Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy : His Life05 December 2014
Born into a prominent Bengali Muslim family, Suhrawardy was educated at Oxford, and joined the Swaraj Party of Chittaranjan Das upon returning to India in 1921. He became the Mayor of Calcutta, the largest city in British India, during the 1930s, and later, as a member of the All-India Muslim League, assumed the premiership of Bengal in the mid-1940s. Along with Sarat Chandra Bose, Suhrawardy mooted the United Bengal proposal, in an attempt to prevent the Partition of Bengal. Following the independence of Pakistan in 1947, he became a leading populist statesman of East Pakistan, leaving the Muslim League to join the newly formed centre-left Awami League in 1952. Along with A. K. Fazlul Huq and Maulana Bhashani, he led the pan-Bengali United Front alliance to a resounding victory in the 1954 East Bengal elections, which witnessed a crushing defeat of the Muslim League in East Pakistan.
In 1956, the Awami League formed an alliance with the Republican Party to lead a coalition government in Pakistan. Suhrawardy became prime minister and pledged to resolve the energy crises, address economic disparities between East and West Pakistan, and strengthen the armed forces. His initiatives included supply side economic policies, planning nuclear power and energy and reorganizing and reforming the Pakistani military. In foreign policy, he pioneered a strategic partnership with the United States. Faced with pressure from the bureaucracy and business community over his policies in aid distribution, nationalization and opposition to the One Unit scheme, he was forced to resign on 10 October 1957, under threat of dismissal by President Iskandar Mirza. He was banned from public life by the military junta of General Ayub Khan. Suhrawardy died in 1963 in Beirut, Lebanon after suffering a massive heart attack.
Suhrawardy was born on 8 September 1892 to a Bengali Muslim family in the town of Midnapore, now in West Bengal. He was the younger son of Justice Sir Zahid Suhrawardy, a prominent judge of the Calcutta High Court and of Khujastha Akhtar Banu (c. 1874-1919) a noted name in Urdu literature and scholar of Persian. Banu was the daughter of Maulana Ubaidullah Al Ubaidi Suhrawardy and sister of British Army officer, Lieutenant-Colonel Hassan Suhrawardy, OBE and Sir Abdullah Al-Mamun Suhrawardy. Suhrawardy had an elder brother Shahid Suhrawardy, the co-founder of Pakistan PEN Miscellenay with Professor Ahmed Ali.
Education and marriage
Suhrawardy attended the St. Xavier's College, where he obtained BS in Mathematics in 1910, later he was admitted at the department of arts of the University of Calcutta. In 1913, he gained MA in Arabic language and won a scholarship to proceed his education abroad. Afterwards, he moved to the United Kingdom to attend St Catherine's College, Oxford from where he obtained a BCL degree in civil law and justice. Upon leaving Oxford, he was called to the bar at Gray's Inn and later started his practice at Calcutta High Court.
In 1920, Suhrawardy married Begum Niaz Fatima, daughter of Sir Abdur Rahim, the then home minister of the Bengal Province of British India and later President of India's Central Legislative Assembly. Suhrawardy had two children from this marriage; Ahmed Shahab Suhrawardy and Begum Akhtar Sulaiman (née Akhtar Jahan Suhrawardy). Ahmed Suhrawardy died from pneumonia whilst he was a student in London in 1940. Begum Akhtar Sulaiman was married to Shah Ahmed Sulaiman (son of Justice Sir Shah Sulaiman) and had one child, Shahida Jamil (who later became the first female Pakistani Federal Minister for Law). Shahida Jamil has two sons, Zahid Jamil (a lawyer in Pakistan) and Shahid Jamil (a solicitor in London).
His first wife, Begum Niaz Fatima, died in 1922. In 1940 Suhrawardy married Vera Alexandrovna Tiscenko Calder, who, after her conversion to Islam had changed her name to Begum Noor Jehan. She was a Russian actress of Polish descent from the Moscow Art Theatre and protege of Olga Knipper. The couple divorced in 1951 and had one child, Rashid Suhrawardy (aka Robert Ashby), who is an actor living in London (he played Jawaharlal Nehru in film Jinnah). Vera later settled in America.
Political activism in British India
Suhrawardy returned to the subcontinent in 1921 as a practising barrister of the Calcutta High Court. He became involved in politics in Bengal. Initially, he joined the Swaraj Party, a group within the Indian National Congress, and became an ardent follower of Chittaranjan Das. He played a major role in signing the Bengal Pact in 1923.
