Being a literary critic, educational administrator and a politician- is a combination unique of its kind and rarely seen in the political sphere of the country. Dr Shakeelur Rehman not only lived through these, but performed them gracefully.
Known to be a literary critic, an able administrator, and a short tryst with politics Shakeelur Rehman is remembered for being a scrupulous politician, his intellectual depth and dissent as an administrator.
He was Born in Motihari, Bihar with ancestral roots in Harpur, Saran, where his grandfather Leeladhar Prasad is buried. His grandfather had converted to Islam and re-christened himself as M Abdur Rehman. He had inherited in-depth understanding of comparative religion and literature from his grandfather.
Constructed a literary world for Himself
In the world of Urdu literature, he created new vistas of aesthetics upon Urdu speaking people. His work was based on the appraisal of works of Amir Khusro, Kabir, Dara Shukoh, Mir, Ghalib, Faiz, Prem Chand, Manto, Maulana Azad, Rumi, Akhtarul Iman, Firaq, etc., besides a biography of Ahmad Nadeem Qasmi. He also wrote a travelogue- “Deewaar-e-Chin se Butkhana-e-Chin Tak” and also wrote “Ek Alamat Ka Safar” (Journey of a Symbol), a creative articultation of his concern for environment. He describes many oral traditions to reconstruct local history of Champaran.
Cleaned up Two Universities in Bihar
Inspite of his wide-ranging readings, intellectual depth and proven academic credentials, Rehman had to run from pillar to post in the 1950s for a job of teaching. He got a job in Kashmir, on the recommendation of Maulana Abul Kalam Azad.
He was then sent to Bihar as Vice Chancellor of Bihar university at Muzaffarpur during the 1978-80. Later he also became Vice Chancellor of Darbhanga’s Lalit Narain Mithila University (LNMU) in 1987 at a time when there was deep-rooted irregularities and corruption in the university.
LNMU, inspite of being one of the largest universities in the country with 67 colleges in eight districts, it was not recognised by the University Grants Commission (UGC). Some of the problems included more teachers and non-teaching staff than the required position; promotion every five years and higher scales to non-teaching staff. Reports also suggested that a person was appointed as a peon in the morning, became an assistant in the afternoon and the same evening was promoted to an officer.
Shakeelur Rahman took up the charge of LNMU and started taking action against corruption. The university was also a battle ground for powerful Minister for Human Resource Development Dr Nagendra Jha, who used to teach at the university and former chief minister Jagannath Mishra, both Maithili Brahmins. Shakeelur Rahman, immediately took up the charge of cleaning the university and stopped the promotion of Dr Nagendra Jha from reader to professor since he wasn’t seen teaching for years. He said that he didn’t have anything against the minister, but added that it is his duty to cleanse the campus of corruption and politics. 38 other professors were also demoted to readers overnight in the university, a report in India Today said.
He also cracked down on teachers and non-teaching staff who were divided into various Congress(I) groups. Rahman’s courage would make his career beyond academics, later as a politician.
Entry into Politics
Shakeelur Rahman’s cold war with Nagendra Jha also became one of the reasons for his entry into politics. Nagendra Jha was the Education Minister in Bihar and a powerful figure in Bihar politics. Jha had entered politics and became MLA from 1967 to 1985. He served as an education minister under the late Chandrashekhar Singh.
It is said that due to Nagendra Jha, Shakeelur Rahman was made to step down from the VC’s position at LNMU in 1988 and was sent back to Kashmir.
The Congress party under Rajiv Gandhi gave ticket to Jha in the Lok Sabha elections in 1989. But there was a public support in favour of Rahman and he contested the election under Janata Party and won the Darbhanga seat with a margin of around 78,000 votes. He also went on to become the Union health minister for a brief period. He has recorded these details in his “Darbhanga Ka Jo Zikr Kiya”.
A prolific career
However, Shakeelur Rehman is not remembered for being a strict academician or his repute in politics. His achievements are not bound in accomplishments. He also represented a rare breed of intelligentsia, which went beyond their works to bring a considerable change in the society. His work as the vice chancellor had earned him popularity among the Mithila students.
The 1989 elections, where Rahman won was also crucial in many ways. He was contesting election after his popularity due to crackdown against the powerful forces he was also successfully elected to the Parliament in 1989. It was for the first time that a Muslim candidate had successfully contested the Darbhanga seat. The fund for his election campaign was collected by students, owing to his popularity among them. After his tenure, another Janata Dal leader Mohammad Ali Ashraf Fatmi won the parliamentary seat four times.
Shakeelur Rehman received the “Ghalib Award”, “Urdu Academy Award”, “National Award” from India and the “Ahmad Nadeem Qasmi Award” from Pakistan and other awards for his contribution to Urdu Literature.
He also wrote memoir titled ‘Aashram’, which is widely revered. Rahman died on 9 May 2016 at Gurgaon in Haryana near New Delhi.