Lest We Forget |
A pioneer among politicians
If any politician of this country is to be remembered for uncommon qualities of head and heart and for nearly half a century of dedicated and selfless public service, the name of Yusuf Ali Chowdhury, known to most people as Mohan Mia, comes to the fore. He died on 26 November 1971 at the age of only 66 when his dream to make a significant contribution to
building the new country of Bangladesh remained unfulfilled. He knew from his own commitment to the cause of Bengali language and the isuue of political, economic and social justice for the Bengalis that liberation was imminent and it would need all the wisdom and efforts of the people and the political leaders to reconstruct the shattered land and take it on to the path of progress and prosperity. The post-liberation Bangladesh surely
needed the services of an extraordinarily wise, selfless and incorruptible politician like Mohan Mia.
From his early age, he grew up, in the district town of Faridpur, as a courageous and visionary person. Instead of letting the riches of the family zamindari spoil him, he fixed his eyes on the ways to lift the
Muslims from the morass of social and economic backwardness. Compared to the educated, more affluent and influential Hindus, the Muslims lived almost as outcasts with no voice to ask for their rights. He soon found out that their aversion to education, particularly English education under the British colonial dispensation, was the prime cause of their slide in the society. When he was at Ishan School, he was one of 25 or 30 Muslim students out of a total of a thousand. Undeterred, he fought and succeeded in establishing their right to hold annual Milad in the school in the same way as the Hindu students observed Saraswati puja. Similarly, when he became mutawalli or custodian of the zamindari, he decided to hold a grand feast for thousands of their tenants in memory of his father. He decided to sacrifice 25 cows for meat although he knew cow slaughter was banned in the town. He took up the issue with the authorities and persuaded them to lift the ban.
That proved his mettle as a Muslim standing up for a cause although he was never a communal zealot. In fact, during his 17 years of chairmanship of Faridpur District Board he succeeded in keeping the entire greater district of the time free from any communal violence although the whole of British India was affected by this scourge resulting in the killing of hundreds of thousands of people of both communities. His pioneering efforts at establishing educational institutions in the district and a multi-sectoral vocational training centre on the outskirts of the district town spoke eloquently of his foresightedness for social progress.
In politics, Mohan Mia was an ardent adherent of high principles and moral values. He was a prince among politicians as he was in personal look and conduct. His love for politics without profit often threw him into personal debts forcing him to dig into their estate coffers for money. He himself
led a very simple life with almost ascetic habits in eating and dressing.
With his close association with Shere-e-Bangla A K Fazlul Huq, Husein Shahid Suhrawardy and Nurul Amin, he could become a minister any time but instead he opted to become a king maker and not a decorated member of the king's court.
In 1937 he decided for the first time to contest for a seat in the Bengal Legislative Assembly. But from where? Despite stiff
opposition from his family members and friends, he gave away his own safe and secure constituency within his zamindari in favour of Moulvi Tamizuddin Khan, regarded by him as his political guru. This was a very rare gesture demonstrating his large heartedness and respect for a person, who, he thought, was more qualified to serve the people. He chose for himself the Shibchar-Sadarpur-Bhanga constituency to challenge powerful zaminder Choudhury Shamsuddin Ahmed, known as Badshah Mia of Duttapara.
Mohan Mia won the seat. Fazlul Huq formed the government in Bengal in coalition with the Muslim League. But in 1941 he severed his ties with the Muslim League and formed a new government in association with the Congress. Mohan Mia stayed on in the League and played a significant role in the party. Fazlul Huq was angry but Mohan Mia did not budge from his stand. Despite political differences with many, Mohan Mia never kept anyone away from his personal respect or denied his family's traditional hospitality. Many famous politicians of India and Pakistan including Congress and Muslim League leaders visited Faridpur on different occasions and enjoyed the generous hospitality at Mohan Mia's family house Moiz Manzil.
His dream to set up a jute mill in Faridpur has been fulfilled by his able sons. His other dream to set up a sugar mill became a reality, thanks to the efforts of his elder brother Muazzem Husain Choudhury (Lal Mia), who was once a well-known Congress leader and later became a central minister in Pakistan. The most important legacy of Mohan Mia still remains in the Halima Students Home in Faridpur bearing the memory of his mother.
Enamul Haq is a former editor of The New Nation.