Vol. 5 Num 535 Mon. November 28, 2005  

Lest We Forget
Mohan Mia
A politician of rare qualities

MOHAN Mia's birth in 1905, just a hundred years ago, in a zamindar family of Faridpur, hardly looked like an extraordinary event. Most people reckoned that in the zamindari fashion of the time he would grow to lead a life of pomp and gaiety, perhaps in a big city like Calcutta. He proved different.

An unusual degree of rebellious spirit surfaced in the character of the young boy. From his early age, he grew up in the district town of Faridpur in the not-so-happy atmosphere in which the poor and uneducated Muslims were treated. Instead of letting the riches of his family spoil him, young Mohan Mia fixed his eyes on the ways to lift the Muslims from the morass of social, political and economic backwardness. He soon found out that the aversion of the Muslims to education, particularly English education under the British colonial dispensation, was the prime cause of their slide in the society. This realisation gave birth to many of his thoughts that in later life he put to action to great effect.

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, he succeeded in persuading the British authorities to lift the ban on cow slaughter in the town. That proved his mettle as a Muslim standing up for a just cause, although he was never a communal zealot. Even the Hindus acknowledged the qualities of his non-communal mind. In fact, during 17 years of his chairmanship of Faridpur District Board he succeeded in keeping the entire greater district of the time free from any communal violence although this scourge affected the whole of British India.

His pioneering efforts at establishing educational institutions in the district and a multi-sectoral vocational training centre on the outskirts of the town spoke eloquently of his foresightedness for social progress. Those institutions still remain as shining examples of his commitment to the cause of promoting education for Muslims, particularly Muslim women, and their economic well-being. Many of his ideas were far ahead of his time. His pioneering efforts at advancing the cause of poor Muslims with income from his zamindari surprised many. They wondered why he never exploited his coveted position as long-time chairman of the District Board or his close proximity to state power to expand his zamindari or create new avenues of wealth. In fact, he often ran into debts to fund his welfare programmes and acts of charity.

When Mohan Mia entered politics he found it murky and crowded with people busy in squabbles over grabbing power for its own sake, far away from high principles, moral values and dedication to the cause of people's welfare. His love for politics without profit was refreshingly different and it kept him away from greed and corruption. This also helped him lead a simple life. With his close association with Sher-e-Bangla A K Fazlul Huq, Husseyn Shaheed Suhrawardhy, and Nurul Amin, he could have 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 Badsha 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 broke his ties with the Muslim League and formed a new government in partnership 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.

He died on November 26, 1971 at the age of only 66 when his dream to make a significant contribution to building the new country of Bangladesh remained unfulfilled. The post-liberation Bangladesh surely needed the services of an extraordinarily wise, selfless, and incorruptible politician like him. He will be remembered for qualities of his head and heart and for nearly half a century of dedicated and selfless public service. In course of time, his family name, Yusuf Ali Chowdhury, became wrapped in the minds of the people of this country by the more endearing name of Mohan Mia. This was his reward, a fitting tribute. Tribute is also due to his loving wife Firdousi Begum who in more ways than commonly known inspired him all his life and raised for him an ideal family. She died last year in Dhaka.

The writer is a former Editor of the New Nation.