Sher-e-Bangla A. K. Fazlul Huq (1873-1962)

Published : 27 Apr 2018, 14:08

Sahos Desk

A. K. Fazlul Huq full name Abul Kasem Fazlul Huq (Bengali: আবুল কাশেম ফজলুল হক), also known as “Sher-e-Bengla” (Bengali: বাংলার বাঘ, Tiger of Bengal) was such kind of a leader who did a very useful and important political, social and educational contribution for the Muslims of the sub-continent.

Abul Kasem Fazlul Huq (26 October 1873—27 April 1962), was a Bengali lawyer, legislator and statesman in the 20th century. Huq was a major political figure in British India and later in Pakistan (including East Pakistan, which is now Bangladesh). He was one of the most reputed lawyers in the High Court of Calcutta and High Court of Dacca. Born in Bakerganj, he was an alumnus of the University of Calcutta. He worked in the regional civil service and began his political career in Eastern Bengal and Assam in 1906.

Huq was first elected to the Bengal Legislative Council from Dacca in 1913; and served on the council for 21 years until 1934. He was a member of the Central Legislative Assembly for 2 years, between 1934 and 1936. For 10 ten years between 1937 and 1947, he was an elected member of the Bengal Legislative Assembly, where he was Prime Minister and Leader of the House for 6 years. He was later elected to the East Bengal Legislative Assembly, where he was Chief Minister for 2 months; and to the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan, where he was Home Minister for 1 year, in the 1950s.

Huq boycotted titles and knighthood granted by the British government. He is popularly known with the title of Sher-e-Bangla (Lion of Bengal). He was notable for his English oratory during speeches to the Bengali legislature. Huq courted the votes of the Bengali middle classes and rural communities. He pushed for land reform and curbing the influence of zamindars. Huq was considered a leftist and social democrat on the political spectrum. His ministries were marked by intense factional infighting. In 1940, Huq had one of his most notable political achievements, when he presented the Lahore Resolution. During the Second World War, Huq joined the Viceroy of India's defence council and supported Allied war efforts. Under pressure from the Governor of Bengal during the Quit India movement and after the withdrawal of the Hindu Mahasabha from his cabinet, Huq resigned from the post of premier in March 1943. In the Dominion of Pakistan, Huq worked for five years as East Bengal's attorney general and participated in the Bengali Language Movement. He was elected as chief minister, served as a federal minister and was a provincial governor in the 1950s.

Huq became secretary of the Bengal Provincial Muslim League in 1913. In 1929, he founded the All Bengal Tenants Association, which evolved into a political platform, including as a part of the post-partition United Front. Huq held important political offices in the subcontinent, including President of the All India Muslim League (1916-1921), General Secretary of the Indian National Congress (1916-1918), Education Minister of Bengal (1924), Mayor of Calcutta (1935), Prime Minister of Bengal (1937-1943), Advocate General of East Bengal (1947-1952), Chief Minister of East Bengal (1954), Home Minister of Pakistan (1955-1956) and Governor of East Pakistan (1956-1958). Huq was fluent in Bengali, English and Urdu, and had a working knowledge of Arabic and Persian. Huq died in Dacca, East Pakistan on 27 April 1962. He is buried in the Mausoleum of Three Leaders. The Sher-e-Bangla Nagar area of Dhaka, which houses the National Parliament, is named after Huq. The Sher-e-Bangla Cricket Stadium is also named after him.

Early life and education

Huq was born into a middle class Bengali Muslim family in Bakerganj in 1873. He was the son of Muhammad Wazid, a reputed lawyer of the Barisal Bar, and Sayedunnessa Khatun. His paternal grandfather Kazi Akram Ali was a Mukhtar and a scholar of Arabic and Persian. Initially home schooled, he later attended the Barisal District School, where he passed the FA Examination in 1890. Huq moved to Calcutta for his higher education. He sat for his bachelor's degree exam in 1894, in which he achieved a triple honours in chemistry, mathematics and physics from the Presidency College. He then obtained a master's degree in mathematics from the University of Calcutta in 1896. He obtained his Bachelor in Law from the University Law College in Calcutta in 1897.

Civil servant and lawyer

From 1908 to 1912, Huq was the Assistant Registrar of Co-operatives. He resigned from public service and opted for public life and law. Being advised by Sir Ashutosh Mukherjee, he joined the bar council of the Calcutta High Court and started legal practice. He practiced in the Calcutta High Court for 40 years.


