Khwaja Nazimuddin, a rich landlord and a nephew of Nawab Salimullah, was a member of the Nawab family of Dhaka. His world was the narrow confines of the feudal aristocracy. He was bred if not born to lead Muslim Bengal but because of his background he was an anachronism in Bengal politics and its aspiration. His mother tongue was Urdu and Bangla was least known to him. He was the son of Khwaja Nizamuddin and Nawabzadi Bilkees Bano and was married to Shah Bano, daughter of Khwaja Ashraf in 1924. He was most outstanding and successful member of Dhaka Nawab family. He died on 22 October 1964 and lies buried beside the graves of Fazlul Haq and Suhrawardi in the ground of Dhaka High Court. Their mausoleum is known as the Mazar of three national leaders.
Nazimuddin had the introduction of a great family. He had wealth that freed him from abrasion against the tough world. He had the education from celebrated universities and a cultivated mind, a blend of eastern and western thoughts and ideas. His personality was an integrated whole composed of seemingly divergent traits. He was born an aristocrat, but he remained singularly free from the foils and foibles associated with the landed aristocracy. He was a man of faith and fidelity, veracity and sincerity, urbanity and simplicity. In fact, to him word was honour. He had great love for Islam and its traditions. There was not a trace of pride or superciliousness in him.
Khwaja Nazimuddin entered politics with determination, properly educated and equipped for it. The politics that he professed and practised was clean and fair. He knew how to win and how to lose with grace. In political life he was distinguished by two qualities, consistency and loyalty. His political faith and stand was throughout consistent. He constantly kept these twin objectives before him. Though, he was a nice man, he was not outstandingly resolute or strong. He was straight in politics but ineffective. He was always known to be a weak and nervous man, and his brother Khwaja Shahabuddin was reputed to be the brain behind him. His nobility combined with the softness of his temperament handicapped his politics. Though, his apparent solemnity concealed his self doubt and inadequacies.
Khwaja Nazimuddin was one of the most popular figures in the political history of Pakistan in its formative phase. He belonged to the rare breed of politicians, against whom a single charge of corruption or misuse of power was ever levelled, despite his extended stay in public offices. His unquestioning loyalty and commitment, sincerity and nobility of heart were the celebrated features of his personality and politics. Although he was indecisive, less efficient, less forceful, and less-ambitious administrator, but these seeming handicaps proved to be the merit of his selections in high political offices.
Khwaja Nazimuddin had sound common sense, and was widely respected for his property, old-world courtesy and helpfulness and was, above all, unwavering in his loyalty to the Quaid-i-Azam and devotion to the cause of Pakistan. Throughout his political life he remained an unflinching loyal to his political organisation, his leader and his colleagues. He remained a member of the Muslim League from the first till the last days of his political career, and it is a known and established fact that he was among the most loyal and devoted associates and stalwarts of Quaid-i-Azam and Pakistan Movement. Quaid-i-Azam always trusted Nazimuddin and had him closely associated with the Simla Conference as well as the discussions with the Cripps and the Cabinet Mission. He showed throughout his political career that the unflinching loyalty could expect handsome rewards from their grateful masters.
Nazimuddin belonged to an elite family and his life was full of honours and triumphs, but more than that all his career was notable for the nobility of his heart and conduct. The numerous victories, he scored and the highest offices as well as titles of great honour which were bestowed on him right from 1922 to 1953 bear testimony to that fact. Nazimuddin started his career as Chairman of the Dhaka Municipality in 1922, a position he held till 1929. During that time, he was also a Member of the Executive Council of Dhaka University. For his good work at both these institutions, in 1929 he was appointed a Member to the Governor’s Executive Council. He continued to serve in this capacity till 1937. He was elected a Member of Bengal Legislative Assembly from Barisal Muslim constituency in 1923, 1926 and 1929 and was the Education Minister of United Bengal from 1929 to June 1934 and later as Minister for Agriculture. In the former capacity he successfully piloted the Compulsory Primary Education Bill; removing disparity that existed in education between the Hindus and the Muslims. As Minister for Agriculture in 1935, he piloted the Agriculture Debtors Bill and the Bengal Rural Development Bill which freed poor Muslim cultivators from the clutches of Hindu moneylenders.
