Abdul Hamid Khan Bhashani (12 December 1880 – 17 November 1976), shortened as Maulana Bhashani, was a Bengali politician. His political tenure spanned the British colonial India, Pakistan and Bangladesh periods.
Maulana Bhashani is popularly known with the honorary title Mozlum Jananeta (Leader of the Oppressed) for his lifelong stance for the poor suffered by establishment. He gained nationwide mass popularity among peasants and helped to build East Pakistan Peasant Association. Owing to his leaning to the left, often dubbed Islamic Socialism, he is also called ‘The Red Maulana’.
An alumnus of Darul Uloom Deoband, and participant of the Khilafat Movement protesting the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire he led the Muslims of Assam in a successful campaign during the 1947 Sylhet Referendum, through which Sylhet chose to become part of the Pakistan national project. He was the founder and President of the Pakistan Awami Muslim League which later became Awami League (AL). Later however, owing to differences with the right-leaning leaders in the AML, such as Shahid Suhrawardy, on the issue of autonomy for East Pakistan, he formed a new progressive party called National Awami Party (NAP). He also differed with Suhrawardhy when he as Prime Minister of Pakistan decided to join the US-led defence pact CENTO and SEATO. He disagreed with Pakistan’s growing ties with the United States.
American journalist Dan Coggin, writing for Time, credited Bhashani, “as much as any one man”, for instigating the 1969 Mass uprising in East Pakistan that culminated in the collapse of the Ayub Khan regime and the release of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and the others accused in the Agartala conspiracy case. According to lay author S. Akhtar Ehtisham, Bhashani’s decision to boycott the 1970 Pakistan general elections effectively led to the electoral sweep by his erstwhile opponent Mujibur Rahman. The Awami League, without any viable opposition in East Pakistan, won 160 of the 162 seats in the province and thus gained the majority in the Pakistan national assembly.
Early life: Abdul Hamid Khan Bhashani was born in Dhangara village in Sirajganj, Bengal Presidency in the year 1880 He was the son of Sharafat Ali Khan. Between 1907 and 1909 he received religious education at the Darul Uloom Deoband. The association of Mahmud Hasan Deobandi and other progressive Islamic thinkers inspired Bhashani against British imperialism. In 1909 he started teaching in a primary school at Kagmaree, Tangail.
Political Career British Period: In 1917, Bhashani was inducted into active politics and joined the Nationalist party led by Desbandhu Chittaranjan Das as an activist. Inspired by Mohammed Ali, he joined the Indian National Congress in 1919. In 1920 he was arrested and imprisoned. After being released, he participated in the Khilafat movement. In 1921 he participated in Das’ Non-Cooperation Movement against British imperialism. He suffered imprisonment for some days at that time along with his large numbers of followers. He joined the Muslim League in 1930. He was elected a MLA in Assam Legislative Assembly from Dhubri (South) constituency in 1937 and served till 1946. In April 1944 he was elected the president of Muslim League at its Barpeta session where after he devoted himself to Pakistan movement.
Early Pakistan days: After the establishment of India and Pakistan in 1947, following the exit of the British, Bhashani planned his anti-establishment course of action. On 23 June 1949, he founded East Pakistan Awami Muslim League. Bhasani was elected its president with Shamsul Huq as its General Secretary. On 24 July 1949 he organized the first meeting of Awami Muslim League at Armanitola, Dhaka, in which Yar Mohammad Khan contributed and finally established the party inside Dhaka city.
On 31 January 1952 he formed the “All Party Language movement Committee” at the Dhaka Bar Library. He campaigned for the recognition of Bangla as a national language in Pakistan. The National Democratic Front was established under his leadership on 4 December 1953. He renamed Awami Muslim League as the Awami League by removing “Muslim” from its official name in the council session of Awami League held on 21–23 October 1953.
The Muslim League Government both in the centre and the province of East Pakistan lost considerable popularity after the Language Movement of 1952. It was seen as not being capable or interested in protecting the interest of East Pakistan. In 1954, election was going to be held in the province and a new political party emerged to challenge the Muslim League. It was called United Front and comprised the party of Bhashani and the Krishak Sramik Party of A. K. Fazlul Huq, former Prime Minister of Bengal. The Awami League, under Shahid Suhrawardy also joined the alliance. The United Front won the provincial election in East Pakistan by defeating the Muslim league.