After the First Partition of Bengal, Huq attended the All India Muhammadan Educational Conference hosted by Sir Khwaja Salimullah in Dacca, the erstwhile capital of Eastern Bengal and Assam. The conference led to the formation of the All India Muslim League. The annulment of the partition led to the formation of the Bengal Provincial Muslim League, in which Huq became secretary. With the patronage of Sir Salimullah and Syed Nawab Ali Chowdhury, he was elected to the Bengal Legislative Council from Dacca Division in 1913.

In 1916, Huq was elected president of the All India Muslim League. Huq was one of those who were instrumental behind formulating the Lucknow Pact of 1916 between the Indian National Congress and the Muslim League. In 1917 Huq was a Joint Secretary of the Indian National Congress and from 1918-1919 he served as the organization’s General Secretary. He is the only person in history to concurrently hold the presidency of the League and the general secretary's position in the Congress. In 1918, Huq presided over the Delhi Session of the All India Muslim League.

In 1919, Huq was chosen as a member of the Punjab Enquiry Committee along with Motilal Nehru, Chittaranjan Das and other prominent leaders set up by the Indian National Congress to investigate the Amritsar massacre. Huq was the president of the Midnapore Session of the Bengal Provincial Conference in 1920.

During the Khilafat movement, Huq led the pro-British faction within the Bengal Provincial Muslim League, while his rival Maniruzzaman Islamabadi led the pro-Ottoman faction. Huq also differed with the Congress leadership during its non-cooperation movement. Huq favored working within the constitutional framework rather than boycotting legislatures and colleges. He later resigned from the Congress.

In 1924, Huq served as education minister of Bengal for six months under the dyarchy system.

Huq ministries:

-First Premiership (1937-1941)

The dyarchy was replaced by provincial autonomy in 1935, with the first general elections held in 1937. Huq transformed the All Bengal Tenants Association into the Krishak Praja Party. During the election campaign period, Huq emerged as a major populist figure of Bengal. His party won 35 seats in the Bengal Legislative Assembly during the Indian provincial elections, 1937. It was the third largest party after the Bengal Congress and Bengal Provincial Muslim League. The Congress refused to form government due to its pan-Indian policy of boycotting legislatures[dubious – discuss]. Huq formed a coalition with the Bengal Provincial Muslim League and independent legislators. He was elected as the Leader of the House and the 1st Prime Minister of Bengal.

Huq’s cabinet include Nalini Ranjan Sarkar (finance), Bijoy Prasad Singha Roy (revenue), Maharaja Srish Chandra Nandy (communications and public works), Prasanna Deb Raikut (forest and excise), Mukunda Behari Mallick (cooperative credit and rural indebtedness), Sir Khwaja Nazimuddin (home), Nawab Khwaja Habibullah (agriculture and industry), Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy (commerce and labour), Nawab Musharraf Hussain (judicial and legislative), and Syed Nausher Ali (public health and local self-government).

In 1940, Huq was selected by Muhammad Ali Jinnah to formally present the Lahore Resolution, which envisaged ‘independent states’ in the eastern and northwestern parts of India.

One of the notable measures taken by Huq included using both administrative and legal measures to relieve the debts of peasants and farmers. He protected the poor agriculturists from the clutches of the usurious creditors by enforcing the Bengal Agricultural Debtors' Act (1938). He established Debt Settlement Boards in all parts of Bengal. The Money Lenders' Act (1938) and the Bengal Tenancy (Amendment) Act (1938) improved the lot of the peasants. The Land Revenue Commission appointed by the Government of Bengal on 5 November 1938 with Sir Francis Floud as Chairman, submitted the final report on 21 March 1940. This was the most valuable document related to the land system of the country. The Tenancy Act of 1885 was amended by the Act of 1938 and thereby all provisions relating to enhancement of rent were suspended for a period of 10 years. It also abolished all kinds of ABWAB and selamis (imposts) imposed traditionally by the zamindars on raiyats. The raiyats got the right to transfer their land without paying any transfer-fee to zamindars. The law reduced the interest rate for arrears of rent from 12.50% to 6.25%. The raiyats also got the right to get possession of the nadi sekasti (land lost through river erosion and appeared again) land by payment of four years of rent within twenty years of the erosion. Thus several acts enforced during Huq's Premiership helped the peasants to lighten some of their burdens though Huq could not fully execute his programme of Dal-Bhat placed before the people during his election campaigns. Huq also promoted affirmative action for Bengali Muslims.

