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Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy (Bengali: হোসেন শহীদ সোহ্‌রাওয়ার্দী, Urdu: حسین شہید سہروردی; September 8, 1892 - December 5, 1963) was a politician from Bengalmarker in undivided India, and later in East Bengal, who served as Prime Minister of Pakistan from 1956 until 1957. He is also known for his controversial role in the Direct Action Day of August 16, 1946, following riots in Bengalmarker on that day.

He was considered a favourite of Muhammad Ali Jinnah. He is also considered to be the first populist leader in Pakistanmarker's history. He joined Awami League that Maulana Bashani formed and finally took ovrt the leadership from the Maulana. Awami League was the first opposition party in Pakistan those days agaist the Muslim League.

Early life and family

Suhrawardy was born on 8 September 1892 to a Muslim family in the town of Midnaporemarker, now in West Bengalmarker. He was the younger son of Justice Sir Zahid Suhrawardy, a prominent judge of the Calcutta High Court and of Khujastha Akhtar Banu (c. 1874 – 1919) a noted name in Urdu literature and scholar of Persian. Kujastha was the daughter of Maulana Ubaidullah Al Ubaidi Suhrawardy and sister of, amongst others, Lt. Col. Dr. Hassan Suhrawardy, OBE and Sir Abdullah Al-Mamun Suhrawardy.

Suhrawardy had an elder brother Shahid Suhrawardy.

Education and marriage

Suhrawardy completed his undergraduate studies at St. Xavier's College, and completed a masters degree at the University of Calcutta. Afterwards, he moved to the United Kingdommarker to attend St Catherine's College, Oxford Universitymarker from where he obtained a BCL degree. On leaving Oxford, he was called to the bar at Gray's Innmarker. He then started his practice at Calcutta High Court.

In 1920, Suhrawardy married Begum Niaz Fatima, daughter of Sir Abdur Rahim, the then home minister of the Bengal Province of British India and later President of India's Central Legislative Assembly. Suhrawardy had two children from this marriage; Ahmed Shahab Suhrawardy and Begum Akhtar Sulaiman (née Akhtar Jahan Suhrawardy). Ahmed Suhrawardy died from pneumonia whilst he was a student in London in 1940. Begum Akhtar Sulaiman was married to Shah Ahmed Sulaiman (son of Justice Sir Shah Sulaiman) and had one child, Shahida Jamil (who later became the first female Pakistani Federal Minister for Law). Shahida Jamil has two sons, Zahid Jamil (a lawyer in Pakistan) and Shahid Jamil (a solicitor in London).

Begum Niaz Fatima passed away in 1922. In 1940 Suhrawardy married Vera Tiscenko (a Russian emigre who had American citizenship). The couple divorced in 1946 and had one child, Rashid Suhrawardy (aka Robert Ashby), who is an actor living in London.

Return to India

Suhrawardy returned to the subcontinent in 1921 as a practising barrister of the Calcutta High Court. He became involved in politics in Bengalmarker. Initially, he joined the Swaraj Party, a group within the Indian National Congress, and became an ardent follower of Chittaranjan Das. He played a major role in signing the Bengal Pact in 1923.

Suhrawardy became the Deputy Mayor of the Calcutta Corporation at the age of 31 in 1924, and the Deputy Leader of the Swaraj Party in the Provincial Assembly. However, following the death of Chittaranjan Das in 1925, he began to disassociate himself with the Swaraj Party and eventually joined Muslim League. He served as Minister of Labour, and Minister of Civil Supplies under Khawaja Nazimuddin among other positions. In the Bengal Muslim League, Suhrawardy and Abul Hashim led a progressive line against the conservative stream led by Nazimuddin and Akram Khan.

In 1946, Suhrawardy established and headed a Muslim League government in Bengal. It was the only Muslim League government in India at that time.

Direct Action Day

Under Suhrawardy's direction, the Bengal Government declared August 16, 1946 to be a public holiday to enact the Direct Action Daycalled by Jinnah to terrorise and murder Hindus and Sikhs and protest against the Cabinet Mission plan for the independence of India.

The intensity of Direct Action Day was at its worst in the capital Calcuttamarker.There was also a genocide of Bengali Hindus in the Noakhalidistrict. Suhrawardy was widely and correctly blamed for both orchestrating and not taking steps to prevent the carnage and for trying to suppress the news of the same from the media. The physical and emotional scars of Direct Action Day linger among millions of Bengalis even today.


