A Matchless Orator
Syed Ashraf Ali
November 18 is a day of remembrance for the entire Muslim community of India. It was on this day in 1974 that Syed Badrudduja, the tireless fighter, the most faithful and dedicated comrade of the Muslims in India, had at last sought refuge in eternal rest.
Popularly known as the "Edmund Burke of India", the fame of Syed Badrudduja as an orator spread throughout the length and breadth of the entire subcontinent. Amazing and extraordinary indeed were his speeches. In 1938, before an intimate and select gathering at Shantiniketan, Syed Badrudduja addressed a meeting assembled to honour the new Cabinet of Bengal under Sher-e-Bangla AK Fazlul Huq. Rabindranath Tagore was presiding over the meeting. Syed Badrudduja spoke in Bengali. The greatest literary genius of Bengali language and literature, Rabindranath Tagore was listening with rapt attention and admiration to this speech of the unknown non-descript young man. At the end of the speech, the great maestro said emotionally, "What new words have you uttered today! I have never heard anything so beautiful and so eloquent". In reply Badrudduja very humbly said, "Maestro, you are the embodiment of Bengali language and literature. What can a humble person like me tell which is new to you?" To this the great Tagore said, "My dear son. I can scribble a few lines but I cannot speak like you. This is the gift of God!"
In April of the same year, Badrudduja spoke at the Open Session of the All India Muslim League in Calcutta. His was the penultimate speech of the meeting just before the speech of Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the President of the All India Muslim League. The inimitable choice of words, fiery oration and sincere idealism of the young man of forty startled the audience.
Mohammad Ali Jinnah himself was so moved that he embraced Badrudduja lovingly with great appreciation and the whole audience of nearly a quarter million rose to its feet to greet a leader in the making.
Once during his younger days Badrudduja addressed a religious conference presided over by no less a person than the legendary Nobel laureate Sir CV Raman. As Raman had an appointment elsewhere, he asked Badrudduja to be brief. Badrudduja replied politely, "Yes, Sir, I shall be brief, reasonably brief." He frequently asked the chair in the course of his speech, "Sir, shall I stop?" "No, go on my young friend," said Sir CV Raman every time. When after a long time Badrudduja concluded his speech, Sir Raman remarked, "I was to leave earlier for an appointment but this bright young speaker kept me
The historic presidential speech delivered at the All India Muslim Convention held in Aligarh in October 1953, however, marked him out as the finest orator in the subcontinent. The momentous speech took the entire subcontinent by storm. The neglected and marooned Muslims of India had heard nothing better, noting more inspiring, nothing more soothing since the fateful partition in 1947. His deliberations continued for nearly four hours at a stretch, but the vast ocean of a million listeners remained calm and tranquil, the Sehr Bayan literally kept them spellbound.
He spoke both in English and in Urdu. Words and expressions gushed forth ceaselessly from the effervescent fountain. The gist of the speech, in English, was circulated throughout the length and breadth of India and even in the Middle East. The Government of India, however, did not relish this unmasking of India's secularism. As a result, this speech was proscribed throughout
India, in the same way as the awe-inspiring "The Choice of the Turks" by Maulana Mohammad Ali Jauhar was banned by the British government in 1914.
In consequence of the speech, Syed Badrudduja was put behind bars under the Preventive Detention Act on February 1, 1954. After about three months, a one-man commission comprising a justice of the Calcutta High Court was formed to try the "Rebel Child of Indian Politics" on the grave charges of conniving with a foreign government and passing on secrets of strategic importance to them. When the judge wanted to know if Badrudduja had anything to say in self-defence, it was again the amazing power of eloquence that helped the "rebel" to nail to the counter and quash the canard effectively. He spoke uninterrupted for nearly three hours. He not only defended his character and integrity but also declared his patriotism in no uncertain terms. He also challenged the government to prove the unfounded and unsubstantiated allegations against him. The judge remained calm and quiet, listening in rapt attention to the magic flute of the great orator. Nobody knew how time flew. When Badrudduja stopped, it was almost the small hours of night (the Commission decided to try Badrudduja not during normal office hours but late at night). The bemused judge had a simple poser, "Mr Badrudduja, do you have anything else to say?" When Badrudduja shook his head, the judge smiled and said, "You are free, you can go back home if you like. The formalities will follow." The fiery flute had indeed achieved unprecedented success!
While chairing a seminar on "Whither Two Bengals", on the occasion of the 81st birth anniversary of late Sarat Chandra Bose on September 13, 1970, Badrudduja delivered a scintillating speech in Bengali. The acclaimed journalist Vivekananda Mukherjee, hardly an admirer of Badrudduja's politics, was so moved by the magnetism of the delivery that he was led into paying an unequivocal tribute to Badrudduja by admitting publicly: "I have never heard such a speech in Bengali since the demise of Bipin Chandra Pal. I never imagined that a Bengali speech could be so fascinating, so scintillating."
Syed Badrudduja was one of the seven members of the Lok Sabha who spoke on the obituary reference to Pundit Jawaharlal Nehru on May 29, 1964. It was one of the finest speeches of his career and it kept the entire gathering comprising foreign dignitaries and eminent personalities of Indian society literally spell-bound through the sheer force of his lyrical appeal. It is also hailed as one of the most sparkling and magnificent speeches in the history of Lok Sabha. Even great orators and international celebrities like Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, Alec Douglas Hume, Dean Rusk, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, Krishna Menon and Chakravarty Rajagopalachari were captivated by the sheer eloquence of Badrudduja's eulogy.
Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, whose political views were totally different from those of Syed Badrudduja, was an ardent admirer of the great orator's inimitable eloquence. When Badrudduja shuffled off his mortal coil and set sail towards the Great Unknown in November 1974, his son Syed Ashraf Ali, then a Director in Bangladesh Betar, was called in at the Ganobhaban. The then Prime Minister not only eulogised Badrudduja as a "great leader" but also took an unprecedented generous step to personally grant foreign exchange for Ashraf Ali to enable him to arrange a befitting Chehlum in Calcutta.
In Urdu, he was second to none; even the incomparable orator Maulana Abul Kalam Azad graciously acknowledged Badrudduja as his equal.
Whether in English or Bengali, Urdu or Persian, the fascinating and sparkling oration of the "Nightingale of Cordova" (as Sher-e-Bangla lovingly called him) had always been, in the words of the great poetess and politician Sarojini Naidu, "as fresh as the first flowers of the springtime and as enchanting as the music of moonlit streams."
He held the coveted post of the Mayor of Calcutta during the British regime, the membership of the Legislative council of Calcutta Corporation for seven years, the membership of Bengal Legislative Assembly/Bidhan Sabha for more than twenty years, and the membership of Lok Sabha for nearly fifteen years. The Calcutta Corporation, Bengal Legislative Council, Bengal Legislative Assembly, Bidhan Sabha, and Lok Sabha resonated the fiery eloquence of this matchless orator for more than five decades. But had he done nothing else, his scintillating and amazing command of eloquence alone would have surely enshrined him in the deepest recesses of popular memory for generations to come.
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