Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The Villains of the Bangla (Bengali) Language Movement -- 3

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  • Khwaja Nazimuddin ( 1894 - 1964)
Immediately after the independence of Pakistan on August 14, 1947, Muslim League member and Farsi-Urdu-speaking son of Dhaka City Khwaja Nazimuddin becomes the first Chief Minister of East Pakistan and continues in this position until 1949.

On February 23, 1948, the first session of the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan in Karachi was presided over by Farsi-and-Urdu-speaking Governor-General Mohammad Ali Jinnah. It was proposed in the Assembly that its members either speak in Urdu or English. On February 25, Dhirendranath Datta -- one East Pakistan Congress Party member and a Bangali lawyer from Brahmanbaria area, who was also an opposition member in the Assembly, moved an amendment motion demanding Bangla along with Urdu and English as one of the languages of the Assembly. His reasoning was that, out of the total population of Pakistan at the time, 56% were East Pakistanis whose mother language was Bangla.

Farsi-and-Urdu-speaking Pakistan Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan and Chief Minister Khwaja Nazimuddin very vocally opposed the motion of Dhirendranath Datta. Some other Bangali East Pakistani members along with West Pakistanis helped defeat this motion. Students, intellectuals and politicians in Dhaka were enraged at the news of this defeat of the pro-Bangla motion. Newspapers like Azad, a Bangla daily from Dhaka, also criticized the politicians who rejected the motion.

As Governor-General Mohammad Ali Jinnah was scheduled to visit East Pakistan for the first time from March 19, 1948 onwards. Chief Minister Khwaja Nazimuddin was embarassed at the continuous rallies and demonstrations (in support of Bangla language and demanding release of the demonstrators arrested earlier) that were being held in East Pakistan, especially in Dhaka, and was desperate in making the Governor-General's visit a peaceful one. He sent out a letter to Professor Abul Kashem of the Tamaddun Majlish (a cultural association) and invited him for discussion.

On March 15, 1948, Professor Abul Kashem along with a group of the Language Movement representatives went to meet Khwaja Nazimuddin and presented a memorandum of agreement for his signing. After much discussion, the Chief Minister signed eight points of the memorandum of agreement, but he avoided his direct responsibility of making Bangla the state language of Pakistan.

On March 19, 1948, Mohammad Ali Jinnah came to Dhaka. On March 21, he was given a civic reception in a huge gathering at the Race Course Maidan (presently Suhrawardy Uddyan), where he said: "Let me make it very clear to you that the state language of Pakistan is going to be Urdu and no other language...so far as the state language is concerned, Pakistan's shall be Urdu" (Jinnah 1948:89, in Language and Civilization Change in South Asia by Clarence Maloney). On March 24, he reiterated his position regarding the state language of Pakistan at the University of Dhaka convocation ceremony: "There can only be one state language. If the component parts of this state are to march forward in unison, that language in my opinion, can only be Urdu" (Jinnah 1948:95, in Language and Civilizaton Change in South Asia by Clarence Maloney). Blindly loyal Khwaja Nazimuddin was present in both the occasions, but he did not do anything to influence or change the position of Mohammad Ali Jinnah.

Khwaja Nazimuddin, the Chief Minister, reneged on his promises and signed agreement he made with the Committee of Action on March 15, 1948 and moved the following resolutions in the East Bengal [East Pakistan] Legislative Assembly on April 8, 1948:

  • Bengali shall be adopted as the official language for replacing English in the province of East Bengal; and it will be implemented as soon as the practical difficulties are resolved; and The medium of instruction in educational institutions in East Bengal shall, as far as possible, be Bengali, or the mother tongue of the majority of scholars in the institutions (East Bengal Legislative Assembly Proceedings 1948:165), (quoted in Language and Civilization Change in South Asia by Clarence Maloney, p.145).
Khwaja Nazimuddin did not make any attempt to make Bangla one of the state languages of Pakistan.

