56th Death Anniversary of Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy
Suhrawardy : Voice of the people
Muhammad Shahbaz :
Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy was born in Medinipore in the West Bengal on September 8, 1892. After finishing his education at Calcutta Alia Madrasa, he attended St. Xavier's College, wherefrom he received a Bachelor of Science degree with Honours in Sciences. To fulfill his mother's earnest request, he did another M.A., in Arabic Language and Literature from Calcutta University before his departure for England in 1913. He studied Sciences at Oxford University and received a Bachelor degree with Honours in Science. He also studied Law and Jurisprudence at Oxford University. He completed his Bar-at-Law from Gray's Inn in 1918. He started his Law practice at Calcutta High Court immediately after his return from England.
Suhrawardy started his political career in 1920, with Khilafat Movement. In 1924, he was elected as the Deputy Mayor of Calcutta Municipal Corporation (along with C.R. Das as the Mayor), and held that position until 1927. He worked tirelessly during the late spring and early summer months of 1926 to put an end to Hindu-Muslim riots in Calcutta. The leaders and newspapers of the Hindu community in Calcutta targeted him for his defense in the Courts of law for the falsely accused Muslim rioters. By the year 1927, he emerged as the most vocal and articulate defender of Muslim rights in the city of Calcutta; Organized numerous associations, labor unions, and trade unions in Calcutta. He was instrumental in organising the All-India Khilafat Conference and All-Bengal Muslim Conference in 1928. As one of the emerging Muslim leaders of India, H.S. Suhrawardy was very critical about the lopsided recommendations of the Simon Commission Report. He was ardent critic of the Nehru (Motilal) Commission Report. He was actively involved in holding of the Conferences of the All-India Muslim Volunteers in 1931-32. With prominent Muslim leaders of Bengal, he formed Independent Muslim Party (IMP) in early 1936, and was elected its first General Secretary. However, on the insistence of the provincial and All-India Muslim League leaders, he merged (IMP) in the later part of 1936 with the Bengal Provincial Muslim League (BPML). H.S. Suhrawardy became the first General Secretary of the BPML in 1936. From the end of 1936 through the end of 1943, he performed a yeoman's task in the process of popularising the moribund Muslim League party and the concept of Pakistan among the Muslim masses throughout the nooks and corners of the then Bengal. He played a dominant role in the process of recruiting a group of dedicated and capable party workers and later in the formation of the Muslim National Guards under the sponsorship of the BPML.
He remained elected member of the Bengal Legislative Council ever since 1921. During the 1937 and 1946 elections, he won from two constituencies. He got Khawaja Nazimuddin elected from the second seat, which he vacated after the 1937 elections.
He was a seasoned Parliamentarian in the true sense of the term. His speeches in the legislative assemblies both before and after the partition are considered as classics in legislative debates. His relentless fight throughout his post-Partition political life for establishing a federally anchored Parliamentary form of government in Pakistan owed much to the robust legislative training and experience that he had gained during his pre-Partition political years from 1921 to 1947 in the Bengal Legislative Council and the Bengal Legislative Assembly.
After the formation of the Muslim League and Proja Party coalition ministry in Bengal under the leadership A.K. Fazlul Haq, H.S. Suhrawardy became Minister for Labor. He was the most active member in Khawaja Nazimuddin Cabinet, which was formed after the collapse of Sher-e-Bangla Cabinet in 1943. H.S. Suhrawardy personally enlisted the support of industrial workers of Bengal in favour of the Pakistan movement. His popularity among the students and younger generation had motivated many to be the most vocal supporters of the movement. He was personally requested by Mohammad Ali Jinnah to move the controversial Amendment to the original version of the historic 1940 Lahore Resolution at the Delhi Convention of the Muslim League Legislators in 1946. H.S. Suhrawardy's proposal for 'Sovereign Bengal' did not gain much ground with the Hindus because of his reputation as a staunch defender of the Muslim rights in Bengal. His role before, during, and after the 1946 riots in Calcutta to safeguard the interest and welfare of common Muslims, had seriously eroded his credibility among the leaders and masses of the Hindu community and Congress. With the exception of S. C. Bose, his idea of 'Sovereign United Bengal' as a last minute effort to stop the partition of Bengal in 1947 was not well received by the religiously imbued Congress leaders. By that time, the Hindu Mahashabha leaders and the Congress leadership in Bengal were already committed to the division of Bengal on communal lines. Therefore, there is little wonder that the Congress-led champions of 'Akhanda Bharat' and Hindu Mahashabha-led exponents of the 'divided' Bengal were not at all willing to lend any support to his proposal for sovereign Bengal. Unfortunately, the concept of a separate sovereign Bengal, which was aimed to save the lives of thousands of Muslims in Calcutta, was not appreciated by both the top leadership of Congress and Muslim league, who were bent upon Partition of Bengal. Few realise that at the risk of his political career he took the bold decision to leave the Muslim League meeting in Karachi on 8 August 1947 to rush to Calcutta, as he was still the CM of united Bengal to the call of Gandhi to save the lives of Muslims, as against the Punjab leaders, who failed to come forward and save millions of valuable lives lost. Instead of recognising his popularity, political stature, commitment, and organisational skills, and his contribution to the Pakistan movement at a critical juncture, The Muslim League leadership consciously patronised unpopular leader Khawaja Nazimuddin. Nazimuddin was nominated as the Parliamentary leader of the Muslim League legislators in East Bengal on August 5, 1947 (only 9 days before Pakistan was born!). H.S. Suhrawardy was still popular CM of United Bengal. The Muslim League leadership feared his popularity with the masses.