Suhrawardy became the Deputy Mayor of the Calcutta Corporation at the age of 31 in 1924, and the Deputy Leader of the Swaraj Party in the Provincial Assembly. However, following the death of Chittaranjan Das in 1925, he began to disassociate himself with the Swaraj Party and eventually joined Muslim League. He served as Minister of Labour, and Minister of Civil Supplies under Khawaja Nazimuddin among other positions. He was the Minister responsible during the Midnapore (Bengal) famine of 1943, but did little to relieve it.Madhushree Mukherjee's 2010 book, "Churchill's secret War" places the responsibility mainly on Churchill, then wartime premier of Britain for actively blocking relief to Bengal, even when the Americans offered it in their ships, in the context of Churchill's unceasing refrain of a "scarcity of shipping" in the atlantic. (The alleged scarcity is seriously questioned by Mukherjee based on documents available recently). Suhrawardy's government did implement British scorched earth policies designed to counter Japanese invasion threats, policies like burning over a thousand fishing boats to block any potential movement of invading troops. These measures aggravated starvation and famine. Relief , it was said, only arrived after Wavell became Viceroy, who used the Indian Army to organise relief.However by that time, the winter crop had arrived and famine conditions had already eased, after millions had earlier perished. In the Bengal Muslim League, Suhrawardy and Abul Hashim led a progressive line against the conservative stream led by Nazimuddin and Akram Khan.
Chief Minister of United Bengal
In 1946, Suhrawardy established and headed a Muslim League government in Bengal. It was the only Muslim League government in India at that time.
As the demand for a separate Muslim state of Pakistan became popular amongst Indian Muslims, the independence of Pakistan on communal lines was deemed inevitable by mid-1947. To prevent the inclusion of Hindu-majority districts of Punjab and Bengal in a Muslim Pakistan, the Indian National Congress and the Hindu Mahasabha sought the division of these provinces on communal lines. Bengali nationalists such as Sarat Chandra Bose, Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy, Kiran Shankar Roy, Abul Hashim, Satya Ranjan Bakshi and Mohammad Ali Chaudhury sought to counter division proposals with the demand for a united and independent state of Bengal. Suhrawardy and Bose sought the formation of a coalition government between Bengali Congress and the Bengal Provincial Muslim League. Proponents of the plan urged the masses to reject communal divisions and uphold the vision of a united Bengal. In a press conference held in Delhi on 27 April 1947 Suhrawardy presented his plan for a united and independent Bengal and Abul Hashim issued a similar statement in Calcutta on 29 April.
Involvement in Direct Action Day
Suhrawardy has left a controversial legacy in post-independent India. He is perceived as responsible for unleashing, at Jinnah's behest, the Direct Action Day in August 1946 which killed thousands of Hindus. The intention was to prove that if the Congress Party did not agree to division, all of British India would be engulfed by civil war. This action turned Hindus and Muslim neighbours into enemies and caused a cycle of death, revenge and further destruction. During the Noakahli riots, he is quoted as saying to a group of Indian political leaders that everything was peaceful and orderly. He explained the rape and molestation of Hindu women as natural because they were more handsome than Muslim women.
Independence of Pakistan
In 1947, the balance of power in Bengal shifted from the Muslim League to the Indian National Congress, and Suhrawardy stepped down from the Chief Ministership. Unlike other Muslim League stalwarts of India, he did not leave his hometown immediately for the newly established Pakistan. Anticipating revenge of Hindus against Muslims in Calcutta after the transfer of power, Suhrawardy sought help from Mahatma Gandhi. Gandhi was persuaded to stay and pacify tempers in Calcutta with the intention that Suhrawardy share the same roof with him so that they could appeal to Muslims and Hindus alike to live in peace. "Adversity makes strange bed-fellows," Gandhi remarked in his prayer meeting. Upon the formation of Pakistan, Suhrawardy maintained his work in politics, continuing to focus on East Bengal as it became after the independence of Pakistan. On return to Dhaka he joined Awami Muslim League that Maulana Bhashai formed. In the 1950s, Suhrawardy worked to consolidate political parties in East Pakistan to balance the politics of West Pakistan. He, along with other leading Bengali leaders A.K. Fazlul Huq and Maulana Abdul Hamid Khan Bhashani, formed a political alliance in the name of Jukta Front which won a landslide victory in 1954 general election of East Pakistan. Under Muhammad Ali Bogra, Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy would serve as Law Minister and later become the head of opposition parties.
