By Khwaja Sayeed Shahabuddin
The 22nd October 2006, was the 42nd death anniversary of the late KHWAJA NAZIMUDDIN, who returned to his eternal heavenly home on this day in the year 1964. That day will remain ever fresh in my memory as it was one of the most significant days in my life. My wife, Ayesha, and I had invited our close relatives which included uncle and aunty Nazimuddin (Chachajan and Chachijan as we called them) and our respective parents, for dinner to celebrate a very special occasion.
It was sometime late in the afternoon while Ayesha was busy making preparations for the dinner that we received a telephone call with the tragic news that uncle Nazimuddin had passed away. We left everything and rushed to his rented house, which was a walking distance up the road from where we lived on New Eskaton Road, Dhaka. This tragic news spread like wild fire and very soon the house was packed with relations, friends and a large number of political workers. By now it was evening so, it was decided to have the burial the following day. His younger son, Khwaja Saifuddin, was in Pyarpur, a small jute centre in the then East Pakistan, and arrived by train around 10 p.m.
Earlier that afternoon General Azam Khan was having tea with him and, if my memory serves me correctly, it was in his presence that the Khwaja Sahib felt the pain and retired to his bedroom feeling unwell. An hour or so later he breathed his last, reciting the Kalima, in the arms of his younger brother, Khwaja Shahabuddin, surrounded by his family, other than his youngest son who was out of town.
A few days prior to that, while engaged in Miss Fatima Jinnah’s Presidential election campaign against President Ayub Khan, in spite of his bulk and being a heart patient, with great difficulty he allowed himself to be lifted and helped on to a truck to receive Miss Jinnah on her arrival from Karachi and taking her in a procession.This must have caused him considerable strain and discomfort. But he carried on regardless doing whatever was expected of him – holding meetings and discussions with Miss Jinnah and her supporters – to further her cause for election as the President of Pakistan. It is recorded with some amusement, that when the truck was driving past the corner of the Dhaka High Court Building where the late Mr. A. K. Fazlul Haq and the late Mr. H. S. Suhrawardy were buried, one of the political workers accompanying Khwaja Sahib pointed out to him the two graves and said, “the space in the middle has been reserved for you.” It so happened that only a few days later Khwaja Nazimuddin was buried in the space reserved for him, and he lies there in peace with the other two leaders on either side.
It is most unfortunate, and a matter of great regret, that both Miss Jinnah and General Azam left Dhaka that same night. They must have had some pressing engagements in Karachi that they could not postpone their departure to attend the funeral of one of the pioneers of the Pakistan movement and one, who had the honour and the privilege to succeed the Quaid-e-Azam as the second Governor General, and later, Nawabzada Liaquat Ali Khan as the second Prime Minister of Pakistan.
It was in Dhaka, in December 1906, that a meeting of the All India Mohammedan Educational Conference was hosted by Nawab Sir Salimullah, uncle of Khwaja Nazimuddin (his mother’s own brother) when the All India Muslim League was formed. Khwaja Sahib, then a twelve-year old student studying at Aligarh, travelled to Dhaka in the company of Nawab Mohsin-ul-Mulk, and was present at this historic meeting. That made him the only person in Pakistan in August 1947, to have seen the birth of the All India Muslim League, and to have had the honour and privilege of serving his country as Governor General and Prime Minister.
It must have been at this historic meeting in Dhaka, as it were, that a spark ignited the zeal and the spirit in him which, in due course of time, led him to enter public life which may be regarded as an inevitable outcome of his genuine solicitude for the well being of his fellow men and love of service. This is borne out by the fact that throughout his long public career he had always subordinated personal considerations to the national cause and had never deviated from the path of moral rectitude.
In his political life, he was guided by the same principles of service without fear or favour. He acted on what he believed to be fair and just, and in the best interests of the Nation. His dismissal as Prime Minister, by the then Governor General was the result of a Palace coup. It came to him as a rude shock, for he commanded the confidence of the Parliament having just passed the budget. He later told his children that, if he ever wrote a book he would call this chapter, “The Rape of Democracy.” He explained to them that he did not challenge his dismissal, as it would divide the Nation during its critical formative years. It is to his lasting credit that he forgave the Governor General and was one of the very few leaders to attend Mr. Ghulam Mohammed’s Janaza and pray for the departed soul.