On January 26, 1952, Khwaja Nazimuddin, then the Prime Minister of Pakistan, on a visit to Dhaka, repeated the earlier position of late Governor-General Mohammad Ali Jinnah on the state language issue. At a public gathering at Paltan Maidan, he announced that Urdu would be the state language of Pakistan. This anti-Bangla speech, coupled with the Basic Principles Committee's 1950 interim report suggesting Urdu to be the state language, started a wave of outrage and agitation anew in East Pakistan. The University of Dhaka students began to take the leading role in this. The government of Chief Minister Nurul Amin became more stringent and took aurtocratic measures that ultimately brought about the February 21, 1952 shooting and resultant death of the pro-Bangla demonstrators. Dhaka-born, but Urdu-Farsi-speaking, Khwaja Nazimuddin is an important factor in the making of Bangla language martyrs. Being born in Dhaka, he must have been able to speak in Bangla, but he never tried to help make it one of the state languages of Pakistan.

Life-Sketch of Khwaja Nazimuddin

Born in Dhaka in 1894, Khwaja Nazimuddin was a member of the well-known Nawab family, whose Nawab Bari (mansion), called Ahsan Manjil, still stands on the bank of the Buriganga River. His ancestors were Khojas or Khwajas -- Ismaeli (Agakhani) Muslims. They had come to Dhaka from Kashmir early in the 18th century to trade in leather and pelt. During the Sepoy Mutiny of 1757, the Khwajas gave an all-out support and cooperation to the British against the Indian sepoys (soldiers). As a reward, the British colonial government bestowed upon them a vast amount of landed properties, called zamindaries, and granted them the hereditary title of nawab (a man of wealth and prominence).

Khwaja Nazimuddin received his early education from a house tutor, then at Aligarh College at Allahabad. Next he studied at Dunstable Grammar School in London. After completion of his Masters degree from the Trinity Hall of the Cambridge University, he received his Bar-at-Law (Barrister) degree from the Middle Temple, London.

From 1922 to 1929, he was the chairman of the Dhaka City Municipality and he introduced compulsory primary education in the municipal area. In 1934, he was nominated to the united Bengal Executive Council and became the Interior Minister. From 1943 to 1945, he was the Chief Minister of Bengal.

Afte the independence of Pakistan on August 14, 1947, he became the Chief Minister of East Bengal (East Pakistan), and upon the death of the first Governor-General Mohammad Ali Jinnah in September, 1948, he succeeded him as the second Governor-General, but he executive powers rested with the Prime Minister, Liaquat Ali Khan. When Liaquat Ali Khan was assassinated in 1951, he resigned his position as the Governor-General and became the Prime Minister of Pakistan. Ghulam Muhammad, a former Punjabi career civil servant and later the central Commerce Minister, becomes the third Governor-General.

In 1953, a group of Sunni Muslims began to agitate for removing the Ahmedia Muslims -- also known as Qadiani Muslims -- (a community of Muslims founded by Miza Ghulam Ahmed of Qadian, East Punjab, in 1889, having certain different religious beliefs and practices from other Muslims) from important positions and declaring them non-Muslims. When Khwaja Nazimuddin refused to take any action against the Ahmedias, riots broke out in the Punjab against the government as well as the Ahmedias.

Nazimuddin then responded to the situation by removing the Governor of Punjab and placing Feroz Khan Noon there. Governor-General Ghulam Muhammad asked Nazimuddin to resign, but he refused to step down. In retaliation, the Governor-General dismissed the Prime Minister by using his special powers and installed Mohammad Ali of Bogra, a Bangali, as the third Prime Minister. This Punjabi Governor-General's actions started a troubling and unjust trend in Pakistan politics that continued for years to come.

Khwaja Nazimuddin died in 1964 at the age of 70. He is buried with A. K. Fazlul Huq and Shaheed Hossain Suhrawardy in the mausoleum at the Suhrawardy Uddyan in Dhaka.

The British government had appointed him a Companion of the Order of the Indian Empire (CIE) and in 1934, King George V knighted him a Knight Commander of the Order of the Indian Empire (KCIE). He gave up these titles in 1946 on political grounds.

(Continued)
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