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When Lal Bahadur Shastri waited for hours to meet a Congress candidate | India News

NEW DELHI: Senior Congress politician HKL Bhagat once mistook Nusrat Bhutto for her daughter Benazir and kept praising her looks during a SAARC meeting in 1988, says a new book.
“We were chatting with Begum Nusrat Bhutto, mother of the PM, who was heading the Pakistan Peoples’ Party (PPP) then. Somehow, Bhagatji mistook her to be Benazir and kept complimenting her on her ‘youthful’ looks, etc. diplomatically,” says veteran Congress politician Mohsina Kidwai in her autobiography, My Life In Indian Politics.
“It was turning awkward until Natwar Singhji sensed Begum Nusrat’s discomfort and gently told Bhagat about Begum Nusrat’s background and status in the Bhutto family. On our way back, when Natwar Singh told Rajivji (Gandhi) about the episode, everyone had a good laugh,” says the Congress politician, now 90.
The incident occurred during a SAARC meeting in Islamabad which had taken place between Dec 29-31. Benazir had been sworn in as Pakistan’s Prime Minister just a few weeks ago.
Barabanki-born Mohsina Kidwai enjoyed a long and rich innings in Congress politics. Born in a conservative, aristocratic Muslim family, she served as Union minister on several occasions. At one point in 1987, Rajiv Gandhi had toyed with the idea of making her vice-president, writes journalist Rasheed Kidwai in the book’s introduction. The book was narrated to him.
My Life In Indian Politics is riddled with fascinating anecdotes, some of them from the 1960s. Mohsina was the daughter-in-law of Jameel Ur Rahman Kidwai, who was an active Congressman in Uttar Pradesh from the 1940s to 1960s.
Mohsina talks about an incident which happened when Lal Bahadur Shastri, who had been canvassing for Jameel, visited their house, sometime in the 1950s. “Shastriji was a simple man. Our domestic help, who did not recognize him, asked him where he had come from. Shastriji, by then already a Union minister, replied he had come in connection with the election and wished to meet Jameel sahab,” she says.
“He will return home in the evening,” the domestic help told Shastriji and asked him to wait. Shastriji waited. The servant served him tea. In the evening, when my father-in-law returned, he saw Shastriji waiting. A little embarrassed, my father-in-law scolded the servant for not informing him about the guest. After that, Shastriji went on to become a member of our extended family,” Mohsina writes. The incident underlines Shastri’s humility and simplicity. Shastri was India’s Prime Minister from 1964-66.
At just 28, Mohsina became a member of the Uttar Pradesh Legislative Council in 1960. She came to national prominence when Indira Gandhi asked her to contest a bypoll for the Azamgarh Lok Sabha seat in 1978. Congress had been routed in the 1977 Lok Sabha elections winning zero seats out of 85 in Uttar Pradesh. This was a critical, comeback election for both Indira and the Congress. Indira’s gamble of opting for a Muslim woman as the Congress candidate was considered a gamble but it paid off. Mohsina became the first person to win an election on Congress (I)’s new hand symbol prevailing by over 36,000 votes against Ram Bachan Yadav of Janata Party.
Mohsina acknowledges how Indira backed her from the very beginning. She recalls that in 1966, senior Congressman Hemwati Nandan Bahuguna objected to her being fielded again as a Congress MLC candidate for Uttar Pradesh.
“He said I had just lost an election in May and it was too early to field me again. It would set a wrong precedent, he said, if a candidate who had lost less than three months back was fielded again so soon. When Bahugunaji’s voice rose even further, Indiraji cut him short. “Bahugunaji, the record of your supporters winning in recent elections has been rather dismal. How many Muslim women come out to fight elections? The ones that brave it, you make their election so communal and dirty that they do not stand a chance.”
“With Indiraji’s support, I fought and won the election and went back to the House for another six-year-term — to the surprise of many and disappointment of some,” she says.
Interestingly, Rasheed points out that “barely 20 Muslim women have made it to the Lok Sabha so far, from among nearly 9,000 Members of Parliament voted since 1951. Out of the 17 Lok Sabhas constituted till May 2019, five times, the lower house did not have a single Muslim woman member.

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