Abdul Hamid Khan Bhashani

Maulana Abdul Hamid Khan Bhashani
মাওলানা আব্দুল হামিদ খান ভাসানী

Abdul Hamid Khan Bhashani
Member of Parliament of Pakistan
In office
Governor Iskander Mirza
Member of Parliament of Bangladesh
In office
10 January 1973  15 August 1975
President Sheikh Mujibur Rahman
Personal details
Born (1880-12-12)12 December 1880
Sirajganj, British India (modern day Bangladesh) & lived in Joypurhat
Died 17 November 1976(1976-11-17) (aged 95)
Dhaka, Bangladesh
Resting place Santosh, Tangail, Bangladesh[1]
Nationality Bangladeshi
Parents Haji Sharafat Ali Khan (father)
Mst. Mojiron Bibi (mother)

Abdul Hamid Khan Bhashani (Bengali: মাওলানা ভাসানী;12 December 1880 – 17 November 1976) was a popular Islamic scholar and political leader in British India (now Bangladesh). He remained a rural-based politician renowned for selflessness and solidarity with the oppressed. His long political tenure spanned the British colonial India, Pakistan and Bangladesh periods.

He gained popularity among peasants and helped establish the East Pakistan Peasant Association.[2] Owing to his leaning to the left, often dubbed "Islamic Socialism",[3][4] he is also called "The Red Maulana".[5][6]

An alumnus of Deoband, and participant of the Khilafat Movement protesting the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire he led the Muslims of Assam in a successful campaign during the 1947 Sylhet Referendum, through which Sylhet chose to become part of the Pakistan national project. He was the founder and President of the Pakistan Awami Muslim League which later became Awami League (AL). Later however, owing to differences with the right-leaning leaders in the AML, such as Shahid Suhrawardy, on the issue of autonomy for East Pakistan, he formed a new progressive party called National Awami Party (NAP). He also differed with Suhrawardhy when he as Prime Minister of Pakistan decided to join the US-led defence pact CENTO and SEATO. He disagreed with Pakistan's growing ties with the United States.[7]

The split among the left-wing camp into pro-Moscow and pro-Peking factions eventually led to the breakup of NAP into two separate parties; the pro-Moscow faction being led by Muzaffar Ahmed. After Pakistan's 1965 war with India, he showed some support for Field Marshal Ayub Khan's regime for its China-leaning foreign policy; but later he gave provided leadership to a mass uprising against the regime in 1968–69 with support from Fatima Jinnah.

He played a very critical role in the 1969 movement which eventually led to the collapse of the Ayub regime and the release of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and other co-accused in the Agartala conspiracy case against Pakistan. His decision to boycott the 1970 Pakistan general elections due to his mistrust of the West Pakistani leaders, effectively led to the electoral sweep by erstwhile opponent Mujibur Rahman. The Awami League without any viable opposition in East Pakistan won 160 of the 162 seats in the province and thus gained the majority in the Pakistan national assembly.[8] In 2004, Bhashani was placed at number 9 in the BBC's poll of the Greatest Bengali of All Time.[9][10][11]

Early life

In 1880 Abdul Hamid Khan Bhashani was born in Dhangara village in Sirajganj, Bengal Presidency. He was the son of Sharafat Ali Khan. Between 1907 and 1909 he received religious education at the Deoband Madrasah. The association of Mahmudul Hasan (known as Shaikhul Hind) and other progressive Islamic thinkers inspired Bhasani against British imperialism. In 1909 he started teaching in a primary school at Kagmaree, Tangail. From 1909 to 1913 he worked with political extremists. In 1914 he revolted against the Christian missionaries in the Netrakona and Sherpur areas of East Bengal. Because of his educational background he received the title Maulana.

Political career

British period

In 1917, Bhashani was inducted into active politics and joined the Nationalist party led by Desbandhu Chittaranjan Das as an activist. Inspired by Mohammed Ali, he joined the Indian National Congress in 1919. In 1920 he was arrested and imprisoned. After being released, he participated in the Khilafat movement. In 1921 he participated in Das' Non-Cooperation Movement against British imperialism. He suffered imprisonment for some days at that time along with his large numbers of followers. He joined the Muslim League in 1930. He was elected a MLA in Assam Legislative Assembly from Dhubri (South) constituency in 1937 and served till 1946.[12] In April 1944 he was elected the president of Muslim League at its Barpeta session where after he devoted himself to Pakistan movement.[13]

Early Pakistan days

After the establishment of India and Pakistan in 1947, following the exit of the British, Bhashani planned his anti-establishment course of action. On 23 July 1949, he founded East Pakistan Awami Muslim League. Bhasani was elected its president with Shamsul Huq as its General Secretary. On 24 July 1949 he organized the first meeting of Awami Muslim League at Armanitola, Dhaka.

Maulana Abdul Hamid Khan Bhashani after the foundation stone laying program for Shahid Minar (Martyrs' monument).

