The autobiography of Nafees Fazal, a former Karnataka Congress Minister, aptly titled Breaking Barriers, is a revealing account of a liberal Muslim woman’s journey through Indian politics.
In 2001, former Karnataka Chief Minister SM Krishna asked Nafees Fazal to resign as minister following reports that she was dancing at a party at the West End Hotel. Fazal says it was a party organized by the MLA Dinesh Gundu Rao Congress, which Krishna also attended, but he left early. The next morning, Krishna’s close associate, RT Narayan, complained to him that she had been drinking and dancing at the party. “It was a blatant lie, as everyone knew under the dictate of the Congress party, I never drink alcohol in public. As for the dance, it depends on what you consider dancing. I remember standing with my friends and stamping my feet and occasionally shrugging my shoulders to the beat of a song,” she explains in the book.
Controversies have always cast a shadow over the political and personal life of Karnataka Congress politician Nafees Fazal. The recently published autobiography of the former minister gives insight into her life and the challenges she faced and how she coped with them. Recalling the incident while she was publishing her autobiography on November 4, Krishna admitted that she made a hasty decision in asking for her resignation. “After I sought her resignation, my wife Prema and also Fazal reprimanded me for not trying to find out the real picture. She was just tapping her feet, which I also do with my fingers, when I attend music concerts,” she said. Although Krishna withdrew her resignation, her portfolio was changed from Medical Education to Science and Technology.
In 1983, he received the ticket from Congress to compete in the Shivajinagar district for the Bengaluru City Corporation (now Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike). It was a neighborhood reserved for women and her rival from the Janata Party was a school teacher Mumtaz Begum. The electorate included wrestlers, gymkana horse owners, and butchers. Fazal’s entrance into the room provoked immediate reactions from voters, who enthusiastically commented, “Bhabhi (sister-in-law), you are wearing slippers made of gold!”
“That was the level of literacy among voters, that they mistook my gold-colored leather shoes for genuine gold,” says Fazal. The ruling candidate of the Janata Party won, but the smear campaign unleashed against Fazal that “he smokes, goes to discos in the morning, plays cards in the afternoon and drinks at night” continued throughout his life.
Fazal rose to fame in 1984, when a 25-year-old man, Sayed Umar, alias Munna, died in police custody at Shivajinagar police station. She was walking with local people on Broadway Road in Shivajinagar to claim Munna’s body, when an altercation between police and the crowd led to a lathi charge. The police arrested her for allegedly trying to incite the public and put her in a pre-trial detention center in the company of dancers. The staff had to put up with her hysteria as she cried and threatened to swallow her diamond ring if she was not released on bail.
Entering politics at the age of 31 in 1979, she was the antithesis of a woman in public life for many politicians. In shimmering georgette and chiffon saris, a glamorous woman from a wealthy family did not sit well with some Muslim leaders. Muslim men, she says in the book, are “the biggest MCPs (male chauvinist pigs) and my opinion was reinforced in politics.”
A traumatic childhood and early marriage
According to Fazal, it was the abusive environment in her family that turned her into a rebel. She blames her father, who owned areca nut plantations in Mettupalyam, in the Coimbatore district of Tamil Nadu, saying that he was well educated, had studied at Aligarh Muslim university, but was womanizer. “The plantations do not require supervision throughout the year. When the season ended, daddy went on love walks with her. We couldn’t see him for months, and from time to time we heard about him dating one woman or another. He lavished money on his girlfriends, but kept her mother on a tight budget and beat their wives.”
To escape the trauma at home, Fazal says he would escape to his maternal grandparents’ house in Chennai, where his grandfather was the sheriff of Madras. However, there she too had to witness her adoring grandfather physically and verbally abuse her wife.
When she was seven years old, her father decided to put her in a boarding school in Ooty because he felt that her grandparents were spoiling her. “As my parents walked away from school, Ameen (her younger brother) and I ran after them desperately holding on to the bumper of the Fiat car. Mom was devastated by saying goodbye to her. Unable to control anything that was happening around me and me, I began to rebel against everything,” she says. Her autobiography also recalls an uncle of hers who abused her when she was young. “I didn’t know how to handle the situation and I didn’t tell anyone. But it added to my mistrust of men and I still have a residual anger against them,” she adds.
Fresh out of high school, Fazal met Hassan, whose family owned Fazal’s clothing store on Commercial Street in Bangalore. According to Fazal, Hassan began courting her in typical movie style by following her on her Lambretta scooter. Finally, she agreed, but put three conditions: that he ask her to dance at the Catholic Club, eat Chinese food and allow her to dedicate himself to politics. Married at 17 to Hassan, who was five years her senior, Fazal says: “I had to deal with a mother-in-law who wielded a rolling pin and treated me like a servant. They forced me to fill buckets of water at dawn, cut 30 onions in one day and clean the kennel.”
Politics and casting couch
Fazal reveals that many have asked him if there is a casting couch in politics. She has always responded by asking why politics would be any different from any other field. He is said to have once asked RK Dhawan, his friend and former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s political secretary, if his refusal to play ‘bedroom politics’ was the reason he didn’t get a break from politics afterward. of 14 years. Dhawan warned her that there was no going back on that path (bedroom policy). “You will be passed around until you become a prostitute,” Fazal quotes Dhawan as saying.
He is not shy about admitting that smoking cigarettes with Dhawan was the bond they shared. There was this person in a suit and boots sitting around and smoking Dunhill cigarettes. “I told him, “aap kitne lucky hain” (you are very lucky) and he asked me what I meant. I pointed to the cigarettes and he quickly offered me one. In fact, smoking brought us together and he called me Sweetie,” says Fazal.
When SM Krishna questioned her on a bribery charge
The son of a renowned medical school administrator wanted to push a deal through it to purchase medical equipment for a government hospital from a foreign company. When she turned down the deal, they offered her a hefty bribe, but she refused to budge. The trustee approached RT Narayan accusing Fazal of seeking a bribe, who informed the CM. “I was asked if I accepted a bribe of Rs 30 lakh. I told Krishna that my math was not that bad. When I was offered Rs 3 crore, why would I want to take Rs 30 lakh?
The book mentions her surprise visits as Minister for Medical Education to Victoria and Bowring and Lady Curzon hospitals, her tenure as an MLC, and being denied a ticket to the Vijayapura Assembly in the 2013 Assembly elections. good of his political mentor, former Governor Margaret Alva. She also details the behind-the-scenes work done by KPCC Chairman DK Shivakumar and her to make Krishna head of the state unit in 1999, for which she says AICC Chairman Mallikarjun M Kharge never forgave her. Krishna replaced Kharge’s close friend N Dharam Singh then.
Fazal, who has not been very active in politics in recent years, says her political life began with Indira Gandhi and ended with Rahul Gandhi. Although she says she admires Rahul for reducing corruption in the organization, she also says he treated her harshly for no reason in 2016. She resigned from Congress in 2017 because the party did not take a position on the instant triple talaq and humiliation of Rahul, when she approached him about being nominated again as an MLC. She rejoined the party during Dinesh Gundu Rao’s tenure as KPCC chairman and is expected to take an active role once again in the coming days.