Nazimuddin was associated with the Muslim League from the mid-thirties and remained associated with it till his last breath. The Muslim League was re-organized in Bengal in 1935 by virtue of the inspiration given by the Quaid-i-Azam and the active leadership of Khwaja Nazimuddin. He was among the pioneers from Bengal who responded to the Quaid-i-Azam’s call to reorganize the Muslim League in Bengal in preparation for the forthcoming general elections of 1937. Since then he was one of the most loyal lieutenants of the Quaid-i-Azam and one of the most ardent supporters of the Muslim League. He was an emphatic and consistent Muslim Leaguer. His able leadership had brought all the different Muslim parties under one platform except for Fazlul Haq and his Krishak Praja Party. His refusal to join the Muslim League meant a certain division of the Muslim votes which would have been fatal for them. To avoid this catastrophe at the time of election in Bengal, the two parties United Muslim Party and New Majlis Party merged in Muslim League to form an election alliance. Thus, the Muslim League emerged as the single largest party in the election.
In the Election of 1937, Nazimuddin as ML candidate was defeated by Fazlul Haq, the KPP leader, in the Patuakhali constituency. But later, he won from the North Calcutta constituency vacated by Suhrawardy. But his early defeat so deeply affected him that later he always avoided to contest elections. He failed to emerge as a mass and popular leader; instead he concentrated his energies to oblige his political masters.
In 1937 he was appointed Home Minister in Haq’s Coalition Ministry. On 1st December 1941, he resigned from the Cabinet because of differences between Haq and Jinnah. Fazlul Haq was expelled from the League and his Ministry way to another Ministry in coalition with the Congress members. During the Shyama-Haq Coalition (1942 to 1943), Nazimuddin acted as the Leader of the Opposition. On 24th April, 1943, Muslim League formed the Ministry with Nazimuddin as the Prime Minister on the fall of Haq Ministry on 28th March 1943. The circumstances were unpropitious. The threat of famine was imminent in Bengal. Nazimuddin and his Ministry boldly faced the situation and resolutely set themselves to the task of overcoming the famine. Due to the machinations of the opposition and the shifting loyalty of some elements, Nazimuddin’s Cabinet was dissolved on 28th March 1945 and he lost Chief Ministership to Suhrawardy. However, he remained a member of the all India Muslim League Working Committee from 1937 to 1947.
In 1946, Nazimuddin was elected a member of the Central Legislative Assembly in New Delhi and was appointed Deputy Leader of Opposition. That reflected the trust and confidence bestowed on him by the Quaid-i-Azam at that very critical juncture. Throughout this period of struggle, Nazimuddin remained one of the Quaid’s trusted colleagues. The nation and the leaders of the Muslim League did not forget his sincerity to the cause of the Muslims of India and to the Muslim League.
Within the formation of Pakistan he became an important part of the early governments. He was appointed Chief Minister of East Bengal after the creation of Pakistan on 14th August 1947. In the contest for leadership, Nazimuddin was supported as against Suhrawardy by the Central League leadership, because of Suhrawardy’s involvement with the united Bengal movement, and his association with Gandhi.
On two different and difficult situations for the country Nazimuddin was called upon unanimously to serve the nation. First, on the occasion of the passing away of the Quaid-i-Azam in 1948, he was considered by all to be the most suitable person to occupy the office of the Governor General of Pakistan. He accepted the office as a challenge and became the second Governor General of the country. At this point in time, the position was largely ceremonial, and executive power rested with the Prime Minister, but he performed his role as constitutional Governor General with dignity and propriety. Secondly, when after the assassination of Liaquat Ali Khan in 1951, the cabinet members of L. A. Khan unanimously invited Nazimuddin to take over as Prime Minister. Later, he was also elected a member of Pakistan Constituent Assembly as well as the President of Muslim League. He commanded the respect and enjoyed the confidence as Prime Minister, yet on 17th April, 1953 was dismissed in clear violation of the constitution by Governor General Ghulam Mohammad with the help of the civil-military bureaucracy and also invited Mohammad Ali Bogra to form the new ministry.
