|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
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
| 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
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.