Haq, A. K. Fazlul

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HAQ, A. K. FAZLUL (1873–1962), Muslim political leader. Abul Kasim Fazlul Haq (also spelled "Huq") emerged in the first part of the twentieth century as a charismatic Bengali Muslim leader with mass appeal. He was the first important leader who did not come from a landholding family and was not a member of the aristocratic Muslim families who dominated Bengal politics until the partition of India in 1947. He rose on his own merits. He was in favor of intercommunal harmony, and at heart believed in a united Bengal comprising both Hindus and Muslims.

Haq was born to a well-to-do Muslim family in a village in the Barisal district (now in Bangladesh) in 1873. Both his grandfather and father were district-town lawyers—a muktear (with knowledge of Persian) and a pleader (with knowledge of English), respectively. Education and a professional career were an integral part of Haq's family heritage.

Haq had a traditional Arabic and Persian education at home. He graduated from the Barisal District School in 1890, and was admitted to Kolkata's prestigious Presidency College. He graduated from the College with triple honors in chemistry, mathematics, and physics in 1894. He was the first Muslim student to earn a master's degree in mathematics and, the following year, a law degree from Calcutta University.

Haq began his career as a teacher and a journalist. He taught for two years at Rajchandra College in Barisal in 1903 and 1904, then became an editor of two Bengali-language journals and a newspaper daily, Navayuz (New Age). He joined the government service in 1906 and served in several important mid-level posts in Bengal and Assam until 1912. He decided to move to Kolkata and join the Bar. He served as a junior to the famed judicial luminary Sir Ashutosh Mookherjee, later vice chancellor of Calcutta University. He came in close contact with the prominent nationalist leaders of the time, mostly moderates such as W. C. Bonnerji, Surendranath Banerjea, Ashwini Kumar Dutt, Shamsul Huda, and Abdul Rasul.

Like a few other Muslim leaders in the first quarter of the twentieth century, Haq saw no contradiction between being a member of both the Indian National Congress and the All-India Muslim League, of which he was a founder in Dhaka in 1906. From 1916 to 1921, he was president of the All-India Muslim League. All through his political life, from 1913 until the partition, he was a member of the Bengal legislature. He was instrumental in drafting the Lucknow Pact of 1916, bringing the League and the Congress together on a common platform. He served as the Congress's general secretary in 1918 and 1919. He did not, however, favor Gandhi's noncooperation movement. From 1930 to 1933, he represented Indian Muslims at the Round Table Conference in London.

He broke away from the Muslim League in 1936, as major policy differences between him and Mohammad Ali Jinnah surfaced, proving insurmountable. He formed a new political party, the Krishak Praja Party, in 1937. During the elections of that year, he won handily against the Muslim League leader Nazimuddin in the Bengal legislature. He offered to form a coalition government with the Congress in Bengal. The Congress leadership refused to accept his offer. The League seized the opportunity and agreed to join Haq's coalition. As a partner of the League, Haq was briefly persuaded by its growing separatist strategy. He moved the Pakistan resolution in 1940 in Lahore. A year later, discouraged by the League's extremist rhetoric and action, he resigned from the League, which led to the ministry's fall. In 1946 Haq rejoined the League, only to leave it again after the partition to form the Krishak Shramik Party in 1954. After winning the election in East Pakistan that year with an overwhelming majority, he formed and led the United Front Ministry. With the Muslim League reduced to a shambles in East Pakistan, Haq was named the chief minister. Sheikh Mujibur Rahman joined Haq as an ardent follower. Haq made a nostalgic journey back to Kolkata after forming his cabinet. At a highly charged emotional moment during a public meeting in Kolkata, he spoke about the commonality and unity of the two Bengals. His ministry was dismissed and replaced by Governor's Rule. Tired of politics and disillusioned, A. K. Fazlul Haq died in 1962.

Throughout his personal and political life, Haq negotiated between his rural roots in Bengal among Muslims and Hindus, and the challenges of provincial and national politics. As a result, there were several overlapping layers to his personality that also shaped his politics. He was a Bangla-speaking, hearty and robust, rustic Muslim who loved his land and people; he was also a highly educated, urbane Bhadralok (intelligentsia) who endeared himself to Kolkata's Hindu elites. He was a contrast to the traditional landholding Muslim aristocrats, yet his prominence in his profession and in politics enabled him to marry, not once but three times, into aristocratic North Indian Muslim families. In sum, Haq remained a quintessential Bengali: he is loved and revered in both West Bengal and Bangladesh today as Sher-i-Bangal (The Tiger of Bengal).

Dilip K. Basu

See alsoAll-India Muslim League ; Congress Party ; Rahman, Sheikh Mujibur


Broomfield, John. Elite Conflict in a Plural Society. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1968.

Gordon, Leonard. Bengal: The Nationalist Movement. New York: Columbia University Press, 1974.