Friday, March 22, 2019 | ePaper

55th Death Anniversary of Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy

H.S. Suhrawardy : Leader of the people

Mohammad Mamun Mia

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Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy played a pivotal role in establishing democracy in the Indian Subcontinent. He was born into an eminent Muslim family in Midnapore in the then Bengal (now part of West Bengal in India) on September 8, 1892. He was a Bengali statesman of British India who served as the last Prime Minister of Bengal during the British rule. Afterwards when Pakistan came into being in 1947, he served as Prime Minister there.
His father, Justice Sir Zahid Suhrawardy, was a jurist at the Calcutta High Court; and his mother, Banu, was the daughter of Maulana Ubaidullah Suhrawardy, who was a prolific Urdu language writer and was the first Indian woman to have passed the Senior Cambridge examinations. After matriculation from the Calcutta Madrassa, Suhrawardy showed his genius when he got himself admitted into the Calcutta University in 1906, attending the St. Xavier's College where he graduated with BSc in Mathematics in 1911. In 1913, Suhrawardy attained his MA in Arabic Language and earned a scholarship to attend the Oxford University for his higher studies. His academic and upper class background allowed him to settle in England. He attended at the St. Catherine's College of Oxford University and attained MA in political science and graduated with the BCL degree in 1920. Suhrawardy was called to bar at the Gray's Inn where he was trained as Barrister-at-Law in 1922-23 after completing degree from the Oxford.
In 1920, Suhrawardy married Begum Niaz Fatima (d. 1922), the daughter of Justice Sir Abdur Rahim who was also a politician. They were blessed with two children- Ahmed Shahab Suhrawardy and Akhtar Jahan Suhrawardy. Ahmed died of pneumonia while studying in London. His daughter, Jahan was married off to Shah Ahmed Sulaiman, son of Justice Sir Shah Sulaiman. After his passing in 1963, the Suhrawardy family remained active in national politics, and his granddaughter Shahida Jamil subsequently is a politician with the PML (N) and briefly served as the Law Minister in 1999 and 2007.
In 1940, Suhrawardy married Vera Alexandrovna Tiscenko, a Russian, whom he knew through his older brother's work in Russia. Vera converted to Islam and she was named Begum Noor Jehan, and took the citizenship of Pakistan in 1947. Their marriage did not last long and eventually ended in divorce in 1951. After the divorce, Vera moved to the United States with their only son, Rashid Suhrawardy, (known as Robert Ashby), who is a British actor living in London and briefly portrayed Jawaharlal Nehru in film Jinnah in 1998.
Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy was an internationally acclaimed character and became so due to his politically charismatic power. After the birth of Pakistan on 14 August 1947, he did not come there immediately, rather he stayed at Calcutta and spent some time in peace mission. He was linked to Muslim League politically but later joined the newly formed Awami League in 1952.
In the foreign policy arena, he succeeded in keeping international policy making. He was the first Pakistani Prime Minister to visit China in 1956 and consequently formed Pak-China friendship and strengthened the official diplomatic friendship between Pakistan and China. Thus during his time, he had a good relationship with the USA and did many internal deeds for the betterment of his country and its people. Among his deeds, foundation of the first Nuclear Power Plant in Karachi is mentionable.
About his personality, Ataur Rahman Khan, Prime Minister of Bangladesh from March 1984 to January 1985 said, "It was both mild and firm, cold and grim, simple and complex." He was also a very generous man, according to Tofazzal Hossain Manik Mia, editor of The Ittefaq, who wrote, "Generally rich people forget and avoid their poor relatives. But it was different with Shaheed Suhrawardy. He searched them out, visited their cottages, never hesitated to have meals with them and helped them generously". The same trait has also been attributed to him by one of his favourite prodigies, who himself later became the shaper of history and a champion of the people, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, who remarked, "When in Calcutta, I accidentally saw a black notebook. It contained, among others, a list of pensioners. Suhrawardy paid them a total monthly pension of Rs. 3,000. Among the pensioners, irrespective of religion, were old servants, barbers, labourers, some old writers and political workers".
The four leaders like Suhrawardy, Bangabandhu, Sher-e-Bangla and Maulana Bhashani witnessed seminal events during colonial and post-colonial periods sometime with volcanic eruption of mass sentiment. They put their heads together in the spirit of co-operation in the struggle for democracy. During the entire mission, Suhrawardy received constant threats to his life. On one occasion, when a crowd of 20,000 people came to kill him, he said, "If you want to kill me, kill me now, but, before you kill me, you've got to give me your word that after killing me you'll kill no other Muslims". Hearing the commotion, Gandhi came out and asked the crowd to kill him first, before killing Suhrawardy. Upon hearing this from the Mahatma, the crowd dispersed.
Although Suhrawardy had held many of the highest positions in government, including the Prime Ministership of Pakistan, he was always seen as the peoples' leader. Having worked with Suhrawardy, even Mahatma Gandhi is reported to have said, "Jinnah, there is your statesman; Liaquat, there is your politician; Suhrawardy, there is your leader".
Suhrawardy passed away on December 5, 1963 in Beirut, where he had gone for treatment, away from the land and its people. The people, however, refused to let his memories wither away. So, his dead body was returned and buried in the old High Court compound of Dhaka, next to the graves of A. K. Fazlul Haque and Khwaja Nazimuddin. He will always be remembered for his great contributions.
Legacy: Suhrawardy Udyan, a historic maidan in Dhaka (formerly the Ramna Race Course), Shaheed Suhrawardy Medical College Hospital, a major government hospital in Dhaka. Government Shaheed Suhrawardy College, a public college, located in Dhaka, Khayaban-e-Suhrawardy, one of the main thoroughfares of Islamabad.

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