Of the Forties The
Turbulent Years A Personal Story
from last week)
1946, we got involved in the strikes and demonstrations
for freeing political prisoners. We went on strike, marched
four miles to the Bengal Provincial Assembly building and
vociferously demanded that Mr. Suhrawardy, the Prime Minister
come out and talk to us on the subject. He did come out
and address us, standing on top of a car with a microphone
in hand. He promised to review the case of all political
prisoners imprisoned by the British and to gradually release
them unless other serious charges were pending against them.
Indeed a large number of political prisoners were soon released.
I remember meeting in the assembly grounds and shaking hands
with several of our heroes of the 1933 Chittagong Armoury
Raid who had been released a few days earlier from the Andaman
Islands after serving long term imprisonments. I was excited
to meet Ananta Singha, Ganesh Ghose and Ambika Chakravarty
about whom we had read so much in a book ('Chattagram Astragar
Lunthaner Itikatha' by Kalpana Dutt).
1945 and the communal riots later, Muslim and Hindu students
shared similar ideas in matters of independence of India
as a whole and getting rid of the British colonialists.
The Muslims were, however, divided amongst many parties
and opinions (some with affinity with the Congress), and
success in the elections for the Muslim reserved seats were
by no means the monopoly of the All India Muslim League.
The grievances of the Muslims over not being given the fair
share in terms of jobs and other opportunities were growing
even in the Muslim majority province of Bengal. Domination
in jobs by the Hindu community, and their advance in all
respects created resentment among the Muslims who started
developing a separate identity of their own. These feelings
were mainly in the urban areas; in the rural areas the two
main communities generally lived peacefully until about
a year or two before the partition of India in 1947.
1946 a Cabinet Mission was sent to India by the British
Labour government for resolving Indian independence issues.
The Mission visited Calcutta and Lord Pethick Lawrence,
leader of the team stayed with Barrister J.C. Gupta (they
were college friends in England) who lived in our area on
Circus Avenue. I remember one day going to that house to
meet Barrister Sadhan Gupta (son of J.C.Gupta) who was blind.
I was impressed by the furnishings and the library in the
house. The cabinet mission failed in its attempt to make
all parties agree on a federal Indian government, in which
three groups of states (A, B and C) would have most powers
except defense, foreign relations and currency. At this
time Suhrawardy, then chief minister of Bengal and Abul
Hashem, the Bengal Muslim League General Secretary attempted
with congress leaders like Sarat Chandra Bose (elder brother
of Subash Bose) to have a United Sovereign Bengal comprising
of East and West Bengal, with Calcutta as the capital.
attended a meeting in support of this move at the house
of late Sir Nasim Ali, first Muslim Bengali chief justice
of the Calcutta High Court. When Suhrawardy and Abul Hashem
approached Jinnah about the United Bengal idea, Jinnah stated
he had no objection if Congress agreed. But, the Congress
did not. In spite of all the past myth, in recent times
evidence of the sense of reason of Jinnah’s on issues of
India's integrity and secularism while ensuring the just
demands and rights of the Indian Muslims are coming to light.
Perhaps the time has come for an objective and fresh look
at the political history of India in the twentieth century.
leftist parties who stood for the co-existence of various
communities in India were unable to stem the tide of communalism
on either side of the divide. According to them, the conflicts
were arising out of the class struggle and the use of the
communal card by the politicians to perpetuate their political
influence and economic power. They even alleged that many
of the communal riots were due to instigation by the politicians
to serve their narrow party and self-interest. Unfortunately
the ideals of the Indian National Army (led by Subash Chandra
Bose) for India's unity and for forging a common struggle
against the British fizzled out in the communally charged
atmosphere in which they returned in 1945. Soon the members
of the INA themselves split themselves along communal lines.
The British 'Divide and Rule' policy created further misunderstanding
amongst the communities in forging a common position for
India's independence and the future shape of the country.
mid-1946, I attended a huge public meeting in Calcutta Maidan
(Garer Maath) near the Octorlony monument addressed by Jinnah.
Shah Azizur Rahman, general secretary of the All Bengal
Muslim Students League introduced Jinnah in a moving speech.
Jinnah specially commended Bengal Muslim league's solid
success in the 1945 elections in the context of the indifferent
results in most other provinces. He said that Bengal alone
had a strong Muslim League government while in the only
other province in India, which had a Muslim league government
(Sind), it was tottering. The North West Frontier province
had a Congress and Punjab had a Unionist Party government.
a few months, the Muslim league declared August 15 as the
Day of Deliverance. Meetings and processions on that day
were followed by widespread communal riots between
the Hindus and Muslims in Calcutta. We were confined to our
homes, often without food and could not sleep at nights due
to disturbing noises and persistent fear of attacks from nearby
areas. My brother and I would sometimes go round shops in
our locality and bring home some fruits, vegetables or eggs.
One day while I was standing near the gate of our house on
Lower Range and my father had just crossed the street to go
to a departmental store, a jeep drove by and fired automatic
weapons killing two innocent people. Since we had a single
storied house, at one point we had to move for a few days
to my uncle's flat in a high-rise building on the Circus Avenue.
We could not go to school for many days.
Meanwhile some tension arose between the
Hindu and Muslim students in the school, who until then
were very friendly to each other. My close friend Amit Roy
lost his father (who was one of the editors of the Calcutta
Statesman newspaper) at the hands of Muslim goondas near
the Chowringhee area. He would not talk to me after that.
Despite the incendiary circumstances, my friendship with
the Hindu students continued and it was with great sorrow
that in August 1947 I left the only school I ever knew and
my old friends. To this day, that is after more than fifty
-five years, I feel very close to my school friends from
Calcutta with whom I try to remain in contact and meet them
at home or abroad whenever possible.
India was partitioned in August 1947 along
communal lines, with two Muslim majority parts at two ends
becoming Pakistan and the main body of British-India becoming
India. There were many, including Gandhi who were unhappy
about it and tried their best to keep India united. Gandhi
advised the Congress that Jinnah be accepted as Prime Minister
of India to save the country from partition. Recent researches
indicate that Jinnah, who was secular in his political outlook,
was willing to maintain the integrity of India under a Federal
Constitution, as long as the Muslims had their political
and economic rights satisfied equitably. At one point, poet
and Congress leader Miss. Sarojini Naidu had called Jinnah
an 'ambassador of Hindu-Muslim Unity'. British Government
documents released under the thirty year rule for publication
and Maulana Azad's book-'India Wins Freedom' published twenty-five
years after his death give the impression that the rest
of the aging Congress leadership (including Nehru and Patel),
who suffered imprisonments over a long period of time were
impatient to settle the issue and get into power, if necessary
at the cost of division of the country.
On August 10, 1947 we reached the Goalondo
Ghat by train and then took the slow but comfortable British
IG&RSN Company's large steamer called the Rocket to
Narayanganj. From Narayanganj to Dhaka it was a short road
journey, but the beginning of a long next phase of our life
in a new environment, and a new country.
M. Azizul Jalil was
the Convener of the Dhaka University Sanskriti Samsad in
February 1951 and became its first student-President in
1952. He is a former civil servant and a retired member
of the World Bank staff.