When History is not
on your Side
The history of the Language Movement of Bangladesh is one of the most remarkable episodes in contemporary history. Though the students of Dhaka University were in the forefront of this movement, people from all walks of life later joined this movement and steered it to its objective. Besides the students, political leaders also played an important role in this movement. While the names of some of these leaders are mentioned every year around this time, some have faded into oblivion. One such person is Nur Ahmed from Chittagong, commonly known as Nur Ahmed Chairman (1890-1964). Ahmed was born to Amzad Ali and Pear Jan Bibi of Alkaran and he was one of the most brilliant politicians of his time. He was educated in Calcutta University, graduated with a First Class in Masters Degree in History in 1916 receiving the Chancellor's Gold Medal for extraordinary result. In 1917 he obtained BL degree from the same University with the same brilliance. He was elected to the Bengal Legislative Assembly from Chittagong in 1937 as a Muslim League candidate. He was also elected the Chairman of the Chittagong Municipality in 1921 and held this position till 1954, for 33 long years. In 1954 he retired from active politics and voluntarily abstained from running for the Chairmanship of the Municipality and devoted his time to writing. After partition in 1947 he became a member of the Constituents Assembly of Pakistan (MCA), a post he held till his retirement.
Nur Ahmed was a prolific speaker in the National Assembly and whenever he rose to speak the speaker of the Parliament (then known as President) Moulvi Tamizuddin Khan found it difficult in stopping him. Ahmed excelled in filibustering and would often move motions instantly, sometimes even though the motion went against the spirit of the party he belonged, the Muslim League.
Though the Language Movement began in March 1948 with the visit of Mohammed Ali Jinnah to East Bengal when he declared that “Urdu shall be the only State Language of Pakistan”, the movement took a new turn with the police firing on students and demonstrating public in Dhaka on February 21, 1952, demanding Bangla be given the status of State Language of Pakistan.
On April 10, 1952 the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan convened in Karachi and the day's proceedings began with a motion moved by Nur Ahmed from Chittagong. He addressed the President (Speaker, Moulvi Tamizuddin Khan) of the Assembly and said, “I move: that the Assembly is of the opinion that Bengali language shall be made the State Language of Pakistan.” (Documents of Bangladesh Liberation War, Vol-1, p.246).
In the first Constituent Assembly of Pakistan there was no conventional Treasury Bench and Opposition. It was accepted that those members that belonged to Muslim League were from Treasury Bench and others belonged to the Opposition. The Assembly comprised of 75 members, elected in the election of 1946 with 44 members from East Bengal, 22 from Punjab, 5 from Sindh, 3 from NWFP and 1 from Baluchistan. Though Bengal had the largest number of representatives in the Assembly unfortunately often they were divided on issues that related to the interest of Bengal, the language issue being one.
Moulvi Tamizuddin Khan was sympathetic towards Nur Ahmed and allowed the motion with a modification of his own and tabled it as “That this Assembly is of opinion that Bengali language along with Urdu language shall be made the State language of Pakistan.” Moulvi Tamizuddin Khan is one of the remarkable persons in our history whose commitment towards democracy and adhering to the parliamentary norms and practices was legendary. However after the President tabled the motion Pirzada Abdus Sattar Abdur Rahman from Sindh opposed the motion and moved that the language issue was something which does not have to be disposed of immediately and should be decided in future when it comes up before the House for discussion.
The President also tabled the motion honouring the normal Rules of Business of the House. The debate continued for hours. Sardar Shaukat Hyat Khan made a long and powerful speech supporting the motion of Nur Ahmed and said that Bengali was the language of 4 crore 9 lakh people living in East Bengal. He also vehemently opposed the postponement of the discussion of the language issue and said if the issue was not resolved it would “damage the very fabric of my country and my nation.” Sardar Shaukat Hyat Khan was profusely supported by AK Fazlul Huque, the Tiger of Bengal. He said, “I do not think there is any inhabitant of East Pakistan at present who can be expected to vote for Urdu only as the State language of Pakistan.” Given the argumentative brilliance of A K Fazlul Huque, he was at his best on that day. However he was also aware that if the original motion of Nur Ahmed or that of deciding on the fate of the State language of Pakistan is put to vote in the House it would not be carried as the members supporting the Government were in the majority. Once the motion was defeated by the majority, the entire issue would be put on back burners. That is what A K Fazlul Huque feared. He proposed that the issue may be postponed for six to eight months and should be decided with a consensus instead of a divided house.
After AK Fazlul Haque concluded his speech Dhirendra Nath Dutta from Tripura (Comilla) took the floor and confessed that “it is always difficult to speak after AK Fazlul Huque has spoken.” He expressed his gratitude to Huque for supporting the cause along with others who was of the opinion that Bengali should be as State language of Pakistan. He however was not supportive of Huque's proposal for the postponement of the motion and said once it is postponed it may never see the light of the day. He also observed that though Nur Ahmed had tabled the motion he along with his party colleagues from East Bengal did not participate in the deliberation and thought this was because “silence has been imposed upon members from East Bengal” (by the Government party).
The President of the Assembly without making a long speech put Pirzada Rahman's motion “That in view of the fact that no decision has yet been taken in the matter of the State language and there being no immediate necessity of taking a decision thereon be it resolved that the question (State Language) be decided by this Assembly when it comes up before it in due course,” to vote. 41 members voted for the motion and 12 against the motion. AK Fazlul Huque was absent during the voting. Those who voted against the motion included Dhirendra Nath Dutta, Sardar Asdaullah Jan Khan, Sardar Shaukat Hyat Khan, Seth Sukhdev. Those who voted for the motion included Maulana Akram Khan, Ghayasuddin Pathan, Shahoodul Huque, Md Habibullah Bahar, Abdul Monem Khan and Nur Ahmed himself. Many MCA from East Bengal, including Nur Ahmed just gave away to the desire of the Government party. If Nur Ahmed could stick to his motion and his fellow colleagues from East Bengal closed ranks on that day on the issue of Bangla made one of the State languages of Pakistan the issue would have been resolved on that day and Nur Ahmed would have added another feather to his cap and the people of East Bengal did not have to wait till May 7, 1954 when Bangla was recognised as a State language of Pakistan along with Urdu. However history was not on the side of either Ahmed or the MCAs from East Bengal.
(R) thedailystar.net 2010