In 1984, P.S. Ghosh Dastidar sent the following Letter to the Editor of The Statesman newspaper in Delhi in response to an article on Rahul Gandhi:
“Sir, …. To my knowledge, Rahul Gandhi’s father did not study at Cambridge. He was a student of the Imperial College but failed to pass his first-year examinations….”
Dr. Albert Michael D’Rozario took a pair of scissors and cut out Dastidar’s Letter to the Editor. He pasted it onto a sheet of paper, scribbling in the margins: “I know the information!” He then placed the paper in a file titled “Rajiv Gandhi,” and probably forgot all about it.
Dr. Rozario’s association with Rajiv was from two different standpoints: on the one hand, he was a bureaucrat, posted as Scientific Adviser & Minister to the Indian High Commission in London. His job was to look after the interests of all Indian students in the United Kingdom.
Before joining the Indian Civil Service in 1943, he completed his PhD from Selwyn College, Cambridge. He knew Cambridge and its system well, and Indira Gandhi relied on his expertise to guide young Rajiv towards his own future.
On the other hand, he knew Rajiv’s father, Feroze (Gandhi) from when they were students at Ewing Christian College, University of Allahabad. They met standing in a queue to pay their entrance fees, and Feroze had famously asked Albert to “join the movement” for
India’s Independence. Albert was sympathetic, but his interests lay firmly in the classroom.
When I tweeted a few months ago about Dr. Rozario’s role in Rajiv’s life, the Indian Minister of Law used it to his advantage, tweeting that
“… diplomats were busy fixing colleges for the grandkids of Pt. Nehru.”
However, this was common practice for the Indian Minister of Science in the United Kingdom. There was no such thing as an “online application” in 1961. Dr. Rozario helped many other students, including some who went on to have close associations with the BJP.
This essay is an attempt to set the record straight.
In April 1961, T.N. Kaul (later Foreign Secretary of India) sent a personal telegram to Dr. Rozario on behalf of Indira Gandhi: “Dr. Rozario may kindly advise in detail urgently as to which would be the best course to follow in the circumstances and which college would be best for
Rajiv to study at Cambridge.” Dr. Rozario recommended Engineering (given young Rajiv’s interests) and Trinity, Kings, or St Johns. It was decided that Trinity (Pt. Nehru’s alma mater) would be best.
When the question of Rajiv’s admission arose in further letters between Indira Gandhi and Dr. Rozario in 1961, he immediately met Mark Pryor, an old friend and Senior Tutor at Trinity College, Cambridge to apprise him of young Rajiv’s credentials and seek Pryor’s advice on how to proceed.
After their meeting, Dr. Rozario recorded a few notes: “It was agreed that Trinity College will accept Rajivratna Gandhi if he passes the Mechanical Sciences Qualifying (MSQ) Examination with a reasonable grade.” Dr. Rozario also gave Pryor a copy of Rajiv’s results from Doon, where he received a second-class certificate (due to a “pass” grade in Chemistry. He did well in all his other subjects).
Prior to Cambridge, Dr. Rozario arranged for Rajiv to receive tutoring from Davies, Laing & Dick (DLD) Ltd. in London. Rajiv needed a “General Certificate of Education at Advanced Level” if he wanted to join Cambridge directly after Doon. In September 1961, the Director of Studies of DLD sent a monthly report on Rajiv’s progress, writing, “(He is) an interesting, cultured, well-read youth.” However, Rajiv failed the MSQ exam in his first attempt (March 1962) but passed on his second attempt in June 1962.
Pryor issued a Letter of Acceptance to Rajiv on 4th September 1962, with an extra copy CC’ed to Dr. Rozario. Rajiv joined Trinity in October 1962, studying Engineering while also joining the rowing team, which kept him busy and perhaps uninterested in his studies.
Mrs. Gandhi wrote to Dr. Rozario in June 1963: “It is good of you to take such trouble and personal interest in Rajiv.” She often wrote to Dr. Rozario, sometimes mentioning her late husband Feroze, and other times expressing concern as a mother for Rajiv’s wellbeing in the
United Kingdom. Dr. Rozario was a comfortable point of contact, and he often had stern conversations with Rajiv, scolding him for not writing to his mother more often. Rajiv ultimately agreed to write home every Wednesday.
In response to Mrs. Gandhi’s letter in June 1963, Dr Rozario wrote: “My main concern is the future of Rajiv. Rajiv must pull up. He dropped in to see me this afternoon and he was with me for an hour. I took the lad to task and asked him to tell me frankly if he had worked during the year. His answer was – very little. Then I gave him a bit of my mind and Rajiv assured me that he was prepared to work in future and show more interest in his work.” He enlisted a small army of Trinity tutors to help, assuring Mrs. Gandhi that Rajiv would pass, if he worked hard enough. There were no strings pulled, not even for Pt. Nehru’s grandson.
Rajiv’s interests lay elsewhere – far from academics and (at the time) Indian politics.
Dr. Rozario wrote in his diary in June 1963, “… his (Rajiv’s) father was more interested in politics than studies and from what I have seen of Rajiv, he is also not academically inclined.”
Dr. Rozario left London in 1964, returning to New Delhi to take up a new assignment as Joint Secretary to the Ministry of Education. He was later superseded for Secretary by M.C. Chagla (the then Minister of Education), becoming perhaps the longest-serving Joint Secretary at the Ministry.
Rajiv ultimately failed to get his degree at Cambridge – unable to pass year-end examinations. He also failed at Imperial, which he joined later, on the recommendation of Dr. Rozario’s successor at the Indian High Commission (and so, Dastidar was partly correct).
Dr. Rozario died in 1998 at the age of 87. He left the file marked “Rajiv Gandhi” at the bottom of a cardboard box containing letters and correspondence from his time in government. He never told a soul about his experiences with Rajiv other than his wife Sophy, who often hosted young Rajiv at their home in Finchley, North London.
As a result, much of what has been written about Rajiv’s time in England is based on very little substance and mostly on speculation. I guess the man who “knew the information” wasn’t willing to divulge details. Rajiv, as far as Dr. Rozario was concerned, was just like the other Indian students he guided. It was his job, and he did it to the best of his abilities.
Rajiv kept in touch, and sometimes visited Dr. Rozario in retirement at his farm in Fatehpur Beri, outside Delhi. They were always pleased to see each other, embracing in a hug and reminiscing about their time in England.
(Aryan D’Rozario is based in Washington D.C. He is the great-grandson of Dr. Albert Michael D’Rozario. This essay is based on approximately 157 documents concerning Rajiv Gandhi, the 6th Prime Minister of India, that remain unpublished.)