A firm believer in democracy, he only accepted the Nishan-e-Pakistan as the honour was bestowed on him by Parliament. The biggest complement was paid to him very recently by Ardeshir Cowasjee, in his column entitled: ‘A continued exercise in futility’ (Dawn Sunday 24th September), when he wrote: “Some contended that Mohammad Ali Jinnah was the sole leader I ever praise. Well, to my mind Jinnah of course stands alone and above, but if we are to take our leaders, all of them, and attribute to them honesty of purpose, and admit that they were devoid of moral or material corruption, there are only two who would qualify. Jinnah was one and Khwaja Nazimuddin the other — spotless on both counts, the moral and the material. Khwaja’s honesty of purpose was unassailable, but being honest, he was unable to survive and the forces of dishonesty got the better of him. He had to go.”
It is a coincidence that in the same issue of Dawn, under the title: ‘Military rule: then and now’, referring to the dismissal of the Nazimuddin government on 17th April 1953, Zafar Iqbal writes: “After the assassination of Liaquat Ali Khan, Ghulam Mohammad was elevated to governor-general and Khwaja Nazimuddin stepped down to become prime miniater. Ghulam Mohammad had got his chance to work something out with the Chief Justice of Pakistan. According to Qudratullah Shahab who worked in the governor general’s office, the Chief Justice regularly met the governor general. The defining step was taken with the collaboration of General Ayub Khan, the Commander-in-Chief of the Pakistan Army, and the Nazimuddin government was dismissed. The action was supported by the Chief Justice Mohammed Munir, Justice S. A. Rahman, Justice Mohammed Sharif and Justice S .A. M. Akram. Justice A. R. Cornelius dissented. It also resulted in a cooperative relationship between the executive and the Federal Court, which resulted in the Federal Court being subordinated to the executive.”
Even though he had held the two topmost positions in the country for five years – 1948 to 1953 – there was not a plot of land in his name in Karachi, nor did he have a house where he could moved to from the Prime Minister’s house, and he was having difficulty in even renting a house. At this stage the late Mr. Abdul Wahed Adamjee came to his rescue by offering him the use of one of his houses at 102 Clifton. He accepted the offer with a deep sense of gratitude and lived here for a few years, and then moved to a rented house in P.E.C.H.S. Some time in 1957 he moved to Dhaka and lived in Bait-ul-Amn the house belonging to his brother Khwaja Shahabuddin. From here he once again moved to a rented house on New Eskaton Road where he lived until his death.
After doing his M. A. at Cambridge University, Khwaja Nazimuddin was called to the Bar in 1916, but on his return home, he did not take up legal practice. At the comparative young age of 28, he was elected Chairman of the Dacca Municipality Board and continued to hold office until 1929. During this period he was also member of the Executive Council, Dacca University. The resourcefulness and administrative ability that he displayed soon won him recognition and, in December 1929 he was appointed a Member of the Governor’s Executive Council in Calcutta, as the Education Minister of Bengal.
One of the first tasks undertaken by Khwaja Nazimuddin, on being appointed the Education Minister, was to improve the disparity that existed in education between the Hindus and the Muslims. In order to give the Muslims equal opportunities he successfully piloted and passed the Compulsory Primary Education Bill in the Bengal Legislative Council in 1931. Another feather in his cap was the Bengal Agricultural Debtor’s Bill in 1935-36, which, to a large extent protected the debtors from the moneylenders. This was an important step towards emancipation of Muslim Bengalis from the Hindu domination in Bengal. Then, he took the bold step, against tremendous opposition, to appoint Sir Hassan Suhrawardy as the first Muslim Vice Chancellor of Calcutta University.
Realising that the cause of Muslims in Bengal suffered due to lack of publicity and propaganda, Khwaja Nazimuddin was mainly responsible and instrumental in starting the first Daily Evening Newspaper in English called the Star of India. And along with Khan Bahadur Abdul Momin he initiated the formation of the Muslim Chamber of Commerce in Calcutta, which gave fillip to Muslim enterprise in the field of commerce.
