A champion of the common man | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, October 26, 2019 / LAST MODIFIED: 08:44 AM, October 26, 2019


A champion of the common man

Sher-e-Bangla was an “institution” rather than an “individual”. So say his critics as well as his admirers. And rightly so. But it seems very few have really appreciated the deeper significance of this epithet. It appears that many regard him as an institution just in a conventional way. They do so because his colourful personality, his phenomenally eventful life, his apparently conflicting ideologies, his incomprehensible contradictions, his bold and unapologetic inconsistencies, his obsession with secret munificence, his monumental successes interspersed with abysmal failures, his childish mistakes in the context of his prodigiously sharp intellect—in short, the ocean-like expanse of his stormy life full of gems and jewels, on the one hand, and mud and dirt, on the other, could not be explained except by the theory of an institution.

But their assessment of Fazlul Huq’s life, while otherwise quite correct, appears to have overlooked two very important traits of his character: one, his confident and unfaltering insistence that, in all his quarrels, it was his opponents who were mistaken and not he; two, his candid confession that he never tried to be the master of his fate but allowed chance to play her part in his life. This is very significant. Indeed, in my view, these two traits combined together are key to the secret chamber of Fazlul Huq’s life. It clearly implies that Fazlul Huq was led more by intuition than by intelligence. In judging Fazlul Huq, we have always talked of him being guided more by heart than by brain, more by impulse than by deliberation. But we have never thought of intuition.

An intuition is no mere instinct or impulse. It is that esoteric channel through which one can approach the portals of truth or rather truth may glint in one’s mind in flashes. Most of Fazlul Huq’s uncommon and eccentric behaviour referred to above becomes crystal clear if seen through this prism light of intuition. Thus interpreted, Fazlul Huq’s life can only mean that he was destined to fulfil a mission. At least he felt he was. It was his intuition, and he believed in it.

On his recovery from a grave illness in 1935, he solemnly asserted: “The fact of my miraculous recovery from such a mortal disease indicates that Allah wishes me to fulfil a noble mission.” He may have expressly said so on that occasion but in reality, he must have started feeling it decades earlier. He himself might not have any clear idea as to what that noble mission was. His mind at that time might have been too engrossed in his quarrel with the Congress over the Mayoralty of Calcutta Corporation and his dual with Governor Anderson over the latter’s nominee Sir Nazimuddin, whom he was to fight at Patuakhali, for any such spiritual evaluation. These two events, in and of themselves, were no doubt great events serving as turning points in the political history of Bengal, but compared to Fazlul Huq’s life’s mission, even these events pale into insignificance.

But what was that mission? A little reflection on the salient traits of Fazlul Huq as a public figure will provide that answer. Let us see what those traits were. To the Muslim intelligentsia, he was the champion of all-round renaissance of Muslim Bengal. To the educationist, he was the patron saint of education in Bengal, second only to his teacher Sir Ashutosh Mukherjee. To the Hindu intelligentsia, he was the most beloved of Muslim leaders in spite of the fact that amongst the latter, Fazlul Huq was the most ruthlessly outspoken in his attacks against the Caste Hindus. To Dr Sir PC Roy, the great scientist-philosopher, who typified a catholic Hindu mind with a broad outlook, Fazlul Huq combined in himself a true Muslim with a true Bengali and thus constituted an ideal Bengali of the future. To the teeming and starving millions of the peasant Bengal, he was the Messiah of their dal-bhat. Last of all, he was Sher-e-Bangla, the people’s lion of Bengal, in spite of, or rather because of, the various esteems he was held in by their cross-sections.

On the whole, he belonged to the people and the people belonged to him. This has been very succinctly epitomised in the aphorism that “Fazlul Huq was Bengal and Bengal was Fazlul Huq.” The one really belonged to the other. To Fazlul Huq, the “people” was not a vague term to be interpreted according to political exigencies. To him, it was the peasantry, the common man, of Bengal.

So, if democracy could be defined by Abraham Lincoln as “the government of the people, by the people, and for the people,” we can as well describe Fazlul Huq as “the Sher-e-Bangla of the common man, by the common man, and for the common man.”

Many a politician have spoken and written democratically, but no one has lived democratically as Fazlul Huq has done. Many a statesman have spoken and written of the common man, but no one has lived like a common man in the midst of the common men as Fazlul Huq has done. The one trait of his character which completely identified him with the common man was the ups and downs, lights and shades, the sun and the rain of his own life. In the case of the common man, this instability in life was entirely due to the social and economic inequities from which he had been suffering. But what about Fazlul Huq?

If he wanted, he could have led a successful and happy career and gotten to the top in any sphere of life—as success and happiness are understood by an average wise man—and thereby could have lived in a station far above the common man. But he seemed not only to not want such a life, but to have deliberately avoided it. If he so wanted, he could, much earlier in his life, have adorned all the high offices he ultimately occupied at the ripe old age when he could, and should, have retired from an active life and led a peaceful one. But he did not. He would not accept anything unless it was a gift from the common man. To him, no office was attractive enough to separate him from his people. And he did not want to lead a peaceful life.

Peace seemed to be the last thing he wanted. If a normal political life meant peace, he would prefer an abnormal one. In all disputes, he was the aggressor. He quarrelled with the Congress at a time when it was the most influential political party in the country and left it. He quarrelled with governors and left ministerships. He quarrelled with Quaid-e-Azam and left the Muslim League after he himself had made it the most powerful party in the country. So it was always the stronger party that he picked up quarrels with, and never with the weaker.

In all these quarrels, however, he claimed to be in the right and his opponents in the wrong. It was in these quarrels again, “if he was ever sorry for what he had done, he was far more remorseful for what he had left undone.”


Abul Mansur Ahmad (1898–1979) was a renowned writer, journalist, and politician.

This is an excerpt from an article first published by the Observer on April 27, 1966 (on the fourth death anniversary of Sher-e-Bangla AK Fazlul Huq), and later included in the author’s book “End of a Betrayal and Restoration of Lahore Resolution” (1976).

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