On 31 January 1952 he formed the "All Party Language movement Committee" at the Dhaka Bar Library. He campaigned for the recognation of Bangla as a national language in Pakistan.[14] The National Democratic Front was established under his leadership on 4 December 1953. He renamed Awami Muslim League as the Awami League by removing "Muslim" from its official name in the council session of Awami League held on 21–23 October 1953. In May 1954 he went to Stockholm. He was barred from returning to Pakistan by the government of Iskander Mirza and branded a communist.[15] In 1956 Bhashani went on a hunger strike in demand of food for the famine affected people from 7 to 23 May.

During the Kagmaree Conference of Awami League held on 7–8 February 1957, Bhashani left the West Pakistani authority which acted negatively against East Pakistan.[16] On 24–25 July 1957, Bhashani convened the conference of All Pakistan Democratic Activists. On 25 July he formed the East Pakistan National Awami Party (NAP). Bhashani was elected the President with Mahmudul Huq Osmani, the General Secretary. Pakistani presidential election, 1965

He played a crucial role in the opposition decision to nominate Fatima Jinnah, instead of Azam Khan. Fatima Jinnah was initially scornful of an opposition attempt to nominate her, however on Bhashanis personal intervention, she agreed to be their joint candidate.[17]

Despite this pleged support for Fatima Jinnah, Bhashani is controversially alleged to have become inactive during the opposition Presidential campaign because of Ayub Khan's pro-China leanings.[18]

He organized the Cooperative for the Cultivators of East Pakistan on 2–3 January 1968. He was elected the founder Chairman. On 15 June 1968 Bhashani founded the Cooperative for the Provincial Fish Tradesmen at Dhaka Bar library. On 12 October of the same year, he was arrested by President General Ayub Khan's government from the Mirzapur hospital, Tangail.

In 1967 Bhashani protested against the governmental ban against Rabindranath Tagore. In 1969 Bhashani launched a movement to withdraw the Agartala Conspiracy Case and for the release of Sheikh Mujib and other co-accused persons, which eventually accelerated the fall of Ayub Khan.[19] In 1970 Bhasani called for the Independence of East Pakistan per the 1940 Lahore Resolution.[20] When the Bangladesh Liberation War started on 26 March 1971, Bhasani was confined in India. He was returned by the Indian Army to Bangladesh just after the war ended.

Bhasani with his National Awami party had organised an International Kisan conference from March 23–25, 1970 in Toba Tek Singh District.In the conference he asked the Government of Pakistan to hold a referendum, asking the population if they wanted Islamic Socialism. He warned that there might be guerrilla warfare if the military government failed to do so.[4]

The Muslim League Government both in the centre and the province of East Pakistan lost considerable popularity after the Language Movement of 1952. It was seen as not being capable or interested in protecting the interest of East Pakistan. In 1954, election was going to be held in the province and a new political party emerged to challenge the Muslim League. It was called United Front and comprised the party of Bhashani and the Krishak Sramik Party of A. K. Fazlul Huq, former Prime Minister of Bengal. The Awami League, under Shahid Suhrawardy also joined the alliance. The United Front won the provincial election in East Pakistan by defeating the Muslim league.[21]

In the elections of 1954, Jukta Front successfully defeated Muslim League and its leader Prime minister Nurul Amin lost his parliament seat to a young student leader Mr. Khaleque Nawaz Khan and jukto front formed the provincial government of East Pakistan. However, the government was arbitrarily dismissed.

War of Independence 1971

Bhashani asked China to aid Bangladesh in the liberation war. His request was not answered by China.[22]

Career in independent Bangladesh

Bhashani wanted to play the role of a responsible opposition. The progressive forces quickly gathered around him and strengthened his NAP with Kazi Zafar Ahmed as its General Secretary. But soon factional differences among the progressive forces emerged and weakened Bhashani.

He was highly critical of the oppressive style of the Awami League and BAKSAL government.[23] He also warned Sheikh Mujibur Rahman against his move towards a one party state and declaring himself as lifelong president. Bhashani was deeply shocked at the killing of Mujib, for whom he had a lot of fatherly affection, and his family members. The person who conveyed the news of Mujib's demise described how Bhashani cried and then went to his prayer room to offer prayer.

President of Bangladesh Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was killed in a military coup d'état on 15 August 1975. A turbulent political scenario followed as coup and counter-coup took place. He expressed no sorrow over the coup but criticized Khondaker Mostaq Ahmad for the bloodshed.[24]

In May 1976 he led a massive Long March demanding demolition of the Farakka Barrage constructed by India to divert flow of Ganges waters inside its territory, triggering the drying up of river Padma and desertification of Bangladesh.[25] It was the first popular movement against India demanding a rightful distribution of the Ganges's water.[26] Since then Historic Farakka Long March Day is observed on 16 March every year in Bangladesh.[27]

At the time, the government of Bangladesh unofficially supported Bhashani's Farakka Long March. Navy-chief Rear Admiral M. H. Khan in charge of providing logistics. Hundreds of thousands of people from all walks of life from all over the country gathered in Rajshahi town to participate in the Long March.

