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Hussain Shaheed Suhrawardy (1892-1963)

Hussain Shaheed Suhrawardy was a Pakistani left-wing statesman of Bengali origin, and was amoung the Founding Fathers of modern-day Pakistan. He was elected as the fifth Prime minister of Pakistan and served from 1956 to 1957.

Suhrawardy was born to the Suhrawardia family, on 8th September 1892, in a town of Midnapore, in present-day West Bengal. His father, Sir Zahid Suhrawardy, was a well-known judge of the Calcutta High Court. His elder brother, Shahid Suhrawardy, was the co-founder of Pakistan PEN Miscellany along with Professor Ahmed Ali. He completed his B.S. in Mathematics in 1910, from St. Xavier’s College. Later on, he got admission in University of Calcutta, from where he did his Masters in Arabic language and won a scholarship for higher studies abroad. He then, went to the United Kingdom to join St Catherine’s College, Oxford University, from where he completed M.A.B.C.L. and Bar-at-Law degrees with distinction. Upon his return he started practice at Calcutta High Court.

In 1920, he married Begum Niaz Fatima, daughter of Sir Abdur Rahim, the then Home Minister of the Bengal Province of British India. God blessed Suhrawardy two children from this marriage; Ahmed Shahab Suhrawardy and Begum Akhtar Sulaiman. Ahmed Suhrawardy died from pneumonia, in 1940, when he was a student in London. Suhrawardy’s first wife, Begum Niaz Fatima, died in 1932; he then married Vera Alexandrovna Tiscenko Calder, who, after her marriage converted to Islam and changed her name to Begum Noor Jehan. His new wife, Vera, was a Russian actress of Polish descent from the Moscow Art Theatre and protégé of Olga Knipper. In 1951, Suhrawardy divorced her and she later settled in America. He had one child, Rashid Suhrawardy, from her.

Suhrwardy entered active politics in Bengal, from the platform of Swaraj Party, a group within the Indian National Congress, and became a keen follower of Chittaranjan Das. He played an important role in the formulation of the Bengal Pact in 1923. At the age of 31, in 1924, he became the Deputy Mayor of the Calcutta Corporation, and the Deputy Leader of the Swaraj Party in the Provincial Assembly. After the death of Chittaranjan Das in 1925, he disassociated himself from the Swaraj Party and joined Muslim League. He served as Minister of Labour, and Minister of Civil Supplies, among other positions, during Khawaja Nazimuddin’s Government.

Suhrawardy led a progressive line, in the Bengal Muslim League, against the conservative stream led by Nazimuddin and Akram Khan. In the light of 1946’s elections, he established and headed a Muslim League government in Bengal, which was the only League government in British India at the time. When the demand for a separate Muslim state became popular among Indian Muslims and the partition of India on communal lines was very much expected by mid-1947; Suhrawardy presented his plan in a press conference, on 27th April 1947, for a united and independent Bengal to prevent the partition of Hindu-majority districts of Punjab and Bengal on communal lines. Suhrawardy’s plan, unfortunately, gained no popularity, and partition of sub-continent was made on communal basis.

After the emergence of Pakistan, Suhrawardy was elected as a Member of the first Constituent Assembly of Pakistan in 1949. He then became Minister for Law, during the reign of second Constituent Assembly of Pakistan, in December 1954, and after one year, in 1955 he became the Leader of the Opposition to a coalition Government. Although he was anti-communist, he was appointed to head a coalition government of Pakistan, as a Prime Minister in 1956. His initial targets were to resolve the energy crises, to remove economical disparity, and to build a massive military. At very first, he took initiatives to re-build and reform the military forces, to expand the defense infrastructure, to establish the plan of nuclear power against India, and to develop supply-side economics polices. Suhrawardy was the first Prime Minister to visit China to strengthen Sino-Pak relations, and Pakistan-U.S’s long associated ties were the pioneer of his foreign policy. Despite his achievements, he was forced to resign under threat of dismissal by the President Iskander Mirza, after his failure to control the economic disparity, to initiate One Unit Program, and to control the influence of business monopoly in politics. Suhrawardy resigned from his post on 10th October 1957. He died because of a chronic heart attack in Beirut, Lebanon, on 5th December 1963; his tomb is in Dhaka.

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