Rafi Ahmed Kidwai was an Indian independence activist, a politician and a socialist leader. He is also described as an Islamic socialist. He hailed from Barabanki District of United Provinces of British India; now in Uttar Pradesh, India. He was also a minister in the United Provinces and later in the Indian cabinet.
Rafi Ahmed was born on 18 February 1894, in village Masauli, in Barabanki district of Uttar Pradesh in India. He was the eldest son of Imtiaz Ali Kidwai and his wife, Rashid un-Nisa. Rafi’s father, Imtiaz Ali was an affluent Zamindar or land-owner of the district; and was also in government service. As such, he was much respected in the society. Rafi had four younger brothers; Shafi Ahmed, Mehfooz Ahmad, Ali Kamil and Hussain Kamil Kidwai.
Rafi received his early education from a tutor at home. He later had his schooling at the Government High School, Barabanki till 1913. He then attended the Mohammadan Anglo-Oriental College, Aligarh. In 1918, he graduated with a BA. He then enrolled in LLB, but could not complete it. This was the time when he joined the Khilafat and Non-cooperation movements of 1920–21. These were the beginning of Mahatma Gandhi’s major movements towards independence of India. Rafi was jailed by the British government for his participation in these movements.
Rafi Ahmed Kidwai entered politics after participation in the Khilafat movement. After his release from jail in 1922, Kidwai moved to Allahabad. He joined the Indian National Congress. He became the private secretary to Motilal Nehru, and then to Jawaharlal, to whom he remained devoted. Kidwai took the leading organizational role in numerous ventures; in the election campaign of the Swaraj Party, which was an electoral offshoot of the Congress, in 1926. During this he was elected to the Central Legislative Assembly of British India from 1926 to 1929. He was also involved in the Satyagraha and agrarian no-tax movement in the United Provinces in 1930–31.
After the Government of India Act 1935 was passed, he also held an office for the INC.
In 1937, Kidwai became a minister for Revenue and Prisons in the United Provinces of Agra and Oudh (UP) under the Provincial Autonomy Scheme. This cabinet was headed by Govind Ballabh Pant. Under his initiatives as a minister for Revenue, United Province became the first province to curtail the zamindari system.
Later, in April 1946, he was made the Home Minister of United Provinces. He introduced many reforms in prisons with an aim to make prisoners better citizens after their release.
In 1947, when India gained independence from the British, Jawaharlal Nehru became the first Prime Minister of India. Kidwai was very close to Nehru. Kidwai became India’s first Minister for Communications. Nehru’s central cabinet at that time had only two Muslims, Kidwai and Abul Kalam Azad.
In the first general elections in 1952, Rafi Ahmad Kidwai was elected from Bahraich constituency. Nehru gave him the portfolio of Food and Agriculture. This was the time when there was a food crisis in India rationing in the country. In this role, he implemented several measures that prevented a major food crisis. Kidwai with his astute sense and action-oriented leadership turned the situation and made efforts to make India a food-grain surplus country. He also played a critical role in the Kashmir crisis in 1953, involving the displacement of Sheikh Abdullah from the prime ministership of the state.
In 1919, Rafi was married to Majid-un-Nisa, a match which was arranged by their families; and the marriage lasted till the end of their lives. The couples were blessed with a child; a son who died at an early age of seven years.
Kidwai died on 24 October 1954 aged 60, while he was still holding office as a Minister. Continuous strenuous work had destroyed his health and he had developed cardiac asthma. He was buried with full state honours in his hometown.
Honours in his memory
To honor his memory, the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) in 1956 instituted the Rafi Ahmed Kidwai Award for Indian researchers in the agricultural field. Awards are distributed every second year in the form of medals and citations along with cash prizes.
In November 2011, Government of India renamed the Postal Staff College, Ghaziabad as Rafi Ahmed Kidwai National Postal Academy. This is an academy which imparts training to the officers of Indian Postal Service selected through Civil Services Examination conducted by the UPSC.
In Kolkata, a major street has been named after him. His statue has been installed in Lucknow and Krishi Bhawan, New Delhi. In his honour, Rafi Ahmad Kidwai Inter College has been established in Hardoi district of Uttar Pradesh. Kidwai Memorial Institute of Oncology is named after him.
Written By: Raj Kumar Hansdah