In the elections of 1954, Jukta Front successfully defeated Muslim League and its leader Prime minister Nurul Amin lost his parliament seat to a young student leader Mr. Khaleque Nawaz Khan and Jukta Front formed the provincial government of East Pakistan. However, the government was arbitrarily dismissed.
In May 1954 he went to Stockholm. He was barred from returning to East Pakistan by the government of Iskander Mirza and branded a communist. In 1956 Bhashani went on a hunger strike in demand of food for the famine affected people from 7 to 23 May.
During the Kagmaree Conference of Awami League held on 7–8 February 1957, Bhashani left the West Pakistani authority which acted negatively against East Pakistan. On 24–25 July 1957, Bhashani convened the conference of All Pakistan Democratic Activists. On 25 July he formed the East Pakistan National Awami Party (NAP). Bhashani was elected the President with Mahmudul Huq Osmani, the General Secretary. 1965 Pakistani presidential election
According to Ehtisham, Bhashani played a crucial role in the opposition decision to nominate Fatima Jinnah, instead of Azam Khan. Fatima Jinnah was initially scornful of an opposition attempt to nominate her, however on Bhashanis personal intervention, she agreed to be their joint candidate.
Despite this pledged support for Fatima Jinnah, Bhashani is controversially alleged to have become inactive during the opposition Presidential campaign ostensibly because of Ayub Khan‘s pro-China leanings; Sherbaz Khan Mazari later alleged that Bashani was bribed by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.
He organized the Cooperative for the Cultivators of East Pakistan on 2–3 January 1968. He was elected the founder chairman. On 15 June 1968 Bhashani founded the Cooperative for the Provincial Fish Tradesmen at Dhaka Bar library. On 12 October of the same year, he was arrested by President General Ayub Khan‘s government from the Mirzapur hospital, Tangail.
In 1967 Bhashani protested against the governmental ban against Rabindranath Tagore. In 1969 Bhashani launched a movement for the withdrawal of the Agartala Conspiracy Case and the release of Sheikh Mujib. American journalist Dan Coggin, writing for Time, credited Bhashani, “as much as any one man”, for instigating the 1969 Mass uprising in East Pakistan that culminated in the collapse of the Ayub Khan regime. In 1970 Bhasani called for the Independence of East Pakistan as per the 1940 Lahore Resolution. When the Bangladesh Liberation War started on 26 March 1971, Bhasani was confined in India. He was returned by the Indian Army to Bangladesh just after the war ended.
Bhasani with his National Awami party had organised an International Kisan conference from 23–25 March 1970 in Toba Tek Singh District. In the conference he asked the Government of Pakistan to hold a referendum, asking the population if they wanted Islamic Socialism. He warned that there might be guerrilla warfare if the military government failed to do so.
War of Independence 1971: Moulana Abdul Hamid Khan Bhashani was the Chairman of Sorbodoliyo Songram Parisad in 1971. He has seen the dream of Bangladesh. Bhashani asked China to aid Bangladesh in the liberation war. His request was not answered by China.
Career in independent Bangladesh: Bhashani wanted to play the role of a responsible opposition. The progressive forces quickly gathered around him and strengthened his NAP with Kazi Zafar Ahmed as its General Secretary. But soon factional differences among the progressive forces emerged and weakened Bhashani.
The most significant political magnificence of Bhasani after the independence is that, at the desire of Bangabandhu’s participation in the OIC’s Islamic Conference held in Pakistan in 1974, he gathered Maulana Bashani’s public support in a meeting in Paltan ground. Earlier to this, the former minister Sohrab Hossain of public works was in coordination, after that Mujib engaged his trusted person Barrister Syed Kamrul Islam Mohommod Salehuddin an opposition Member of Parliament independently elected from Faridpur then joined in NAP Bhasani into this matter to contact Bhasani. Barrister Salehuddin took his friend journalist Fazle Lohani and chairman of National People’s Party Sheikh Shawkat Hossain Nilu towards Santosh Tangail, that has been referred in the book: ‘Pakistan to Bangladesh: Politics of 43 years’ by Nilu too.(Edited)
He was highly critical of the oppressive style of the Awami League and BAKSAL government. He also warned Sheikh Mujibur Rahman against his move towards a one party state and declaring himself as lifelong president. Bhashani was deeply shocked at the killing of Mujib, for whom he had a lot of fatherly affection, and his family members. The person who conveyed the news of Mujib’s demise described how Bhashani cried and then went to his prayer room to offer prayer.
