Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy (1892-1963) was prime minister of Pakistan for 13 months. He lies buried today in the old High Court compound of Dhaka, alongside the graves of AK Fazlul Haq and Khwaja Nazimuddin. Out of the three only one, Haq, knew how to speak Bengali well enough; Nazimuddin and Suhrawardy just got along with an accent. Suhrawardy descended from the famous Suhrawardy saints of Baghdad and Multan and grew up as a scion of a family of great lawyers in Dhaka. More facts have been revealed in Memoirs of Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy with a brief account of his life and work; Edited by Mohammad HR Talukdar; Foreword by Kamal Hossain (OUP 2009) which claims that Suhrawardy’s death in a hotel in Beirut was due to a heart attack. However, Bhutto, then in General Ayub’s cabinet, had warned him through a friend: “Tell Suhrawardy not to try and return to Pakistan, otherwise I shall make sure personally that he never sets foot on its soil”. General Ayub thought him disloyal to Pakistan.
The book says a CIA officer had warned the family, “Tell your father to take great care of himself. The word is going round that they are out to get him”. Three days later, he was dead (p.71).
His first marriage produced a son and a daughter, whose grand-daughter is Shahida Jamil who became law minister in Pakistan in 2000. In 1940, Suhrawardy married Vera Alexandrovna Tisenko, a Russian actress from the Moscow Art Theatre. The couple divorced in 1951 and had one child, Rashid Suhrawardy (aka Robert Ashby), who is an actor living in London and believes his father died of a heart attack.
Suhrawardy was once a Bengali leader under the benign patronage of the great moderate CR Das who had agreed the Bengal Pact with the Bengali Muslims in 1923, accepting Muslim majority in Bengal under separate electorates (p.10). Suhrawardy attacked the Nehru Report (1928) that negated separate electorates, and came close to the position of Jinnah. Mahatma Gandhi, while addressing a Muslim gathering, is purported to have once said: “Jinnah, there is your statesman; Liaquat, there is your politician; Suhrawardy, there is your leader” (p.71).
The book claims: “Had Suhrawardy not won the general election in Bengal in 1946, in the light of total failure of the Muslim League in all the other Muslim majority provinces, there would have been no Pakistan” (p.21).
On April 7 1946, at Delhi’s Muslim convention “General Secretary Nawabzada Liaquat Ali Khan, at Jinnah’s instance, corrected the word ‘states’ for ‘state’ in the Lahore Resolution as a typographical error, ignoring loud protestations from Bengali councillors, the most vocal of whom were Maulana Abdul Hamid Khan Bhashani, and Abul Hashim, General Secretary of the Bengal Provincial Muslim League” (p.22).
After that Suhrawardy began to be suspected and was replaced as a Muslim leader in Bengal with Khwaja Nazimuddin by the secretary general: “Liaquat Ali Khan, who disliked Suhrawardy and was jealous of him” (p.32).
Suhrawardy’s own memoir recalls: “East Bengal elected to the Pakistan Constituent Assembly a number of non-Bengali Muslims who could not have won from their own provinces: Liaquat Ali Khan, IH Quraishi, and Khan Abdul Qayyum Khan of NWFP and not less than five others of national importance” (p.79).
Suhrawardy opposed one unit created by PM Chaudhry Muhammad Ali but says President Iskander Mirza forcibly made him prime minister: “He took me on his plane, brought me back to Karachi, obtained the rather reluctant resignation of Ch Mohammad Ali and appointed me prime minister on September 12, 1956” (p.95).
(To be continued next week)
Published in The Express Tribune, January 2nd, 2011.