Rafi Ahmed Kidwai [1894-1954] : freedom fighter
Rafi Ahmed Kidwai was born in February 1894 to a middle-class Zamindari family in the village of Masauli in Barabanki district of Uttar Pradesh. His family traced its lineage to the entourage of Mohammad Ghazni. In his childhood, he was tutored by his uncle Vilayat Ali. He enrolled in the M.A.O. College at Aligarh in 1916 and successfully graduated with a B.A degree in 1918. He thought of pursuing law studies but was immensely influenced by Mahatma Gandhi's call to join the Non-Cooperation Movement. Once again, his uncle Vilayat Ali served as his mentor to expose him to the two organizations leading the freedom struggle- the Congress and the Muslim League and their main leaders.
Around the time he was studying, a historic session of the Congress and the Muslim League was held at Lucknow, where the Congress-League pact was signed in December 1916. His uncle ensured he participated in such meetings.
It is not surprising then that by 1920, Kidwai had joined the Khilafat organization. He is said to have been the main force behind the Non-Cooperation Movement in Barabanki district. His then served as private secretary to Motilal Nehru. Subsequently, in 1926, he was elected to the Central Legislative Assembly. His political and social acumen and maturity were well-recognized and led to his appointment as Chief Whip of the Congress party in the Central Legislature.
The 1930's were years that saw Kidwai's growing involvement with farmers and agriculturists in his home state, U.P. He used his position, secretary of the U.P Congress Committee, to organize a no-rent campaign to protect the peasantry from the economic depression that had set in. He was jailed and sentenced in prison for leading this movement but in spite of this, the agrarian movement became a life-time commitment for him.
When Congress governments were established in various provinces under the provincial autonomy scheme introduced in 1937, Kidwai was appointed a minister in Pandit G. B. Pant's U.P. cabinet. He was given charge of the revenue and jail portfolios. He initiated major land reforms in U.P., such as the restructuring of the U.P. Tenancy Act and creating conditions for the abolition of the Zamindari system. He also introduced reforms in jails aiming at making prisoners better citizens.
In April 1946, he became the Home Minister of Uttar Pradesh. Kidwai rose from strength to strength within the party. A close confidante and supporter of Nehru, he was affectionately called "Rafi Sahib".
Post-independence, Kidwai moved base to New Delhi as Minister for Communications. During his tenure, he introduced novel schemes such as the night air mail service in 1948 and own your telephone which still goes by the OYT scheme under which a new telephone connection may be obtained.
After the first general elections in 1952, Nehru inducted Rafi in his cabinet and entrusted him with the food and agriculture portfolio. At this juncture, the country was facing an acute shortage of food and rationing was in vogue. Kidwai applied himself to the problem and converted the man-made scarcity conditions to man-released abundance of food supplies. His work was well-appreciated especially as he created a surplus position without depending on food aid and external controls. He envisaged a self-sufficient India, both insofar as food supply and telecommunications were concerned.
Rafi Ahmed Kidwai was a learned man, whose knowledge went beyond books. He was an excellent manager of men, and applied his bold and imaginative approach to resolve human issues. Secular in thought, simple and sincere in deed, he was a freedom fighter and socialist politician beyond par. When he died in October 1954, possibly of health run down by untiring hard work, he was recognized to have been a man who cared little for material possessions but much for strengthening his country.
A road in the city of Calcutta has been named Rafi Ahmed Kidwai Road in his honor.
For more reading, refer a book on Rafi Ahmad Kidwai by Dr. Md.Hashim Kidwai under the series Builders of Modern India (language English and Urdu).