“My Life In Indian Politics” By Mohsina Kidwai

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Adam Rizvi, The India observer, TIO, NJ: In an candid account of her life, aptly titled as “My Life In Indian Politics [HarperCollins India] veteran Congress leader Mohsina Kidwai assesses not just her own contribution to public life, but also provides an honest appraisal of the turn in fortunes of the political party she has remained a loyal member of. The reader is treated to rare glimpses into the homes, lives and the hurly-burly of election campaigns over the decades. One such memorable one was the Azamgarh by poll in 1978, which Kidwai won as Uttar Pradesh Congress chief, and which signaled a revival of the Congress’s fortune after its spectacular defeat in the post-Emergency general elections of 1977. Written with the honesty and simplicity that have been her trademark in public life, this then is not just the memoir of a politician; it is an assessment of an entire era in Indian politics.

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Mohsina Kidwai has been in public life as a member of the Indian National Congress for over six decades. A cabinet minister in several successive central governments and a senior office-holder in the Congress, she has had a ringside view of Indian politics for almost the entire span of independent India’s existence. She has witnessed, and been a participant in, the tenures of prime ministers from Jawaharlal Nehru to Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi, and was a member of parliament until 2016, one of only twenty Muslim women to have been elected to the Lok Sabha since 1951.

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The book has been written by Rasheed Kidwai, a renowned political commentator, analyst and senior journalist. His previous works include a full length biography of Sonia Gandhi and a book on the congress fortunes titled, 24 Akbar Road. He is a visiting fellow with the Observer Research Foundation (ORF). A former associate editor of the Telegraph, he is a graduate from St Stephen’s College, New Delhi, and holds a Master’s degree in mass communications from the University of Leicester, United Kingdom. He also contributes to numerous television channels, including CNN-News18, ABP News, NDTV, India Ahead News and India Today TV.

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Mohsina Kidwai on why she chose to write her memoirs:

“Everyone has a book in them and perhaps I am no exception. I was a reluctant writer, often wondering, weighing over a range of political, ethical and personal issues. But as I became less active in public life and saw various trends and shades in our country’s polity, I firmed up my mind to write my memoirs.  ‘My Life in Indian Politics’ is a story of my life but in many ways, it is also a journey of our post-independence beloved country. As a political worker of the past and now, it is clear to me that challenges have always been multiple and intricate but not unsurmountable. I find myself fortunate to have enjoyed uninterrupted adulation of the masses, the party I belonged to and the leadership I obeyed and respected. Almighty Allah has been considerate in giving me a life that allowed me to reflect, marvel at the beauty of all life and savour the power and positions I was given. No words of gratitude would be enough to thank my creator and fellow human beings who have been an integral part of my journey.”

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In his foreword, Dr. Shashi Tharoor has described Mohsina Kidwai as one of the Congress Party’s most senior and distinguished leaders who began her involvement with public life by winning election to the Uttar Pradesh Legislative Council in 1960, aged just 28, she went on to dedicate her life to politics and public service. “Becoming a member of the state legislative assembly and then the Lok Sabha, she rose to serve in senior cabinet positions first under Indira Gandhi and then under Rajiv Gandhi, gaining their trust through her tireless work at every level of the party. She continued to sit in the Rajya Sabha until well into her eighties, her age proving no barrier to her commitment and her active involvement in public service”, writes Tharoor adding, “My Life in Indian Politics ” recounts her personal life as well as her fascinating career, from her early years in Barabanki to the scrappy battles of local politics to the corridors of power.

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I got to know Mohsina ji rather late in her political career, and at the (belated) start of mine, and found that her gentle, soft-spoken manner reflected both her decency and her determination to ensure the right results were achieved. All through her memoir, one is struck by the themes that seem to consistently characterised Mohsina Kidwai’s work: humility, dedication, integrity, and a fierce determination to do the right thing. Her identities are manifold: a staunch Congresswoman; a loving mother of three daughters; a proud Muslim; and above all, an Indian, dedicated to the well-being of her country. “

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As an author, Mohsina Kidwai writes with passion, clarity, and memorable detail, recounting her decades at the frontline of politics and expressing with unwavering strength her firm belief in democracy, freedom, and the politics of inclusivity. At various times, her memoir is moving, funny, and entertaining, but always intriguing – a treat for any historian of Indian politics. This book is a fitting marker of her long and dedicated career, and of the legacy that she has bequeathed to Indian politics: one of principled service, visionary selflessness, and all-embracing tolerance. I am pleased to commend it to the general public.