Many factors had contributed to Nazimuddin’s ousting from the Prime Ministership. The poor state of economy, issues of constitutional, political and foreign policies, the Punjabi-Bengali rivalry, the anti-Ahmadi movement were some of the more important reasons. However, the unconstitutional and undemocratic dismissal of Nazimuddin as Prime Minister of Pakistan was a serious blow to the development of democracy in Pakistan.
In June 1953, Nazimuddin resigned from the post of the President of Muslim League and kept himself aloof from active politics, and stayed at peaceful vicinity of his daughter’s home. In 1958 he was awarded by the title of Nishan-i-Pakistan. He refrained himself from politics and led a life of retirement until 1962. But, in 1963 he returned to politics and became the President of Pakistan Council Muslim League. He devoted his energies for the revitalization of Muslim League. He struggled hard for the restoration of democracy and protection of fundamental rights and rejected the dictatorial attitudes of Ayub’s regime. He was a great patriot and strongly resisted the secessionist tendencies in East Pakistan at the cost of his own popularity. He played a leading part in obtaining Miss Fatima Jinnah’s consent in becoming presidential candidate of the opposition political parties.
With all this background, he remained a humble and a pious person throughout his life and was never arrogant. He experienced many ups and downs in his political career, but he never lost his bearings and always conducted himself with patience. He was loyal and faithful to his political patrons. He was a gentleman par excellence. His loyalty was by nature whether it was to British or the Muslim League. British liked him for his feudal connection and loyalty and elevated him to the prestigious slots. Muhammad Ali Jinnah and Liaquat Ali liked his sincerity and devotion to the Muslim League and with their blessings Nazimuddin reached to the echelon of power in Pakistan. To Ghulam Muhammad he was, however, an “inefficient” and a “comical figure” of a man and as Governor General, he brutally knocked him out from the Prime Ministership.
Nazimuddin, however, because of his performance and absence of charisma proved an unworthy successor of Jinnah and Liaquat Ali Khan. When he was the Governor General, the power resided with the Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan. When he became the Prime Minister, the power was in the hands of Governor General Ghulam Muhammad. It seems power always dodged him and was never within his grip.
History will remember him as a gentleman and a man of virtue though not great. His loyalty to his political masters and his birth in the Nawab’s Family of Dhaka, were the elements of his success. His paralysis of will to act even at times of emergency and his unimpressive personality were the reasons of his failure. He lacked the charisma of a leader and could not fascinate the populace. No doubt, he had his shortcomings, but they were the defects of his qualities. He was well aware of his flaws but was not willing to play dirty tricks simply for the sake of power.
He was not morally corrupt and power hungry, he never aspired or conspired for power, it always bestowed upon him as a reward of his loyalty and sincerity, while, his political rivals used every fear and foul means to grasp power. Although, he lacked the qualities of a shrewd politician, a resonant and visionary leader, but in human qualities of piety, honesty and dignity, he was outstanding.
Nazimuddin was a victim of realpolitik. A powerful and ambitious troika of Ghulam Muhammad, Sikandar Mirza and Ayub Khan backed by the civil and military bureaucracy and the assistance of short sighted and self-centric politicians conspired against him and ousted him from power. His undemocratic and unconstitutional ouster from power proved to be a most catastrophic for democracy in Pakistan. His dismissal was the bench mark of political degradation, instability and chaos, which ultimately lead to the imposition of the first Martial Law by Ayub Khan. The rise of the undemocratic forces which were least concerned to popular aspirations paved the way to disintegration of Pakistan.