No one would know better the ups and downs of Indian politics and how it makes strange bedfellows than Tariq Anwar who was recently sworn in as Indian Minister for Agriculture and Food Processing in the UPA cabinet reshuffle in October this year. For a leader who was offered a cabinet berth by Rajiv Gandhi way back in 1985, it took some 27 years after which he formally relented to accept a berth in the Union Council of Ministers.
“I was essentially an organizational man and so I had then requested Rajivji to give me assignment within the party as I wanted to strengthen the organization at that crucial time,” recalls Tariq in an exclusive interview with The Times recently in New Delhi. The interview was conducted at his official Tilak Marg residence.
Rajiv Gandhi who was the Prime Minister (1985-90) made him the Chairman of Congress Sewa Dal of which he was the Chairman himself. That Rajiv Gandhi offered his own position to Tariq Anwar was in itself a strong signal of the stature that he enjoyed.
In a short span, Tariq turned Sewa Dal into a mass movement, holding rallies, functions and training programs all over India. In a way Sewa Dal became the hub of activity within the Congress even overtaking other frontal organization like the powerful Youth Congress.
Tariq had proved his point with Rajiv Gandhi personally attending many of the Sewa Dal training programs in different parts of India.
It may be of great interest that when Congress was facing internal squabble in Maharashtra during Sharad Pawar tenure as the Chief Minister in 1990’s, Rajiv Gandhi appointed Tariq Anwar as the party observer. He met all the party men and dissident leaders and worked out a formula that saved Sharad Pawar seat of power. Years later, Tariq joined hand with Sharad Pawar to form the Nationalist Congress Party.
As it is said that politics makes strange bedfellows, a group of young Congress Turks assembled at Tariq’s New Delhi office after the tragic assassination of Rajiv Gandhi in 1991 and rallied to make Sonia Gandhi the Prime Minister. Sonia however politely declined and PV Narasimha Rao was then elected. Eight years later Tariq along with Pawar and Sangma left the Congress following political differences with Sonia Gandhi.
On 25th May 1999, the Nationalist leaders Sharad Pawar, Tariq Anwar with hundreds of their political supporters assembled in New Delhi and took the historic decision to form a new political party under the name ‘Nationalist Congress Party’.
Pawar was elected President and Tariq as the General Secretary of the party. Tariq Anwar belongs to a reputed family of Bihar which was associated with freedom struggle. Grandfather Barrister Shah Mohd. Zubair was the President of Bihar-Orissa Pradesh Congress Committee way back in 1930’s.
He was Member of Council of States from Bihar. His father Late Shah Mushtaque Ahmed was Member of Bihar Legislative Assembly. He was also President of Anjuman Taraqui Urdu, Chairman of Bihar Urdu Academy and Chairman of Bihar State Sunni Waqf Board.
Tariq entered politics at a very early age and as a student, he shot into prominence in Bihar politics. Sanjay Gandhi who then was leading the Youth Congress recognized his talent and made him head of the state unit. Elected to Lok Sabha in 1980, Tariq emerged as one of the most strong youth leader of his time, first as President of Youth Congress and then as Chairman Congress Sewa Dal. So powerful was his stature, that many of the present day Congress ministers and Chief Ministers were inducted into politics by him.
With a strong organizational sense, Tariq continued to galvanize the youth and despite losing election in 1991, his stature remained intact. Prime Minister Narasimha Rao assigned him several tasks to bring back the Muslims to the party after the demolition of Babri Mosque in 1992.
“Our difference with Soniaji was on principles and we stood by it,” said Tariq on his parting ways with the Congress. “I have thanked Soniaji for reposing faith in me after I was inducted in Union Council of Ministers as she is the Chairperson of the ruling UPA alliance”.
Sharad Pawar nominated him twice to the Rajya Sabha from Maharashtra. “Pawarji is a great nationalist leader and by inducting me as MP from Maharashtra gives a clear indication of his pan India approach as I hail from Bihar”. It may be recalled that Shiv Sena in Maharashtra has run a movement against north Indians especially those from Bihar.
As a quick learner, Tariq has now taken full control of the ministry which is of immense importance in the Indian political scenario. He said that he has plans to turn the tables in agriculture sector as country’s farm sector is at “crossroads” despite growth in production. This he said was due to pressure of growing population, depleting resources, climate change and constraints in availability of cheaper technology, among other things.
Even as considerable progress has been made in raising India’s food-grains output from 52 million tons in 1951-51 to a record 257.44 million tons in 2011-12, per capita consumption of most of the food items in the country is still lower than the desired level, he suggested.
But Tariq sounds confident that FDI in multi-brand retail would boost the growth of the food processing industries and has invited private players to invest in this sector to tap the huge potential.
“The steady emergence of the organized food retail and the decision to allow FDI in multi-brand retail will surely take the Indian food processing industry to greater heights,”
The private sector must join hands with the government in improving the prospects of the food processing sector, Tairq added.
Potato and potato-based products, which contributes 85 percent of the USD 3 billion Indian snack market, would be a major contributor to the growth in the food processing sector, he added.
“I have urged the Indian Chamber of Commerce to rope in investors and entrepreneurs interested to set up processing units for potato and also other food items,” Tariq said, adding that Food processing Ministry is providing fiscal incentives for setting up projects.
According to him the government is targeting to increase the level of processing of perishable items from 6 percent to 20 percent, value-addition from 20 percent to 35 percent and share in global food trade from 1.5 percent to 3 per cent by 2015.
Tariq is also confident that FDI would give great impetus to agriculture sector with more cold storages, food grains stores and ushering new technology. “This will give a great boost to the farmers in the country,” he said.
One thing was clear during the interview that Tariq Anwar means what he says and so Indian agriculture and food processing sector is set for a boom time.
- By Reaven D'Souza