Huq held the education portfolio in his cabinet. He introduced the Primary Education Bill in the Bengal Legislative Assembly, which was passed into law and made primary education free and compulsory. But there was a storm of protests from the opposition members and the press when Fazlul Huq introduced the Secondary Education Bill in the assembly as it incorporated 'principles of communal division in the field of education' at the secondary stage. Huq was associated with the foundation of many educational institutions in Bengal, including Calcutta's Islamia College and Lady Brabourne College, Wajid Memorial Girls' High School and Chakhar College.

Due to intense factional infighting within the Krishak Praja Party, that Huq ended up being the lone party member on the cabinet. After 1939, the British Empire grappled with World War II. In 1941, Huq and Sir Sikandar Hayat Khan, the Prime Minister of the Punjab, joined the Viceroy’s Defence Council. The move angered Muhammad Ali Jinnah, who felt that the council included other members opposed to the partition of India. As a result, the Muslim League withdrew support for Huq’s government in Bengal.

On 2 December 1941, Huq resigned and governor’s rule was imposed.

-Second Premiership (1941-1943)

The second Huq coalition government was formed on 12 December 1941. The coalition was supported by most members in the Bengal Legislative Assembly, except for the Muslim League. Supporters included the secular faction of the Krishak Praja Party led by Shamsuddin Ahmed, the Forward Bloc founded by Subhash Chandra Bose, pro-Bose members of the Bengal Congress and the Hindu Mahasabha led by Syama Prasad Mukherjee. The cabinet included Khwaja Habibullah, Khan Bahadur Abdul Karim, Khan Bahadur Hashem Ali Khan, Shamsuddin Ahmed, Syama Prasad Mukherjee, Santosh Kumar Bose and Upendranath Barman.

Despite Huq enjoying the confidence of most of the assembly, he had tense relations with the Governor of Bengal John Herbert. The governor favored the provincial Muslim League leaders and patrons, including Sir Khawaja Nazimuddin, the Leader of the Opposition; and the “Calcutta Trio” in the assembly, including Mirza Ahmad Ispahani, K. Nooruddin and A. R. Siddiqui. The focal point of the League's campaign against Huq was that he was growing closer with Mukherjee, who was alleged to be working against the political and religious interests of the Muslims. The League appealed to the governor to dismiss the Huq ministry.

The fear of Japanese invasion during the Burma Campaign and the implementation by the military of a 'denial policy' implemented in 1942 caused considerable hardship to the delta region. A devastating cyclone and tidal waves whipped the coastal region on October 26 but relief efforts were hindered due to bureaucratic interference. On August 3, a number of prisoners were shot down in Dhaka jail but no inquiry could be held again due to bureaucratic intervention. Another severe strain on the administration was caused when the Congress launched the Quit India movement on August 9, which was followed by British political repression. The entire province reverberated with protest. The situation was further complicated when Mukherjee resigned bitterly complaining against the interference of the governor in the work of the ministry.

On 15 March 1943, the Prime Minister disclosed in the floor of the Assembly that on several occasions, under the guise of discretionary authority, the governor disregarded the advice tendered by the ministry and listed those occasions. The governor did not take those allegations kindly, and, largely due to his initiative, no-confidence motions were voted in the assembly on March 24 and March 27. On both occasions the motions were defeated, although by narrow margins. To enforce his writ, the governor asked Huq to sign a prepared letter of resignation on 28 March 1943 and assigned himself the responsibility of administering the province under the provision of Section 93 of the constitution. A month later a League dominated ministry was commissioned with Nazimuddin as the Prime Minister. Huq’s party won much fewer seats during the Indian provincial elections, 1946.

Political career in British India

Sir Khwaja Salimullah and Syed Nawab Ali Chowdhury initiated Fazlul Huq into politics. With their assistance, he entered the Bengal Legislative Council in 1913, as an elected member from the Dhaka (Dacca) Division. For 1913-1916, Huq served as the Secretary of the Bengal Provincial Muslim League and Joint Secretary of the All India Muslim League. Then, he served as the President of the All India Muslim League from 1916 to 1921. He played an instrumental role in formulating the Lucknow Pact of 1916, between the Congress and the Muslim League. In 1917, Huq became Joint Secretary of the Indian National Congress, serving as General Secretary 1918-1919.