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In his introduction, co-author Rasheed Kidwai makes some startling revelations. For instance, he says a cursory look at the elected representatives to the Indian parliament reveals a telling yet largely glossed over fact—barely 20 Muslim women have made to the Lok Sabha so far from among nearly 9000 MPs voted since 1951. Out of the 17 Lok Sabha constituted till May 2019, five times, the lower house of parliament did not have a Muslim women member. Equally shocking is the fact the number of Muslim women elected to parliament never crossed a mark of four in the 543-seat lower house of parliament.

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Mohsina Kidwai, hailing from a conservative, aristocratic Muslim family of Avadh, hold a distinction of winning Lok Sabha thrice—in 1978, 1980 and 1984. Her parliamentary credentials are remarkable having won from Azamgarh (the Lok Sabha by poll marked the great comeback of Indira Gandhi) in the eastern

Uttar Pradesh and Meerut from Western side of the state. Anyone remotely connected with the socio-economic condition of Uttar Pradesh and caste matrix or observing the related fundamentals would vouch that finding acceptability in these two diverse regions is a rather insurmountable task. In addition, during the course of her long and illustrious political life spread from 1960 to 2016, she was elected to Uttar Pradesh assembly, legislative council and the Rajya Sabha besides serving as the Chairperson of UP Congress and Cabinet Minister in Uttar Pradesh Congress Government.

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In the list of women Lok Sabha MPs such as Sajda Ahmed, Mamtaz Sanghamita, Nusrat Jahan, Masoom Noor, Noor Begum, Kaisar Jahan, Tabbasum Begum, Begum Abida Ahmad, Begum Akbar Jahan, Mahbooba Mufti, Rubab Syeda, Mofida Ahmed, Maimuna Sultan, Chavda Zohraben Akarbai, Nafisa Ali and Ranee Narah, Mohsina Kidwai holds a unique distinction not only in terms of duration as the elected representative but the high positions she held in Indira and Rajiv Gandhi cabinet. At one point in 1987, Rajiv Gandhi had toyed with the idea of making Mohsina Kidwai Vice President of the Republic. She was sounded but the quest to serve as public representative reportedly prevailed upon her not to accept the high office and the post went to another illustrious son of India, Dr. Shankar Dayal Sharma who rose to serve as the President of the Republic. Throughout the six long decades, Mohsina Kidwai has been a picture of service, sacrifice, integrity and probity in public life. 

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Mohsina Kidwai strongly, rather passionately believes that Muslims could live as observant in a multi-religious, multicultural, pluralistic society as full citizens of an independent, secular India. In this endeavour, she wants present and future generations of Indian Muslims to fight with both Hindu right wingers and Muslim separatists giving intellectual and scholarly basis for her line of thinking. For Mohsina Kidwai, in independent India, there should have been a central law to curb communalism and religious fanaticism. Among many numerous and valuable suggestions, Mohsina Kidwai is for reforming textbooks by including in them the description of the cultures and living conduct of all religions. The real strength of Mohsina Kidwai’s memoirs is her assessment of the Congress.

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This is one institution she really cared for and played a pivotal role in its rise and the great comeback in1978-79. When everything looked bleak for Indira Gandhi after the 1977 defeat, she would often restlessly ask, “aakhir kab hamari wapsi hogi?” Mohsina Kidwai paved the way with her spectacular electoral victory at Azamgarh in 1978 when she was Uttar Pradesh Congress chief. The future of present day Congress looks bleak. But after going through her autobiography, it becomes clear that if the grand old party returns to the concept of the Back to Basics, its revival is very much possible. The Congress needs self-belief (of 1978) and confidence in the parties core ideology, liberal ideas, inclusive thinking. Secularism, for instance, has been an integral part of the Congress ideology, implying separation of religion from politics. In the Indian context, the Congress’ definition of secularism meant equal respect for all faiths and protection of the security, identity and interests of all religious minorities.

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Curated and Compiled by Humra Kidwai

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