Prime Minister of Pakistan
In 1956, Suhrawardy won the slot of Prime minister and was hastily appointed as fifth Prime Minister by President Iskander Mirza after the surprise resignation of Chaudhry Muhammad Ali. As Prime minister, Suhrawardy took the nation on confidence on national radio, promising to resolve the energy crises, economical disparity and promised the nation to build a massive military in an arms race with India.
The constitutionally obliged, the National Finance Commission Program (NFC Program), was immediately suspended by Prime Minister Suhrawardy despite the reserves of the four provinces of the West Pakistan in 1956. Suhrawardy advocated for the USSR-based Five-Year Plans to centralized the national economy. In this view, the East Pakistan's economy was quickly the centralized and all major economic planning shifted to West Pakistan.
Efforts leading to centralizing the economy was met with great resistance in West Pakistan when the elite monopolist and the business community angrily refused to oblige to his policies. The business community in Karachi began its political struggle to undermine any attempts of financial distribution of the US$10 million ICA aid to the better part of the East Pakistan and to set up a consolidated national shipping corporation. In the financial cities of West Pakistan, such as Karachi, Lahore, Quetta, and Peshawar, there were series of major labour strikes against the economic policies of Suhrawardy supported by the elite business community and the private sector.
Furthermore in order to divert attention from the controversial One Unit Program, Prime Minister Suhrawardy tried to end the crises by calling a small group of investors to set up small business in the country. Despite many initiatives and holding off the NFC Award Program, Suhrawardy's political position and image was worsen and deteriorated in the four provinces in West Pakistan. Many nationalist leaders and activists of the Muslim League were dismayed with the suspension of the constitutionally obliged NFC Program while nationalists. His critics and Muslim League leaders observed that with the suspension of NFC Award Program, Suhrawardy tried to give more financial allocations, aids, grants, and opportunity to East-Pakistan than West Pakistan, including West Pakistan's four provinces. During the last days of his Prime ministerial years, Suhrawardy tried to remove the economic disparity between the Eastern and Western wings of the country but to no avail. He also tried unsuccessfully to alleviate the food shortage in the country.
Suhrawardy's bid for premiership as well as Suhrawardy successfully forging an alliance with the Republican Party to managed to secure the office for himself. As soon as becoming the Prime Minister, Suhrawardy initiated a legal work reviving the joint electorate system. There was a strong opposition and resentment to the joint electorate system in West Pakistan. The Muslim League had taken the cause to the public and began calling for implementation of separate electorate system. In contrast to West Pakistan, the joint electorate was highly popular in East-Pakistan. The tug of war with the Muslim League to establish the appropriate electorate caused problems for his government.
His contribution in formulating 1956 constitution of Pakistan was substantial as he played a vital role in incorporating provisions for civil liberties and universal adult franchise in line with his adherence to parliamentary form of liberal democracy.
Foreign and Defence initiatives
In the foreign policy arena, Suhrawardy wasted no time announcing his foreign policy in first session of the parliament of Pakistan. Suhrawardy advocated a pronounced pro-western policy, supporting a strong support to United States. Suhrawardy is considered to be one of the pioneers of Pakistan's pro-United States stand, a policy that is presently continued by the present government. He was also the first Pakistani Prime Minister to visit China in 1956 and the delegation included Professor Ahmed Ali, Pakistan's First Envoy to China (1951-52) who had established the Pakistani embassy in Peking and formed Pak-China friendship and strengthened the official diplomatic friendship between Pakistan and China, a friendship that Henry Kissinger would later use to make his now-famous secret trip to China in July 1971.
His tenure saw the enhancement of the relations with the United States in July 1957, when President Dwight Eisenhower requested prime minister Suhrawardy to allow the US to establish a secret intelligence facility in Pakistan and for the U-2 spyplane to fly from Pakistan. A facility established in Badaber (Peshawar Air Station), 10 miles (16 km) from Peshawar, was a cover for a major communications intercept operation run by the United States National Security Agency (NSA). The base was finally closed by the military government in 1970, later by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto who installed the ISI as in charge of the base in 1971.
His pro-western policy dismantle the foreign support of the leftist alliance in Pakistan, most notable of them were Maulana Bhashani and Yar Mohammad Khan who challenged him for the party's chairmanship. Although, Maulana Bhashani and Yar Mohammad Khan managed to consolidate the Awami League, but failed to carry the party mass with them, leading to left the party to junior leadership.