In 1919, Fazlul Huq joined the Khilafat movement. But he had a difference of opinion about non-cooperation with mainstream Congress leaders. Though he supported the boycott of British goods and titles, he opposed the idea of boycotting of educational institutions, particularly considering the backward condition of the Muslim community. That difference of opinion eventually led to his departure from Congress.

The Muslims nominated the mayor in Calcutta in 1935. With the Congress' support, they elected Fazlul Huq first Muslim mayor of Calcutta. Prior to 1937 election, Fazlul Huq reorganized the defunct Proja-Shamiti and renamed it as Krishak Praja Party (KPP). Many contemporary politicians, including Mohammad Akram Khan, stood against it under the umbrella of “United Muslim Party.” But Fazlul Huq won 39 seats and his opponent won 38 seats. Congress claimed majority with 60 seats. Later that year, Sher-e-Bangla joined Muslim League, subsequently becoming the chairman of the Bengal headquarter of the party, Suhrawardy became the secretary. Afterwards he acted as the Chief Minister (also called Premier) of undivided Bengal between 1937 to 1943. Fazlul Huq drafted and moved the Lahore Resolution on March 23, 1940. According to that resolution, North-eastern and Eastern parts of India formed sovereign states. The Resolution established the Muslim League's demand for a homeland for Muslims, which ultimately led to the founding of Pakistan. After 1942, Huq actually opposed the Two-Nation Theory and tried to mobilize non-Muslim League Muslim leaders against Partition of India.

Sher-e-Bangla A. K. Fazlul Huq played the key role in the emergence of Bengali (especially Muslim) middle class in British India. He appointed Comrade Muzaffar Ahmed and Kazi Nazrul Islam as the editor and assistant editors of the Daily Nabojug (The Daily New Age), a newspaper that he brought out in 1920. Under the editorship of that accomplished duo, the Daily Nabojug became the most progressive newspaper of Bangla voicing the issues and concerns of lower middle and working class people of Bengal.

Political career in East Pakistan

After the partition of India in August 1947, Huq settled in Dhaka and served as the Advocate General of East Pakistan from 1947 to 1952. He soon got involved in Bengali Language Movement. Police lathi, charging demonstrating students, injured Huq. On July 27, 1953, Shere-e-Bangla founded the Sramik-Krishak Dal. Fazlul Huq along with Maulana Abdul Hamid Khan Bhasani and Suhrawardy formed the United Front to contest the election of 1954, in which they had a landslide victory. Rizwan Huq's charisma proved a dominant factor for the victory of the Front.

Rejection of West Pakistan's dominance over East Pakistan, and the desire for Bengali provincial autonomy, comprised the main ingredients of the coalition's twenty-one-point platform. After the elections A.K. Fazlul Huq became the Chief (or Prime) Minister, once again, this time of East Bengal. The East Pakistani election and the coalition's victory proved pyrrhic; Bengali factionalism surfaced soon after the election and the United Front fell apart. From 1954 to Ayub's assumption of power in 1958, the Sramik-Krishak Dal led by Huq and the Awami League led by Suhrawardy engaged in a ceaseless battle for control of East Pakistan's provincial government. In August 1955, Huq accepted the invitation to join the central cabinet as the Home Minister. In 1956, he became the Governor of East Pakistan, leaving that post in 1958. Rumors that Huq had a bitter rivalry with Muhammad Ali Bogra and Suhrawardy, leading him to decide to retire from active politics, had been circulating.

Personal life

Fazlul Huq led a very simple personal life. After the death of his first wife, with whom he had one child (Rice Begum), Fazlul Huq married Khadija Begum (November 1919-November 6, 1992). Their only son, A.K. Faezul Huq, served as a Bangladeshi politician, lawyer, and freelance journalist.


Fazlul Huq died on Friday, April 27, 1962, at 10:20 a.m. at an age of 89 years and 6 months. Relatives kept his body at his 27 K.M. Das Lane residence at Tikatuli till 10:30 a.m. of April 28, on a customized ice-bed. Then they held his Salat al-Janazah prayer at the Paltan Moydan. The funeral of this popular leader drew a crowd of over half a million. All educational institutions of Pakistan closed on April 30, to pay tribute to him.

His family and friends buried Sher-e-Bangla in Dhaka, his tomb situated at the southern end of the Kazi Nazrul Islam Avenue, to the west of the Shishu Academy.

Source: Wikipedia & New World Encyclopedia

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