In May 1976 he led a massive Long March demanding demolition of the Farakka Barrage constructed by India to divert flow of Ganges waters inside its territory, triggering the drying up of river Padma and desertification of Bangladesh. It was the first popular movement against India demanding a rightful distribution of the Ganges’s water. Since then Historic Farakka Long March Day is observed on 16 March every year in Bangladesh.
At the time, the government of Bangladesh unofficially supported Bhashani’s Farakka Long March. Navy-chief Rear Admiral M. H. Khan in charge of providing logistics. Hundreds of thousands of people from all walks of life from all over the country gathered in Rajshahi town to participate in the Long March.
On the morning of 16 March 1976, he addressed a gathering of people at the Madrash Maidan, Rajshahi, from where the Long March commenced. Hundreds of thousands of people walked more than 100 kilometers on foot for days. The March continued up to Kansat, a place near the India-Bangladesh border, close to the Farakka barrage.
Political Philosophy: In the early 1950s he felt that an integrated Pakistan was no longer maintainable with hegemony of West Pakistan. At the Kagmari Conference, he bade farewell to West Pakistan by saying Assalamu Alaikum which soon became a reference quote. He declined to participate in the national election of 1970 saying that it will only help perpetuate rule by West Pakistan. Since 1969 his favourite slogans were Swadhin Bangla Zindabad and Azad Bangla Zindabad. His dream of an independent Purba Bangla (East Bengal) came true when Bangladesh was established as an independent nation-state in 1971. He advocated for the separation of the State and religion. He was a pious Muslim who was in favor of socialism. He spoke out against Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami and its politics.
Bhashani was known to have a Chinese connection and was the leader of pro-Chinese politicians of East Pakistan. During the 1965 war between Pakistan and India, Bhashani disappeared for several days. It is said that he flew from Panchbibi, Bogra to China, at the behest of president Field Marshal Ayub Khan, to secure support of China for Pakistan.
Journalism: The Daily Ittefaq has been the most popular Bengali newspaper of Bangladesh since the early 1970s. However its precursor is Weekly Ittefaq. After the British left South Asia in 1947, Muslim League emerged as the government political party. Soon opposition movement started and a political party named Awami Muslim League was founded with Bhashani as one of the central figures. Against this backdrop Bhashani and Yar Mohammad Khan started publishing the Weekly Ittefaq in 1949. The popular weekly publication was a critique of the Muslim League government. The journalist Tofazzal Hossain Manik Miah worked as its editor. Manik Miah took over the paper as its editor and publisher on 14 August 1951.
On 25 February 1972, Bhashani started publishing a weekly Haq Katha and it soon gained wide circulation. It was outspoken about the irregularities and misrule of Awami League government established after independence of Bangladesh. It was a pro-Chinese and socialist weekly. The weekly was banned by Sheikh Mujib. It was edited by Irfanul Bari, Bhashani’s subordinate.
Legacy: Bhashani is regarded as the proponent of anti-imperialist, non-communal and left-leaning politics by his admirers in present-day Bangladesh and beyond. After the sudden death of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, He expressed no sorrow or regret over the death of his former student. In 2013 the Awami League Government of Bangladesh reduced his presence in school curricula. In 2004, Bhashani was ranked number 8 in BBC’s poll of the Greatest Bengali of all time.
Additional information on Bhashani and his activities can be found in Zillur R. Khan, Leadership in the Least Developed Nation: Bangladesh (1983), and “March Movement of Bangladesh: Bengali Struggle for Political Power,” Indian Journal of Political Science (September 1972), as well as Sirajul Hossain Khan, “Champion of Exploited,” Holiday (November 21, 1976).
|Member of Parliament of Pakistan|
|In office 1954–1955|
|Member of Parliament of Bangladesh|
|In office 10 January 1973 – 15 August 1975|
|President||Sheikh Mujibur Rahman|
|Born||12 December 1880 Dhangara, Sirajganj, Bengal Presidency, British Raj|
|Died||17 November 1976 (aged 95) Dhaka, Bangladesh|
|Resting place||Santosh, Tangail, Bangladesh|
|Nationality||British Indian (1880–1947)
|Political party||National Awami Party (since 1957)
Pakistan Awami League (1949–1957)