With the selection of a conservative and discredited leader of the BPML for assuming the role of the Chief Minister of East Bengal (East Pakistan) over a progressive and dynamic leader of H.S. Suhrawardy caliber and stature, the leadership of the new nation of Pakistan had tacitly sealed the political fate of the last Prime Minister of undivided Bengal. Once Pakistan was a reality on August 14, 1947, the goal of Khawaja Nazimuddin and his coterie in the provincial Muslim League was to keep the doors of the party closed to the most progressive and dynamic members of the Bengal Provincial Muslim League. The followers of both H.S. Suhrawardy and Abul Hashim were singled out to be excluded even from the primary membership of the Muslim League. H.S. Suhrawardy was literally banished from the political scene of Pakistan by the leadership both at the center in Karachi and in the province of East Bengal. As the Chief Minister of East Bengal, Khawaja Nazimuddin lost no time in characterizing him as an 'Indian agent' and an 'enemy of Pakistan.'
He was quickly removed from the membership of the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan. The East Bengal government had also prohibited him from entering or addressing public meetings in any place of East Bengal. Despite persistent attacks from the reactionary forces of the ruling Muslim League, H.S. Suhrawardy re-emerged in Pakistan's political scene as a champion of liberal democracy. He was one of the builders of opposition politics in the early years of Pakistan. Many of his followers took an active role in the formation of both the East Pakistan Student League (EPSL) in early 1948 and East Pakistan Awami Muslim League (EPAML) in mid-June-1949. These pro-democracy organizations were in the vanguard of all of the phases (1948-52) of the Bengali Language Movement. In 1953, H.S. Suhrawardy, in collaboration with A.K. Fazlul Haq and Maulana Bhashani, was responsible for forming Jukto Front (United Front). His organisational skills and personal charisma significantly contributed to the landslide victory of the United Front over the ruling Muslim League in the 1954 General Election in East Bengal. The Ruling Muslim League was wiped out and got only 9 seats. Gen Islander Mirza, an ICS officer was appointed Governor, East Bengal to undo this Election Victory.
In spite of all these high handed tactics by the ruling Muslim League, H. S. Suhrawardy emerged as the most credible voice in support of framing a Constitution with the provisions for civil liberties and a full-blown Parliamentary model of liberal democracy in Pakistan. He managed to get a foothold in the Punjabi and Mohajir dominated decision-making process of the central government, when he became the Law Minister in Mohammad Ali Bogra's Cabinet, and he held that position from December 20, 1954, through August, 1955. He was the leader of the opposition in the National Assembly of Pakistan from August 11, 1955 through September 1, 1956. His contribution to the making of the 1956 Constitution of Pakistan was substantial. He is the one who convinced the people and leaders of East Pakistan for the Parity Formula. He became Prime Minister of Pakistan from September 12, 1956 through October 11, 1957. The 1956 Constitution of Pakistan was suspended and Martial Law was promulgated by President Iskander Mirza (a descendent of Mir Jafar Ali Khan) on October 7,1958.
The newly installed dictator of Pakistan knew well that H.S. Suhrawardy was an obstacle in the design and implementation of his tailor-made Constitution. Ayub Khan quietly approached him to cooperate with the Constitution making process of the military regime. Although the Constitution making and democracy building were his chief concerns during his political career in Pakistan, he bluntly refused to lend any stamp of legitimacy to the illegitimate dictatorial regime of Ayub Khan. As a dedicated champion of genuine Parliamentary Democracy in Pakistan, he refused to endorse Ayub Khan's illegal seizure of state power. This was H.S Suhrawardy, a true democrat.
H.S. Suhrawardy was banned from politics through the imposition of the infamous Elective Bodies Disqualification Order (EBDO) on August 7, 1959. He was arrested in January 1962 and put in a solitary confinement in the Central jail of Karachi without any trial on concocted charges of 'anti-state activities' under the 1952 Security of Pakistan Act. Instead of bowing down to Ayub Khan's smearing and torturing tactics, he decided to challenge the legality of the patently false and baseless allegations. H.S. Suhrawardy was thus released from jail on August 19,1962. After his release from jail, he launched an anti-Ayub movement in both wings of Pakistan for the restoration of democracy. To him, Ayub Khan's Basic Democracy was nothing but a mockery in the name of democracy. Instead of becoming a collaborator of a military dictator, he decided to be the most authentic dissenting voice against the then diabolical regime. He successfully enlisted support from all pro-democratic forces of Pakistan, and he formed the National Democratic Front (NDF) in October 1962 to dislodge the undemocratic regime of a military dictator. His immediate goal was to re-establish Parliamentary Democracy and Democratic institutions in Pakistan through the restoration of the 1956 Constitution.
He worked round the clock, which adversely affected his health, suffered a severe Heart Attack for which had to go abroad for treatment. While recovering from his heart ailment, he died on December 5, 1963 in a hotel room in Beirut under mysterious circumstances. He was buried in Dhaka on December 8, 1963 beside Sher-e-Bangla A.K. Fazlul Huq's grave, adjacent to the then Race Course Maidan (Dhaka Race Course has been named after him as Suhrawardy Uddyan after Independence of Bangladesh). At his funeral in the grounds of Dhaka High Court, there was literally a sea of humanity present to pay their homage. Many glowing tributes were paid for his qualities as a person and a political leader, but what his famous and trusted colleague Abul Hashim said about him was the most striking. "He died a magnificent pauper, receiving the burial of an emperor."
He died at a time when the dissenting political forces in Pakistan were gaining ground toward building-up an effective opposition against the military dictatorship of Ayub Khan. The passing away of this political doyen at that critical moment created a void in the core leadership of the resistance movement against the autocratic dictatorship in Pakistan. He was the most articulate voice for introduction of adult franchise and restoration of Parliamentary democracy in Pakistan in an era when a military dictator was in the process of consolidating his grip over the political process through the introduction of the so-called Basic Democracy.