Sher-e-Bangla AK Fazlul Huq: The Renaissance Man

Today, October 26 is the 149th birth anniversary of 1st Prime Minister of undivided Bengal, Abul Kashem Fazlul Huq, popularly known as Sher-e-Bangla

Today, October 26 is the 149th birth anniversary of the first Prime Minister of undivided Bengal Province, Abul Kashem Fazlul Huq, popularly known as Sher-e-Bangla AK Fazlul Huq or only Sher-e-Bangla. AK Fazluk Huq was born at Saturia village of Rajapur police station in Barisal district of undivided Bengal in his maternal uncle’s house. He was the only child of Qazi Muhammad Wazed and Saidunnessa Khatun. His primary education began at home. He learned Arabic, Persian and Bengali languages. In 1881, he was admitted to Barisal District School in class three. Huq was very fond of teachers because of his keen memory. He graduated from Calcutta Presidency College in 1891. He passed the examination in first division. At that time, Acharya Prafulla Chandra Roy was teaching chemistry at Presidency College. He was also very fond of Prafulla Chandra Roy. After passing FA in 1893, he passed BA in first class with honors in mathematics, chemistry and physics. Then he took admission in MA (English). It is being told that just six months before the exam, a friend quipped to him that “Muslim students don’t study mathematics because they are not brilliant”. After hearing this, Sher-e-Bangla insisted on taking the exam in Arithmetic and after studying Arithmetic only for six months, he secured first class. He graduated from Ripon College, Calcutta in 1897 with a BL degree. Then Huq started working in the Calcutta High Court as an apprentice to Sir Ashutosh Mukherjee. In 1900 he started directly practicing law.

According to historians, Fazlul Huq was a hero, a leader of leaders. The masses cherished Sher-e-Bangla because he tried to liberate them from the tyrannical zamindars (landlords) and the money-lending class. The middle class cherished him because he provided them with education and jobs. Huq Sahab left his government job and formed the Praja Samiti (tenant organization). Sher-e-Bangla dedicated his life for the improvement of the status of lower-class peasants. He donated his income for improving the status of peasants. From 1913, Fazlul Huq started active political life. Huq Saheb contested with Rai Bahadur Kumar Mahendranath Mitra in the by-election for the Dhaka Divisional seat of the Bengal Legislative Council and won. Fazlul Huq’s extraordinary eloquence and sincerity naturally attracted the electorate toward him. His Bengali identity can be found in his speeches. Therefore, despite being a Muslim, he was able to defeat a caste-Hindu candidate in a caste-Hindu- dominated constituency. Later, he held many political positions, among them Minister of Education and Health of Bengal (1924), Mayor of Calcutta (1935) and Prime Minister of undivided Bengal (1937–1943) among others.

Acknowledging the legitimate rights of the oppressed poor farmers of Bengal regardless of caste, he made the rights of farmers relevant in Bengali politics by forming the ‘Krishak Praja Party’ in Undivided Bengal. He took steps to abolish the zamindari system without compensation. The British government constituted the ‘Floud Commission’ in 1938 to examine its effectiveness. An amendment to the Bengal Tenancy Act was passed on 18 August 1938 and the unrestrained oppression of the zamindars over the peasants ended forever. The Jute Ordinance was promulgated in 1938 to ensure a fair price for jute growers. In 1939, the Debt Arbitration Board was strengthened by amending the ‘Chashi Khatak Act’. In 1940, He passed the ‘Mahajani Act’ in the Legislative Council as per the recommendations of the Floud Commission. In the same year, he enacted the ‘Shop Employees Act’ and enforced orders to give shop workers one day off a week and other benefits. The first holiday of ‘Pahela Boishakh’ is also his contribution.

sher-e-bangla ak fazlul huq 1st prime minister of united bengal abul Kashem
AK Fazlul Huq with Rabindra Nath Tagore | Courtesy: wikimedia.org

It was during his reign that primary education was introduced throughout Bengal without levying taxes on the poor peasants. He was elected a member of the Legislative Council of Bengal from 1913 to 1916 and spoke a total of 148 times. Out of which 128 times he stood up to give lectures on the education of backward Bengali Muslims. It was on his initiative that the Carmichael, Baker and Taylor Hostels were established in 1916. Today’s Maulana Azad and Lady Brabourne College are also the contributions of Fazlul Huq. He wanted women to be educated and was usually referred to as the ‘Renaissance Man’ by the intelligentsia. He was the first to allocate money in the government budget for the education of scheduled castes. The then DPI Hornel of the Education Department praised Fazlul Huq’s educational initiatives and honored him as the ‘Bentham’ of Bengal. He published a magazine for teenagers under his editorship named “Baalak” and another weekly magazine under joint editorship named “Bharat Suhrid”. He was also associated with a newspaper called Navayug published in Calcutta. The editor of the newspaper was the rebel poet Kazi Nazrul Islam. Huq Sahab along with Maulvi Osman Ali, the editor of the Bengali monthly Subuj Bangla (Green Bengal), promoted communal harmony and unity at Dhaka University by awarding gold medals to the best essays written by a Hindu student on any topic of Islamic interest, and to a Muslim student on any topic of Hindu interest.

On March 23, 1940, the Lahore proposal was presented by AK Fazlul Huq but later he differed from that proposal. On April 30, 1954, the Sher-e-Bangla said in a speech at Netaji Bhavan in Calcutta, “Bengalis are an integral nation. They speak the same language and live in the same unified country. Their ideology is the same and their way of life is also the same. Bengal has led the whole of India in many respects and despite the division of the country, the masses can act above the so-called leaders.… Today I have to participate in shaping the future history of India. I hope you will forgive me for using the word ‘India’. By that, I mean both Pakistan and India. I will refer to this division as an artificial division. I will serve India.”

Eminent Scientist and educator Acharya Prafulla Chandra Roy said in a conversation with Abul Mansoor Ahmad, “Fazlul Huq is a true Bengali from head to toe. Also, Fazlul Huq is a true Muslim from head to toe. I have never seen such a wonderful combination of a pure Bengali and a pure Muslim. I am not saying that because Fazlul Huq is my student. I am saying this because it is true. The combination of pure Bengaliness and pure Muslimness is the future Bengali nationality. He is the symbol of that combination. Do not break that symbol. Do not disrespect him. I am saying, if Bengalis do not respect Fazlul Huq, then there is sorrow for Bengalis.”

On April 27, 1962. Sher-e-Bangla passed away at the age of 88. He was laid to rest in the Dhaka University area. Today Bengalis have forgotten this great leader. His struggle for the rights of poor farmers and his contribution to the field of education were forgotten by today’s generation. Therefore, it is the need of the hour to spread the legend of his non-communal ideals and struggle for the rights of the oppressed people through the celebration of the birth anniversary in West Bengal.

Dr Ramiz Raja

is PhD in Civil Engineering from NIIT Durgapur. Raja's several technical research papers get published in various journals of national and international repute. He is a regular writer in Bengali dailies.

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