On the morning of 16 March 1976, he addressed a gathering of people at the Madrash Maidan, Rajshahi, from where the Long March commenced. Hundreds of thousands of people walked more than 100 kilometers on foot for days. The March continued up to Kansat, a place near the India-Bangladesh border, close to the Farakka barrage.

Political philosophy

In the early 1950s he felt that an integrated Pakistan was no longer maintainable with hegemony of West Pakistan. At the Kagmari Conference, he bade farewell to West Pakistan by saying Assalamu Alaikum which soon became a reference quote.[16] He declined to participate in the national election of 1970 saying that it will only help perpetuate rule by West Pakistan. Since 1969 his favourite slogans were Swadhin Bangla Zindabad and Azad Bangla Zindabad. His dream of an independent Purba Bangla (East Bengal) came true when Bangladesh was established as an independent nation-state in 1971. He advocated for the separation of the State and religion. He was a pious Muslim who was in favor of socialism. He spoke out against Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami and its politics.[28]

Bhashani is said of revolutionary ideas of political Islam. Due to his Sufi training under Nasiruddin Baghdadi, he developed the concept of Rububuiyat. In pamphlet titled "Main Demands," Shamsul Huq writes for him:

The East Pakistan Muslim League member's convention believes that, like all the events of every century, of every country, Lahore Resolution has also made history... But even though Pakistan is an Islamic state, it is not a Muslim state, or a state made only for Muslims and nor does be wished to be influenced by Anti-Islamic imperialist, Capitalist nor by self centered government. In the view of Islam, Allah is not for Muslims but He is the God of the entire humanity- irrespective of nation, religion and color. Rabb is Allah's greatest identity. And as Rabb the Rububuiyat or lordship is our first and most important duty.[29]

Due to his influence of socialism, Bhashani saw class struggle as a jihad against the injustices and oppression of the bourgeoisie.[30]

Bhashani was known to have a Chinese connection and was the leader of pro-Chinese politicians of East Pakistan. During the 1965 war between Pakistan and India, Bhashani disappeared for several days. It is said that he flew from Panchbibi, Bogra to China, at the behest of president Field Marshal Ayub Khan, to secure support of China for Pakistan.


The Daily Ittefaq has been the most popular Bengali newspaper of Bangladesh since the early 1970s. However its precursor is Weekly Ittefaq. After the British left South Asia in 1947, Muslim League emerged as the government political party. Soon opposition movement started and a political party named Awami Muslim League was founded with Bhashani as one of the central figures. Against this backdrop Bhashani and Yar Mohammad Khan started publishing the Weekly Ittefaq in 1949. The popular weekly publication was a critique of the Muslim League government.[31] The journalist Tofazzal Hossain Manik Miah worked as its editor. Manik Miah took over the paper as its editor and publisher on August 14, 1951.[32]

On 25 February 1972, Bhashani started publishing a weekly Haq Katha and it soon gained wide circulation. It was outspoken about the irregularities and misrule of Awami League government established after independence of Bangladesh. It was a pro-Chinese and socialist weekly. The weekly was banned by Sheikh Mujib. It was edited by Irfanul Bari, Bhashani's subordinate.[33]


He died on 17 November 1976 in Dhaka, Bangladesh, aged 96, and was buried at Santosh, Tangail.[34]


Bhashani is regarded as the proponent of anti-imperialist, non-communal and left-leaning politics by his admirers in present-day Bangladesh and beyond.[35] In 2013 the Awami League Government of Bangladesh reduced his presence in school curricula.[36]


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  18. Mazari, Sherbaz Khan (1999). A Journey to Disillusionment. Karachi: Oxford University Press. p. 150. ISBN 978-0-19-579076-4. Bashani was the first to back out on Miss Jinnah. His excuse at that time was that as China (his party's overseas mentor) had friendly relations with Ayub Khan's regime, he was not in a position to oppose Ayub Khan. Later, however it became an open secret that Bhutto ... bribed Bashani with Rs 500,000 to ensure withdrawal of his support from the COP. Some years later I confronted Bashani with this accusation. The Maulana did not bother to deny it.
  19. "Prophet of Violence". Time. 18 April 1969. (subscription required (help)).
  20. Jalal, Ayesha. The Struggle for Pakistan: A Muslim Homeland and Global Politics. Harvard University Press. p. 158. ISBN 9780674744998.
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  30. Bahar, Abid (2010). Searching for Bhasani Citizen of the World. Xlibris Corporation. p. 80. ISBN 1-4535-7313-5. Retrieved 13 March 2015.
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  35. "Essays and Reports on Bangladesh". Peter Custers on Bhashani.
  36. Alamgir, Mohiuddin (14 January 2013). "Bhashani dropped from Bangla textbooks". New Age. Dhaka.

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