In 1947, the balance of power in Bengal shifted from the Muslim Leagueto the Indian National Congress, and Suhrawardy stepped down from the Chief Ministership. Unlike other Muslim League stalwarts of India, he did not leave his hometown immediately for the newly established Pakistan. Anticipating revenge of Hindus against Muslims in Calcuttamarker after the transfer of power, Suhrawardy sought help from Gandhi.Gandhi was persuaded to stay and pacify tempers in Calcutta, but he agreed to do so on the condition that Suhrawardy share the same roof with him so that they could appeal to Muslims and Hindus alike to live in peace. "Adversity makes strange bed-fellows," Gandhi remarked in his prayer meeting.

Political life in East Bengal

Upon the formation of Pakistanmarker, Suhrawardy maintained his work in politics, continuing to focus on East Bengal as it became after partition of by the British colonialist.In 1949 he formed the Awami Muslim League, which would develop into the Awami League.

In the 1950s, Suhrawardy worked to consolidate political parties in East Pakistan to balance the politics of West Pakistan. He, along with other leading Bengali leaders A.K.Fazlul Huqand Maulana Abdul Hamid Khan Bhashani, formed a political alliance in the name of Jukta Frontwhich won a landslide victory in 1954 general election of East Pakistan. Under Muhammad Ali Bogra, Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy would serve as Law Minister and later become the head of opposition parties.

Prime Minister of Pakistan

In 1956, he was made Prime Minister by President of PakistanIskander Mirzaafter the resignation of Chaudhry Muhammad Ali. Suhrawardy inherited a political schism that was forming in Pakistan between the Muslim League and newer parties, such as the Republican party. The schism was fed by the attempt to consolidate the four provinces of West Pakistaninto one province, so as to balance the fact that East Pakistan existed as only one province. The plan was opposed in West Pakistan, and the cause was taken up by the Muslim League and religious parties. Suhrawardy supported the plan, but the vast opposition to it stalled its progress.

In order to divert attention from the controversy over the "One Unit" plan as it was called, Suhrawardy tried to ease economic differences between East and West Pakistan. However, despite his intentions, these initiatives only led to more political frictions, and was worsened when Suhrawardy tried to give more financial allocations to East Pakistan than West Pakistan from aids and grants. Such moves led to a threat of dismissal looming over Suhrawardy's head, and he resigned in 1957.

His contribution in formulating 1956 constitution of Pakistan was substantial as he played a vital role in incorporating provisions for civil liberties and universal adult franchise in line with his adherence to parliamentary form of liberal democracy.

In the foreign policy arena, he is considered to be one of the pioneers of Pakistan's pro-United States stand. He was also the first Pakistani Prime Minister to visit China and establish an official diplomatic friendship between Pakistan and China(a friendship that Henry Kissingerwould later use to make his now-famous secret trip to China in July 1971).

Atomic Policy and Civilian Nuclear Program

During 1950s, Pakistanmarker was suffering from severe energy crises.It was Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy's Prime Ministerial term when Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission(PAEC) was established by a ParliamentaryAct of 1956. He also appointed Dr. Nazir Ahmad, a noted physicistand scientist, to be its first Chairman. Under dr. Nazir Ahmad's direction, Pakistan started its civilian nuclear program. Prime Minister Suhrawadry also alloted PAEC to sat up its new pilot-nuclear labs. He played an important role in establishing of Nuclearresearch institutesin West Pakistan. He also allowed PAEC to established the firstnuclear power plant in Karachimarker.However, after his removal from office. The Nuclear Power Plant Project was undermined by a political turmoil in the country. The Pakistani Civilian Nuclear Programme was also freezed by Ayub Khan's military regime for more than a decade.

Post-political life and death

Tomb of Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy at Dhaka.
Disqualified from politics under the military regime of Ayub Khan, Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy died in Lebanonmarker in 1963.His death was officially due to complications from heart problems, though some have alleged he was poisoned. After a befitting funeral attended by a huge crowd, he was buried at Suhrawardy Udyanmarker in Dhakamarker.

See also


  1. [1]
  2. [2]
  • Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy: A Biography by Begum Shaista Ikramullah (Oxford University Press-1991)
  • Freedom at Midnight by Dominique Lapierre and Larry Collins
  • Gandhi's Passion by Stanley Wolpert (Oxford University Press)

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