by Syed Saba Hafeez
Last Wednesday morning I got the sad news about the passing away of Kidwai Saheb (Dr. Akhalqur Rehman Kidwai; 1 July 1920 – 24 August 2016). Inna lillahe wa Inna elayhi ra’ajoon (To God we belong and to Him we will retun).
For those who don’t know him well, Kidwai Saheb served as governor of the states of Bihar, West Bengal, and Haryana. He was a member of the Rajya Sabha, the upper house of the Indian parliament, from 2000 to 2004. He was awarded the Padma Vibhushan, India’s second highest civilian award.
It is common to see adjectives like academician, chemist, politician, etc., being associated with him. Perhaps a correct way to describe him would be ‘parliamentarian and administrator’ instead of the word, politician. Indeed, he was one the finest administrators of his time whether serving an institution or a state.
Dr. Akhalqur Rehman Kidwai was a one of the few rare personalities bold enough to help not only fellow Muslims but also everyone else in general (sounds familiar to all INSAN alumni, a lesson Kidwai saheb and my father Dr Syed Hasan got during their schooling in Jamia Millia Islamia). Hence, everyone regardless of cast or creed dearly respected him; others have pointed as out.
He was a man of action, he got things done effectively and proactively using his personal connections and his position, without making any political rhetoric and noises. During my recent visit to India, one employee at the Governor House in Patna recalled when Kidwai Saheb found out that a particular project hadn’t moved because the secretariat had not sent the needed data all these months, he ordered the department to open on a Sunday and produce the required data and bring it to his desk that very day. When a small city was about to drown into a communal blood bath, he mobilized the administration to take all preventive steps to stop it during his rule as a Governor of Bihar. People like me are alive today to write this as he was a godsend.
“I am not a politician but I deal with them all the time,“ he once told a journalist. His actions drew admirers regardless of party politics. He was appointed to his first post retirement job as Governor of Bihar by then President Neelam Sanjeeva Reddy of Janata Dal.
Today we are also witnessing how all are remembering him.
A scholar and a Gandhin by heart
Then then Governor of Bihar Dr. A. R. Kidwai visit to INSAN back in 1982. Here he is visiting a student science exhibition.
Dr. Kidwai who was educated at Jamia Millia Islamia, later studied at University of Illinois, and Cornell University in the U.S., always had a keen interest in education and science. From leading the nation’s first Biochemistry Department at Aligarh Muslim University, to the Union Public Service Commission, Khuda Bakhsh Khan Oriental Library, Alia University, Dr. Ambedkar Center of Bio Medical Research, Gandhian Studies Centers, and other numerous institutions, he left profound marks wherever he served. As a true Gandhian, he also took keen interest in reaching out to the poor, the orphans, the rural farmers, and strived for national harmony.
He could have easily taken his post-retirement gubernatorial and other positions of privilege as relaxing retirement jobs, a common phenomena back in the late seventies, and still so for many. Instead, he chose to spend his days as an active, engaging, initiative-taking, and problem-solving public servant.
He was and always will be a role model for all us.
Though Kidwai Saheb was four years senior to my father (Dr. Syed Hasan, founder of INSAN, Kishanganj, Bihar, and known as Syed Bhai), he was a great admirer of him and was one of the few people who truly understood my father’s mission and supported it throughout. My father also had great love and respect for him. There was one rare moment when my father got emotional in public right before he was about to welcome Kidwai Saheb to the stage during his visit to the INSAN campus. Kidwai Saheb later reflected, “We both took the message of Gandhiji. I headed for the cities, Syed Hasan headed for the villages. And the villages were the ones Gandhiji emphasized”. This also shows his humility despite his stature.
A humble soul
Many remember his hospitality such as sending his car and chauffeur to pick up his guests from railway stations and airports. He kept himself always accessible and often people will refer to it as his Khula Darbar. If there was a genuine request and he could do something about it, he never hesitated in doing his bit. Once I called him but he was not available. The receptionist at the Haryana Governor House tried to take my information though he seemed to be having some difficulty in doing that. To my surprise I received a call back from Kidwai Saheb. Whether it was an invitation by a Swami starting a program for orphan kids or the need to help a Tableeghi Jamaat Ijtema’a, he was always ready to offer his contributory hand for the goodness of others, though interestingly he was neither a Hindu nor a Tableeghi.
Just few years back, we wanted to honor Kidwai Saheb. While I was mostly working out the details with his family members, I was told that he wanted to talk to me. He asked me to organize a program in Delhi about INSAN since many people, especially those from the new generation in central government, are unaware of the great works of Syed saheb and ought to know about it. He even offered to take care of the venue, guests, and all other logistics. It was such a generous gesture reflecting his approach.
I was fortunate to be able to talk to Kidwai uncle several times on phone but during my recent visit, I had the opportunity to meet him as well. I was pleased to see him in good spirits but wished I could have done this at least a few years back when I could have collected some memories of the old Jamia days and few words of wisdom from him.
We all will miss him as Ek Aur Chiraagh Bujh Gaya. India has lost another one of her most respected sons and an incredible public servant.
Saba Syed Hafeez is son of late INSAN Founder Padamshree Dr. Syed Hasan. Based in the USA, he is engaged in hunger, homelessness, and educational causes in America. INSAN is the venue partner of Kitaab’s Seemanchal International Literary Festival.