Abul Kashem Fazlul Huq often referred to as “Sher-e-Bangla” (Tiger of Bengal) was a well-known Bengali statesman in the first half of the 20th century. He held different political posts including those of General Secretary of Indian National Congress (1918–1919), Education Minister (1924), the first Muslim Mayor of Calcutta (1935), Chief Minister of undivided Bengal (1937–1943) and East Pakistan (1954), Home Minister of Pakistan (1955–56), Governor of East Pakistan(1956–58), Food and Agriculture Minister of Pakistan (1958–61).
Huq was born to an agricultural peasant’s family to parents Qazi Muhammad Wajed, from Chakhar, and his wife Saidunnissa Khatun, in his mother’s town of Saturia in Jhalokati district (present day Bangladesh). His primary education began at a local Madrassah ( Islamic school). Later he got admitted to Barisal Zilla School and from there passed the Entrance examination in 1890 and the FA Examination in 1892 from Kolkata. He then obtained a BA degree (with triple Honours in Chemistry, Mathematics and Physics) from Presidency College, Kolkata and an MA on Mathematics from Calcutta University. His formal education was completed with a BL degree in 1897 from the University Law College. He was the second Muslim in the Indian subcontinent to obtain a law degree.
Huq was born to an agricultural peasant’s family to parents Qazi Muhammad Wajed, from Chakhar, and his wife Saidunnissa Khatun, in his mother’s town of Saturia in Jhalokati district (present day Bangladesh). His primary education began at a local Madrassah ( Islamic school). Later he got admitted to Barisal Zilla School and from there passed the Entrance examination in 1890 and the FA Examination in 1892 from Kolkata. He then obtained a BA degree (with triple Honours in Chemistry, Mathematics and Physics) from Presidency College, Kolkata and an MA on Mathematics from Calcutta University. His formal education was completed with a BL degree in 1897 from the University Law College. He was the second Muslim in the Indian subcontinent to obtain a law degree. After obtaining the BL degree Fazlul Huq started legal practice as an apprentice under Ashutosh Mukherjee. After the death of his father Huq started legal practice in Barisal town. In 1906 Huq entered government service as a Deputy Magistrate. He took an active part in founding the All India Muslim League at Dacca on 30 December 1906. Subsequently he resigned from public service and joined the Calcutta High Court for legal practice.
The greatest contribution of Sher-e-Bangla for the economic emancipation of the poor peasants of Bangladesh was the formation of the Rin Salishi (Debt Review) Board, which helped numerous peasants to get their lands back from the ravenous usurers. To free the peasants from the exploitation of the usurers, he founded nearly 11,000 such boards around the country. He also introduced new laws (Bengali Shop Worker bill) to protect the poor shop (retail) workers ensuring better employment conditions and holiday pay.
Sher-e-Bangla founded several educational and technical institutions for the Bengali Muslims, including: Adina Fazlul Huq College in Rajshahi, Eliot Hostel, Tyler Hostel, Medical College Hostel, Engineering College Hostel, Muslim Institute Building, Dhaka Eden Girls’ College Building, Fazlul Huq College at Chakhar, Fazlul Huq Hall (Dhaka University), Tejgaon Agriculture College, Bulbul Music Academy and Central Women’s’ College. Sher-e-Bangla also had significant contribution for founding the leading University in Bangladesh – Dhaka University. During Fazlul Huq’s premiership as the Chief Minister, Bangla Academy was founded and Bengali New Year’s (Pohela Baishakh) was declared a public holiday.
Throughout Bangladesh, various educational institutions (e.g. Barisal Sher-e-Bangla Medical College), roads, neighborhoods (Sher-e-Bangla Nagor), and stadiums (Sher-e-Bangla Mirpur Stadium) have been named after him. This depicts the respect of the people for Sher-e-Bangla.
Fazlul Huq got initiation in politics in the hands of Sir Khwaja Salimullah and Syed Nawab Ali Chowdhury. 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 and in 1918-1919 he served this organization as its General Secretary.
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. This difference of opinion eventually made him leave Congress.
After alienation from the Congress party, it was up to the Muslims to nominate a mayor in Calcutta. It was in 1935 that, with the Congress’ support, Fazlul Huq was chosen and elected 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 they won 38 seats. Congress claimed majority with 60 seats. Later that year Sher-e-Bangla joined Muslim League and subsequently become 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 1937 to 1943. Fazlul Huq drafted and moved the Lahore Resolution on 23 March 1940. According to this resolution, North-eastern and Eastern parts of India happened to be formed as sovereign states. It established Muslim League’s demand for a homeland for Muslims that ultimately resulted in the nation of Pakistan. However after 1942 Huq actually opposed the Two-Nation Theory and tried to mobilise non-Muslim League Muslim leaders against Partition of India. Sher-e-Bangla A. K. Fazlul Huq was the key national leader behind 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 this 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.
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 with Bengali Language Movement. Huq was injured with many people by the police lathi charged on the demonstrating students. On 27 July 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. Huq’s charisma was 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 were 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, but this time of East Bengal. However, 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 were engaged in a ceaseless battle for control of East Pakistan’s provincial government. In August 1955, Huq was invited to join the central cabinet as the Home Minister. In 1956, he became the Governor of East Pakistan and was removed from that post in 1958. At that time, it was rumored that Huq had some bitter rivalry against Muhammad Ali Bogra and Suhrawardy and finally he decided to retire from active politics. He was food and agriculture minister of Pakistan till 1961.
Although Huq was widely respected for his personality and leadership quality, his frequent change of policies has also sometimes been viewed as lack of consistency. Interprets the contradictory ingredients manifested through Huq’s words and actions as a result of conflicts among his Muslim identity, Bengali identity and Pakistani identity. While we has worried about the development of backward Muslim community, he was also occupied with the thought of the progress of the entire Bengali nation and at the same time carefully nurtured the dream of united independent India or Pakistan. As a result, it was not possible for him to pursue a consistent agenda throughout his long political career. However, Huq did not consider change in policy as a change of principle. According to him policies were like umbrellas, meant to be held in different directions according to necessity. Observes Huq to be conservative in temperament in his dealings with Maulana Bhasani after the break-up of the United Front. He was sometimes criticized for nepotism, though at a very limited level.
Fazlul Huq died on Friday 27 April 1962 at 10:20 am at an age of 89 years and 6 months. The funeral of this popular leader drew a crowd of over half a million. All educational institutions of Pakistan were declared closed on 30 April to pay tribute to him. All important officials of Pakistan attended his Janazah. Sher-e-Bangla was buried in Dhaka. His tomb is situated at the southern end of the Kazi Nazrul Islam Avenue, to the west of the Shishu Academy.