That was the beginning of a long and distinguished political career and his association with the Muslim League at a very critical time. To the best of our knowledge, some time in the year 1936 the Quad-e-Azam visited Calcutta and felt the need to organize the Muslim League in Bengal in preparation for the first general elections under the Government of India Act 1935. Khwaja Nazimuddin, who was the most ardent and loyal supporter of Mr. Jinnah, was entrusted with the responsibility of organizing the Muslim League by bringing together different groups and individuals under one banner. In order to achieve this it was imperative to seek the support of Mr. A. K. Fazlul Huq, who was very popular in rural areas and had a great following as the leader of Krishak Sramik Party. An election alliance was formed between the Krishak Sramik Party and the Muslim League, led by Khwaja Nazimuddin, which resulted in the Muslim League returning as the single largest party. However, as Mr. Fazlul Huq’s support was imperative, he was offered the position of Chief Minister which he accepted and formed a Coalition Ministry in 1937, in which Khwaja Nazimuddin, H. S. Suhrawardi and Nawab Habibullah of Dhaka were ministers.
However, a year after moving the famous Lahore Resolution on 23rd March 1940, Mr. Fazlul Huq resigned his membership of the Muslim League and formed a Coalition Ministry with Shyama Prasad Mukherjee, leader of the Hindu Mahasabha Party. Khwaja Nazimuddin refused to have any truck with him and willingly gave up his positon as the Home Minister and went into opposition to lead the Muslim League Party. Two years later, in 1943, the Coalition Ministry of Mr. Fazlul Huq resigned, and Khwaja Nazimuddin, as Leader of the Opposition was invited to form a Government, which brought the Muslim League back in power in Bengal with Khwaja Nazimuddin serving as the Chief Minister of Bengal. The cabinet of ministers included H. S. Suhrawardy and Khwaja Shahabuddin.
In 1945, Mr. H. S. Suhrawardy defeated Khwaja Nazimuddin as leader of the Muslim League Parliamentary Party, and remained leader of the party until the partition of India. However, in order to ensure that there was no strife within the Muslim league Party, and there was perfect unity and solidarity in its ranks, which was the greatest need of the hour, Khwaja Nazimuddin did not apply for the Muslim League ticket and altogether refrained from seeking election in the Bengal Legislative Assembly in 1946, and urging his supporters to follow the leadership of Mr. Suhrawardy, he moved to Delhi.
In the year 1946, he represented India at the last meeting of the League of Nations in Geneva, and later, went to the United States of America as a Member of the Indian delegation to the world Food Conference.
It is needless to repeat in detail, various events leading to the formation of Pakistan, but, it will not be out of place to record the action taken by Khwaja Nazimuddin, as Chief Minister of East Pakistan, in the Provincial Assembly which eventually led to the abolition of the zamindari (feudalism) system in East Pakistan. It is understood that a unanimous decision was taken at a meeting of the Muslim League Working Committee in Karachi to abolish feudalism throughout Pakistan. True to his word and with the interest of the country uppermost in his mind he took immediate action soon after returning to Dhaka. He was not deterred by the fact that members of the Dhaka Nawab Family, and he himself, would be most adversely affected.
Had the Chief Ministers of the other four provinces of Pakistan honestly followed his example in implementing a decision unanimously adopted by the Muslim League Working Committee, feudalism, in what is now Pakistan, would have been eliminated and we would have been saved from the curse and all the ills that have plagued our country for which we continue to suffer.
It is no wonder that the Quaid-e-Azam held him in high esteem for his loyalty, selfless devotion and his willingness, always, to put the interest of the country above all else. It is proved by the fact that no one other than the Quaid-e-Azam could have chosen him as his successor. As we learnt later, it was a closely guarded secret, known only to the late Begum Nazimuddin, that with the declining health of the Quaid-e-Azam, Mr. Liaquat Ali Khan had asked Khwaja Nazimuddin, some time in April 1948, to keep himself in readiness to come to Karachi, and at the same time nominate a successor to be the Chief Minister of East Pakistan. Thus, on the passing away of the Quaid-e-Azam on 11th September 1948, the Governor General’s Viking aircraft was sent, along with an A.D.C., to bring Khwaja Nazimuddin to attend his funeral and take over as the second Governor-General of Pakistan.