“The party had no finances to fund its candidates. So as the state party president, I broke a fixed deposit of Rs 90,000 I had saved and sent whatever little amount I could to the candidates”—This is how Mohsina Kidwai recollects the plight of the Congress after its defeat in the 1977 Lok Sabha elections and her own efforts to bring her party to the roads of recovery.
‘My Life in Indian Politics’ is the autobiography of the veteran Congress leader Mohsina Kidwai. The book written with the help of senior journalist and author Rasheed Kidwai and published by Harper Collins is full of personal and political anecdotes.
Rasheed, a master raconteur with a penchant to bedeck his work with enchanting anecdotes has, apparently, helped Mohsina in recollecting the small details of high literary value and penning it down. But the actual credit for penning down such a fascinating account of her over half a century of political journey obviously goes to Mohsina Kidwai who occupied high offices in various union ministries in the 1970’s and 80’s besides officiating as the Uttar Pradesh Congress chief and Congress Working Committee member for long.
The lines of the book quoted above date back to the torrid time in the life of Indira Gandhi and her party known as the Congress-I then. Indira had lost from Raibareilly in the 1977 Lok Sabha polls and her party was in shambles. The former Prime Minister and phenomenal woman leader of post-Independent India had gone into a shell in the run-up to the assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh—the heartland state of India— in 1977. She had lost self-esteem and no amount of cajoling by Mohsina and other party leaders who had access to her worked on her.
Her autobiography is in a sense an account of how it brought out the best from Mohsina when her party and her leader were in crisis. Mohsina is synonymous with Congress’s culture. She joined the party when the most shining star of India’s freedom struggle Jawaharlal Nehru was the Prime Minister. She worked with Indira and Rajiv Gandhi. And she is with the Congress in the era of Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi too.
She is in 90’s and in the twilight of her life. But what is still fresh in her mind are her memories which she has narrated with flair. “It was February 1954, a couple of months after my marriage, when Jameel Ur Rahman Kidwai (her father-in-law) decided to travel to Delhi to meet Jawaharlal Nehruji and introduce me to him as the newest member of his family, his daughter-in-law. I had never felt so nervous. ….. While we waited Nehruji’s daughter Indira Gandhi, came down the staircase that led to the living room. She walked up to my father-in-law, greeted him respectfully and then looked at me. Is this pretty young woman your daughter”, she asked my father-in-law.
The book weaved in the maze of colourful anecdotes takes the reader through the pages with ease. Mohsina has been very honest in detailing her experience with colleagues and opponents in politics. Sonia Gandhi, Chandra Shekhar, Mulayam Singh Yadav, Lalu Prasad Yadav, N. D. Tiwary, Manmohan Singh, Pranab Mukherjee, Amed Patel, V. P. Singh, M. L. Fotedar, Madhav Rao Scindia and many others are in the long list of the leaders Mohsina encountered and worked with in her long political career. She sounds fair, at the same time very nuanced, in assessing the personalities of these leaders.
Here is an example of her take on Mulayam Singh Yadav: “While I feel that nothing negative should be said about anyone, Mulayam Singh, I think, laid himself bare to criticism with the kind of political behaviour he has often exhibited. Opportunism has been the constant companion of this former wrestler and drawing teacher, who would eventually take up politics as his profession”. And look at how she sums up Lalu Prasad Yadav’s persona. “The Rashtriya Janata Dal boss could be charming when he wanted, often disarming, a stern-faced politician with his humour. ‘Everyone says my hairstyle is Sadhna cut. You tell me, Mohsinaji, is this true?’ he asked me suddenly, as we all sat in his room”. Her take on Chandra Shekhar: “Generous, caring and bold, Chandra Shekhar maintained a friendship with all—family friends and even political adversaries—even if some of them had tainted reputation. He never abandoned a friend in good or bad times. Other qualities that he stood out, rare for a man of his stature, were his simplicity and straightforwardness”.
Mohisina’s observations about her contemporary political leaders are very much in sync with that of the academics, scholars and journalists watching them from outside. Apart from her own journey, the book also enlightens the reader about the history and culture, particularly in the Barabanki region. She also deals with the rise of divisive politics that is ruining the syncretic culture of India and has expressed her profound love for what she describes as “Ganga Jamuni Tehjeeb” –the hallmark of India’s social life for ages, under threat now.
I strongly recommend readers to read Mohsina’s memoir. It helps in understanding the contours of politics—particularly of Uttar Pradesh—after Independence. My only criticism and that is a minor one is the book has been written in hurry. It is too short to accommodate the minute details of Mohsina’s life and also the complexities of politics during her time; scholars in contemporary history might want it to have more details.
Sonia Gandhi has written special notes while Manmohan Singh and Shashi Tharoor have written forewords which are worth reading.
(Nalin Verma is a journalist, media educator, author and independent researcher in Social Anthropology)