Rebuilding the military
In 1955, the United States dispatched the Military Assistance Advisory Group (MAAG) for the Pakistan Armed Forces. The promotion of military uniforms and the military services were projected and broadcast all over the country, as part of his policy. Approving a new defence policy, Suhrawardy expanded the area of military districts, integrating the adjacent areas, and making arm deals enhance the military capabilities. Prime Minister Suhrawardy signed the extension papers of Chief of Army Staff General Ayub Khan and Chief of Naval Staff Admiral Siddiq Choudhry in 1955; both were continued to serve on four-star appointments until 1959.
Suhrawardy appointed radiochemist dr. Abdul Hafeez as the Chairman of the Pakistan Ordnance Factories (POF) whilst the ingenious military reforms and production were also taken. The presence of Pakistan Armed Forces in East Pakistan also exponentially grew, but restricted to maintain combatant forces in West whilst the reserves were sent to East Pakistan.
During the 1950s, Pakistan was suffering from severe energy crises, although the East did not suffered the energy crises as severe as West. Amid protest and civil disobedience by West-Pakistan's population demanding to resolve the electricity issue, force Suhrawardy to take the approach to resolve the issue to harness the electricity. In 1956, Suhrawardy announced the nation's first ever nuclear policy, but only benefiting the West-Pakistan, and adpoted the parliamentary act of 1956.
It was Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy's premiership when Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC) was established by a Parliamentary Act of 1956. Suhrawardy renounced to develop the nuclear weapons, and disassociated scientific research on the nuclear weapons, after signing the Atoms for Peace programme. Suhrawardy approved the appointment of Dr. Nazir Ahmad, an experimental physicist, as the first Chairman. Suhrawardy asked the PAEC to survey the site to establish the commercial nuclear power plants. Suhrawardy upgraded the government rank, and extended the appointment of Salimuzzaman Siddiqui as his government's Science Advisor.
Under Dr. Nazir Ahmad's scientific direction, Pakistan started its nuclear energy programme and Prime Minister Suhrawardy also allotted PAEC to set up its new pilot-nuclear labs. As Prime minister, he played an important role in establishing of Nuclear research institutes in West Pakistan, working to build the nuclear power infrastructure. The PAEC brought the role of Raziuddin Siddiqui, a theoretical physicist, but refrained him to work on the atomic bombs, instead asking him to constitute research on theoretical physics and alternative use of nuclear energy. Suhrawardy made extremely critical decision on nuclear power expansion, and denied the request of PAEC Chairman dr. Nazir Ahmad to acquiring the NRX reactor from Canada. Instead approved the recommendation of Raziuddin Siddiqui after authorizing an agreement to acquire the Pool-type reactor from the United States in 1956.
He also laid foundation of the first nuclear power plant in Karachi, when it was recommended by the PAEC. After addressing the West population, Suhrawardy planned to provide country's first nuclear power plant in near future to end the energy crises. However, after his removal from office, the proposal went into cold storage and severely undermined by a political turmoil in the country. Furthermore, Ayub Khan had also froze the further programmes as he thought Pakistan was too poor to work on this programme. Thus, the nuclear energy programme and academic research was halted by Ayub Khan's military regime for more than a decade.
Just within a year of assuming the government, Suhrawardy was in a middle confrontation with the business community and the private-sector in 1956. The business community leaders were meeting with the President Iskandar Mirza to discuss the removal of Prime Minister Suhrawardy.
The Awami League's close interaction with Pakistan Muslim League, who at that time was re-organizing itself, threatened another Bengali President Iskandar Mirza. President Mirza wanted to control the democracy in the country, which Suhrawardy had always resisted. President Mirza refused Prime minister Suhrawardy's request to convene a meeting of Parliament for seeking a vote of confidenc movement. Amid pressure to resigned from his position and given vital threats to be removed by the President Mirza, Prime minister Suhrawardy submitted his resignation letter after losing the considerable party support from the junior leadership.
Suhrawardy is buried with other Bengali leaders at a mausoleum in Shahbag, Dhaka.
He had been a chronic heart patient and died in Lebanon in 1963 due to a cardiac arrest. His death was officially due to complications from heart problems, though some have alleged he was poisoned, gassed or subjected to blunt-trauma in his bedroom, although is no proof of this.
Suhrawardy Udyan, a historic maidan in Dhaka (formerly the Ramna Race Course) Shaheed Suhrawardy Hospital, a major medical centre in Dhaka Khayaban-e-Suhrawardy, one of the main thoroughfares of Islamabad