
Yashwant Raj
Hindustan Times
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Shanti Gandhi has not made up his mind yet. If he does decide to run again, in the fall 2014 elections, he will seek votes as a Republican, a retired surgeon, and a father of four.

Not, as his last name suggests, as a Gandhi. This great-grandson of Mahatma Gandhi is a first-time state legislator of Kansas and he abhors the idea of running on his name.

“I am very proud of my heritage but can never take any credit for it,” 70-year-old Gandhi said in an interview, adding, “I am just thankful for my good fortune.”

When he first ran in 2012, he did the unthinkable for all those with marquee family names: “I requested the covering media to not bring up my family history at all.”

Reporters knew all about it, of course, but acquiesced giving up an obvious hooker. “I wanted to win on a level field, and I didn’t want to take advantage of my heritage in any manner.”

That was a tough call for a rookie politician. The Gandhi name remains the most recognizable of Indian titles, though nowhere near, perhaps, its appeal in India.

President Barack Obama, an avowed admirer of Gandhi, cites him often — and referenced him several times in his speech accepting the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009.

And Mahatma Gandhi’s grandson Arun Gandhi was invited to the 50th anniversary celebrations of March on Washington by Martin Luther King, another admirer, in 2103.

The family name, thus, had substantial cachet.

He is the grandson of Gandhi’s eldest son, Harilal Gandhi, whose troubled relationship with his father was the subject of critically acclaimed film “Gandhi, My Father”.

Shanti Gandhi’s father was Kantilal Gandhi, also a doctor.

He came to the US after finishing his MBBS from a medical college in Mumbai, and stayed on, marrying Susan, a nurse at the hospital where he worked as a cardiac surgeon.

Gandhi became an American citizen in 1975 and has voted as a Republican since. But he never considered running himself. He was singularly focused on his job, he said, until 2012.

Gandhi blamed it on “circumstances”. He had just retired and the party didn’t have a strong enough candidate to field from his district. “Some people encouraged me to run.”

He did, eyes wide open, with no “delusions” of winning. But he got lucky, use said, and won. First the primaries — which he won narrowly — and then the final.

Why did he run? To add his “two bit”, he said. That’s it.

He didn’t know his uncle — Rajmohan Gandhi (son of Devdas Gandhi, Mahatma Gandhi’s youngest son) — was running for Lok Sabha from East Delhi, until told by this reporter.

Rajmohan Gandhi is not the only one with a famous family name in the race this time. It’s a crowded field and and they will probably dismiss Shanti Gandhi as an oddball.

Who throws away the advantages of a famous name?

Shanti Gandhi did: “I am just an ordinary guy.”