Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy
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Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy


Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy was considered to be a favourite of father of the nation, Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah and also to be the first populist leader in Pakistan's history. He was born on September 8, 1892 to Justice Sir Zahid Suhrawardy, a prominent judge of the Calcutta High Court. Huseyn Shaheed attended the St. Xavier's College, Calcutta, 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.

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.

He 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. 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 Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy presented his plan for a united and independent Bengal and Abul Hashim issued a similar statement in Calcutta on 29 April.

In 1947, the balance of power in Calcutta 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 Pakistan as it became after the independence of Pakistan. On return to Dhaka, Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy joined Awami League, which was formed by Maulana Bashani but he finally took over the leadership from the Maulana. Awami League was the first opposition party in Pakistan in those days launched against the Muslim League.

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.

In 1956, Huseyn Shaheed was made Prime Minister by President of Pakistan Iskander Mirza after the resignation of Chaudhry Muhammad Ali. Huseyn Shaheed inherited a political disharmony that was forming in Pakistan between the Muslim League and newer parties, such as the Republican Party. The disharmony was fed by the attempt to consolidate the four provinces of West Pakistan into one Province, so as to balance the fact that East Pakistan existed as only one province. The plan was opposed in West Pakistan, and the cause was taken up by the Muslim League and religious parties. Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy supported the plan, but the vast opposition to it stalled its progress.

His term in office was brief, as it was cut short by President Iskander Mirza. It is believed that Mirza was against Suhrawardy’s appointment as prime minister, but half-heartedly approved his name when the political realities confronting him left no other option on the table.

In order to divert attention from the controversy over the ‘One Unit’ plan as it was called, Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy tried to ease economic differences between East and West Pakistan. However, despite his intentions, these initiatives only led to more political frictions, and were worsened when Huseyn Shaheed tried to give more financial allocations to East Pakistan than West Pakistan from aids and grants. Such moves led to a threat of dismissal looming over Suhrawardy's head, and he resigned in 1957.

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.

In the foreign policy arena, he is considered to be one of the pioneers of Pakistan's pro-United States stand. He was also the first Pakistani Prime Minister to visit China and establish an 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 spy-plane to fly from Pakistan. A facility established in Badaber (Peshawar Air Station), near 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 helped dismantle the foreign support for 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, they failed to carry the party mass with them.

Suhrawardy appointed radio chemist 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 crisis in the East was not as severe as in the West. Amid protest and civil disobedience by West-Pakistan's population demanding to resolve the electricity issue, forced 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 adopted 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 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 confidence movement. Amid pressure to resign 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 was a skill-full politician. Quaid e Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah wanted him to join the Muslim League and lead it in Bengal province of the pre-partition India. He lived up to Jinnah's expectations. Besides being one of the busiest politicians, he was a good-humoured and witty man.

He was also a seasoned lawyer. While pleading cases, he would punctuate his arguments with poetic verses. One such incident occurred when he was defending himself in a case registered under the controversial Elected Bodies Disqualification Order (EBDO). His performance in the law courts was brilliant. The cases he dealt with became cause celibre (sic), and people used to flock to the court just to listen to him. This was specially so when he was defending himself against the charges under EBDO. The prosecution Consul, Chaudhry Nazir Ahmed was unnecessarily offensive in his cross-examination. For the most part, Shaheed Suhrawardy ignored his deliberate rudeness. Once, however, he made a very apt reply by quoting a line of Ghalib:

Har ek baat pe kahte ho tum keh tuu kyaa hai,

Tum hi kaho ke ye andaaz-i-guftagu kyaa hai

He never derived monetary profits from politics. Instead, he practiced law for a living. Unfortunately, the political vendetta in Pakistan has set a new record with each passing generation. Usually, when a man falls out of favour with those at the helm of affairs, his assets are the first target of the vengeance apparatus, which creates so much trouble that it becomes harder for the outcast to make ends meet. A similar treatment was meted out to Suhrawardy.

He began to take up his legal practice again. Here also, the Government stooped to incredible meanness. The courts of Karachi and Lahore were directed not to register him as a lawyer. It was the court of the small town of Montgomery, now Sahiwal, registered Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy as a lawyer.

Although Suhrawardy was forced to quit as Prime Minister, some of the civil servants were against the move. They sympathised with Suhrawardy and wanted to present his case in the court of public opinion. Our bureaucracy is infested with officials who swear allegiance to their ruler but switch loyalties as soon as their master's luck runs out. Huseyn Suhrawardy, however, had won unwavering devotion from some people in the bureaucracy.

When Ayub Khan took over and declared martial law, a group of civil service officers got together and planned to incite public opinion against the imposition of martial law. They had posters printed which were to be plastered all over Karachi. But before they could do so, the conspiracy was thwarted, the posters confiscated and the ringleaders arrested.

The most serious allegation that Suhrawardy’s detractors could come up with against him, was that he had joined hands with Mr. Gandhi and taken up a joint residence with him in Bengal, where the Hindu-Muslim riots had erupted before Partition.

When injuries to his dignity and the resulting trauma became unbearable, disqualified from politics under the military regime of Ayub Khan, the hurt man, Huseyn Shaheed left his country for good, preferring death in exile over a return. He died on 5th December 1963, in a Beirut hotel, where he was living in exile. Rumours about the cause of his death continued to circulate for a long time, while the official statements attributed his demise to a cardiac arrest. There are an infinite number of political secrets in Pakistan. The secret of Suhrawardy’s death is one of them. It was buried long ago and never to be dug up again. A newspaper-interview quoted his daughter, Begum Akhtar Suleman, as saying that Suhrawardy did not die of natural causes, but that the officialdom had him murdered. He is buried in Dhaka.

Late Huseyn Suhrawardy was the man who fought his way to bring Bengal on the map of Pakistan; to achieve this objective he got a resolution passed by the Legislators’ Convention. As Chief Minister of United Bengal, he supported and served Muslims during the riots to such a degree that Hindus in Bengal would never put his role out of their minds. Not only this, but for the whole duration of Pakistan Movement, he had been the Secretary-General of Muslim League Bengal and an active member of the Party.

Khayaban-e-Suhrawardy in Islamabad is named after him.

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