The Mahatma’s upcoming death anniversary is time to remember two less well-known Gandhis who have left their public stamp on Bombay.
Rowed with 19th-century buildings, Princess Street in Kalbadevi is officially sign-boarded Shamaldas Gandhi Marg. The son of Anandlal Amritlal and grandnephew of Mohandas Karamchand, Shamaldas Gandhi (1913-1998) supported the freedom struggle rather uniquely.
When the princely states decided between accession to India or Pakistan, the Nawab of Junagadh chose Pakistan. The majority opposed his stance. Shamaldas won Junagadh with a people’s agitation led by Arzi Hukumat (temporary government) on November 9, 1947. An impressive administrator, Shamaldas formed a semi government of sorts in Junagadh. Heading the Council as Chief Minister, he appointed Dayashankar Dave and Pushpaben Mehta with cabinet ranks.
Junagadh remained a centrally administered province till 1949, when merging with Saurashtra as part of the Indian Union. Following the Mahagujarat Andolan and Samyukta Maharashtra movement, on May 1, 1960, Dr Jivraj Mehta became the first Chief Minister of Gujarat state.
Further south, VB Gandhi Road in Kala Ghoda honours Dr Vithal Balkrishna Gandhi (1896-1969). Its landmark Keneseth Eliyahoo Synagogue, majestic in Classical Revival style, was erected by the philanthropic Sassoon family.
Born to a vegetable vendor, Vithal Gandhi bravely beat poverty to emerge a social reformer and political figure. Ratnagiri-schooled, he attended Wilson College before joining the nationalist struggle. He is hailed the “American Gandhi” – urged abroad by Lala Lajpat Rai, after earning a Masters’ degree in economics from Columbia University, he returned to serve the masses.
As municipal corporator, he was actively involved in the 1948 takeover of BEST from the British and the execution of State Transport networks. Voted Mayor of Bombay and subsequently a Member of Parliament, he proved pivotal to implementing several laws.
A charming contribution was VB’s introduction of kaali-peeli colours for city taxis: the yellow bright to spot in traffic and black being easy to maintain. His suggestion caught Jawaharlal Nehru’s fancy. And the rest is transport history.