Patriots > Freedom Struggle under Mahatma Gandhi > Kidwai,Rafi Ahmad
Kidwai,Rafi Ahmad (1894-1954)
Rafi Ahmad Kidwai was born on 18 February 1894 in village Masauli of Barabanki district (U. P.), and died at the age of sixty on 24 October 1954 in New Delhi. His family history went back to about a thousand years, when his ancestor Qazi Kidwa is reputed to have come in the retinue of Mohammad Ghazni. The Kidwais were middle-class zamindars. Rafi's parents, Sheikh Imtiaz Ali and Begum Rashid-ul-Nisa, were devout Muslims. Imtiaz Ali entered Government Service,serving as a Tehsildar and later on as Manager,Courts of Wards.

The Government rewarded Ali's honest and good services by conferring on him the title of Khan Saheb. Imtiaz Ali's only younger brother, Vilayat Ali, was a lawyer of some standing at Barabanki; and after his mother's death Rafi Ahmad shifted, at the age of eight, for schooling to his uncle's house, where he matriculated. Rafi Ahmad had three brothers, one of whom died of a knife-stab during the pre-Independence communal holocaust and the other two survived him.

He was married in 1919 to Begum Majid-ul-Nisa, a lady of considerable beauty, highly orthodox, and who never forsook Pardah. About one year after the marriage a son, the only issue, was born to the couple, who died at the age of seven.

Rafi Ahmad started studies in the village school under Moulvi Imam Ali. At home he was put under the charge of one Haji Chhotak, a strict disciplinarian who would not allow boy Rafi to mix with commoner's children. It was not the father but the uncle who cast the future of Rafi Ahmad. Vilayat Ali was an active member of both the Congress and the Muslim League (the two had not developed hostility at the time), would host national leaders including the famous Ali brothers and Raja Ghazanfar Ali and contribute voluminously to the Comrade and the New Age.

Rafi Ahmad graduated from the M.A.O. College at Aligarh in 1918, but before completing the LL.B. course he fell under the spell of Gandhiji and left the College. Rafi Ahmad did not join any national college or university, but fell headlong into the non-cooperation movement. His radical politics soon attracted the attention of the local authorities, who lodged him in jail for one year. Jail became a second home to him thereafter.

On release Rafi Ahmad went to Anand Bhavan, started work as Private Secretary to Motilal Nehru and virtually became a member of the Nehru family. In 1926 he was elected to the Central Legislative Assembly on Swaraj Party ticket and resigned membership in 1930 at the call of the Congress.

By late 'twenties he had gained sufficient stature to be the Chief Whip of the Congress Party in the Central Legislative, which gave him an opportunity to display his organising capacity and skill in political manouvering. Among the offices held by him in the 'twentities an important one was the Secretaryship of the Reception Committee of the Kanpur session of the Indian National Congress (1925).

After the suspension of the Salt Satyagraha Movement (1931) Rafi Ahmad came to his own, and as Secretary of the U. P. Congress Committee, he spear-headed the agrarian movement. With inimitable skill and ingenuity he organised the no-rent campaign to protect the Oudh peasantry against the economic depression of the thirties. Rafi's bold lead won the confidence of Congessmen and he was elected to the key office of the President of the U.P.C.C. in the crucial year of the first General Elections under the Government of India Act of 1935.

His stewardship of the Congress and victory of Congressmen at the poll carved out for him a permanent place in the party hierarchy. He was a continuous member of the Congress Working Committee, except for the brief interval during Nehru-Tandon controversy.
In the first Cabinet of U.P. formed after the 1935 reforms, Rafi Ahmad was appointed Minister of the key portfolio of Land Revenue, when he got an opportunity to give practical shape to his agrarian programme. Rafi Ahmad's economic outlook was radical, and in the Presidential Address to the Unnao Session of the U. P. Congress (1936) he sponsored the theory that complete assurance to the starved and the naked, especially the peasant, would win more support for the battle for freedom than all talks of close-up in the Congress.

Rafi Ahmad's virtual enactment of the U.P. Tenancy Act (it received the Governor's Assent after the Congress Ministry's resignation in 1939) created a firm base for the Congress among the rural masses and created conditions for the abolition of the Zamindari system. He sponsored the resolution accepting the principle of the abolition of landlordism in the U. P. Assembly. In the U. P. Cabinet formed after the second General Elections (1946) Rafi Ahmad became the Home Minister.

In 1947 Rafi Ahmad's field of activity was shifted to New Delhi, where as the Minister for Communications in the Central Cabinet he distinguished himself by sponsoring the schemes of night-air-mail, own-your-telephone, and paid holiday for postmen. Rafi developed differences on organisational matters and in 1951 resigned membership of the Congress and the Government.

Before the 1952 General Elections there was, however, a reconcillation and Rafi Ahmad won a seat in Parliament from Bahraich as a Congress candidate. In the new Union Cabinet, he was put in charge of the most difficult portfolios-Food and Agriculture. Rafi had reached his apex and feeding the nation without food-aid and controls made him a national hero.

On religion Rafi Ahmad's views were highly unorthodox. He shared Chesterton's belief that organised religion had lost its real contents, and reduced his participation in community prayers on every Friday, to the two annual occasions of Id and Bakr-Id. Rafi Ahmad opposed the orthodox Muslims who wanted to exclude Muslims from the application of the Sarda Act, prescribing the age of consent for girls, on the gorund that it would be a violation of the Shariat Law. He stood for the equality of sexes and freedom of women.

Rafi Ahmad's approach to communal matters was non-religious, that is, he would settle them through far-reaching agreements on fundamental rights, adult suffrage and common electorate. Rafi believed in mass action and mass programmes. Both the Hindu and the Muslim masses suffered equally at the hands of their exploiters, the landlord and the capitalist. Hindu-Muslim unity could thus be achieved through a common struggle to end exploitation.

He stood for complete Independence though by way of compromise he agreed to join the U. P. Cabinet after the 1935 Reforms.

Rafi Ahmad was rather short and stoutly built with a protruding paunch, which did not tend to agility. His loosely fit achkan and baggy paijama would not add to smartness.

He was quiet by nature and austere in living. Undaunted by nature, he would take extreme risks. Highly personal and affectionate, he built numerous lasting friendships. Generous to the core, he was something like a persuasive, non-violent Robin Hood, who would squeeze money out of the rich for the benefit of the poor. As a fund-raiser for the party he was equalled by few. He had no love for worldly possessions, and when he died all the legacy he left was a heavy overdraft and a dilapidated ancestral house, bereft of roofings and doorflaps.
Author : Ajit Prasad Jain