A well-known anecdote from the life of veteran Karnataka Congress leader C K Jaffer Sharief, who passed away on Sunday at the age of 85, is that he carried information regarding the impending split in the Congress in 1969 to then prime minister Indira Gandhi. As a young worker and driver at the Congress office in Karnataka, Sharief had overheard a conversation involving then Congress president S Nijalingappa’s plans to split the party.
The diehard Gandhi family loyalist would later become an MP eight times and rise to become the railway minister in the 1980s. After winning his first election in 1971, he would remain undefeated until 2004 — mostly from the Bangalore North constituency. He did not contest the 1996 Lok Sabha polls.
In the last decade of his life though, Sharief’s loyalty to the Congress showed signs of fraying, with the veteran leader threatening to desert the party on at least two occasions. In 2014, he was left sulking following denial of a Congress ticket for the Lok Sabha polls. The party compensated by giving his grandson Abdul Rehman Sharief a ticket for the 2016 Assembly by-election from Bengaluru, but Rehman lost.
Despite illness and despite his declining political grasp though, Sharief, who hailed from a poor family and could not complete school, remained an influential Muslim leader in Karnataka. As railway minister, he was widely credited with overseeing the conversion of a large majority of metre gauge lines to broad gauge — earning him the sobriquet of ‘unigauge minister’.
Ailing for a while, Sharief passed away two days after suffering a heart attack.
Congress leaders, including Sonia Gandhi, and Karnataka Chief Minister H D Kumaraswamy paid tributes to Sharief.