MY JOURNEY THROUGH LIFE
PROFESSOR GHULAM AZAM
(Abridged translated version of the author’s original Bangla Memoir Jibone Ja Dekhlam)
Translated and Edited by Dr Salman Al-Azami
Copyright – The Ghulam Azam Foundation
Involvement in University and Hall Student Unions
When I left my Arabic studies, I had decided to study political science for my postgraduate education after my graduation in 1946. The Political Science department at Dhaka University was quite old and had good reputation, whereas political science and economics were under the Department of Political Economy in Kolkata University. I was not interested in going to Kolkata as Kolkata University was not a residential university like Dhaka. In addition, I liked the department in Dhaka University. However, my father wanted me to study in Kolkata and stay with my uncle Shafiqul Islam. I was told to stay with him in the famous ‘Bekar Hostel’. My planned day of departure was 16 August 1946 and I was preparing accordingly. Incidentally, this was the ‘Direct Action Day’ in Kolkata, declared by the Muslim League to protest against the efforts of the Indian National Congress against the formation of a separate nation for Muslims. Therefore, it was suggested that I leave after observing what happened on that day.
The Muslim League had no plan to instigate a Hindu-Muslim riot and the Muslims were not aware that the Hindus had been well prepared for slaughtering Muslims on that day. Many Muslims lost their lives after being attacked by armed Hindus, and Muslim properties worth tens of millions were destroyed or looted. Many Muslim women were raped on that dreadful day. As a result my planned study at Kolkata University had to be cancelled and I enrolled myself in the department where I had wanted to study after all and continued to stay in my favourite hostel, the Fazlul Haque Muslim Hall.
Hall Union Elections
I was a hall resident from 1944 to 1948. The hall union election used to be held every year, although the university union election was a bit irregular. At that time Salimullah Muslim Hall had a strange system in their hall union elections. More than half of their students were from Greater Comilla and Greater Noakhali districts, and they would work together to ensure that their own people won the elections. A student in our Fazlul Haque Muslim Hall named Nazmul Karim took an initiative to ensure that this type of district nationalism did not take place in our hall elections. He led a movement to resist district nationalism and asked me to join his movement as I was from Greater Comilla. His movement became successful and no district nationalism could be observed in our hall union elections.
Two panels would contest in elections and each year the names of these panels would change. Generally names like ‘Progressive Front’, ‘Democratic Alliance’ etc. were popular in these elections. No student front of any political parties were active in Dhaka University at that time, although they were active in Kolkata University. I was actively involved with the Nazmul Karim panel in the 1944-45 election in which he was elected the Speaker. The constitution of the Fazlul Haque Hall Union was different from other halls, which was aimed at developing students in the system of parliamentary democracy. The hall provost would be the president of the union and would attend only the inauguration session. The Speaker would preside over the debates while the elected Vice President (VP) would act as the Leader of the House.
I was the chief election officer for one of the panels in the 1945-46 hall union election, with Sarder Fazlul Karim as its VP candidate. At that time communism was becoming popular as an ideology, and meritorious students of the university were attracted towards it. I too was influenced by them for a brief period through their leaflets and other publicity materials. The other panel was led by Matiur Rahman, who successfully convinced the voters that Sarder Fazlul Karim was a communist and won the election despite being far less efficient than our panel.
The environment in those elections were fully democratic. One of the main leaders of our opposite panel, Ismail (who later became a minister during the presidency of Ziaur Rahman), was my close friend and we would often ask each other how our campaigns were going. Everyone would accept the results in the spirit of sportsmanship. Matiur Rahman, the elected VP, would often ask me to write posters for him and I obliged despite being from his opposite panel.
I tried to know more about communism after that election and soon realised that their materialistic ideology was against religion and leads to atheism. My faith in Islam was so strong that communism as an ideology had no chance to win over me.
The Hall Union election of the 1946-47 academic year took place during the first year of my MA. I was quite known to others due to my involvement in the previous year. I was not the kind of person who would remain uninvolved in an election, so I decided to be active in the election of 1946-47. One of the panels was headed by Muazzam Hossain Chowdhury of the Department of History and when the other panel was being formed under the leadership of Azharul Haque Chowdhury of the Department of Economics, Chowdhury announced that he would not stand as the VP candidate unless I agreed to stand as the General Secretary (GS) candidate. I was not prepared for this. I was ready to actively work for his panel, but I had to give in to his pressure and contested the election. Our opposite panel led by Mr Hossain won the election, but I was surprised when I heard that I was the only person elected from our panel with record number of votes. I had no problem working with the other panel and I developed cordial relationship with the elected vice president.
There was no party politics in university at that time. The heated political climate of 1945-46 did not affect the academic environment of the university. Dhaka was not as affected by the political struggles as much as Kolkata, the capital of the then Bengal region. The Indian National Congress had very little presence in Dhaka as none of their leaders were based in Dhaka, although some of them were practising law in Comilla. Therefore, student politics was limited to hall and university unions only. The Muslim Students’ League was the only notable student organisation at that time, but they were not active on campus. Politics outside university was mainly led by the Muslim League. Even the language movement was not organised by any particular political party, and the Muslim League became very unpopular among students due to their negative role during the language movement.
The university union, known as DUCSU (Dhaka University Central Students’ Union), was previously known as Dhaka University Students’ Union. The word ‘central’ was probably added later to use the acronym DUCSU. The elections of the university union was not held every year in the way that the hall union elections were, but that did not create any problem because most student activities were based in student halls and the university union had limited functions. There was no university union election when I started university in 1944, so the first university union election I witnessed was the one for the 1945-46 academic year.
There was only one panel contesting in that election, but we had little scope of knowing the candidates well. The campaign was not nearly as exciting as the hall union elections. I only remember one independent candidate called Farid Ahmed of the English department giving a speech in the common room. He immediately caught everyone’s attention as an eloquent speaker and I too decided to vote for him despite not knowing him personally. There were 16 members in the only panel that contested the election and some independent candidates contested against them. I voted for 15 of the 16 members from the panel and gave one vote to Farid Ahmed. He won as an independent candidate, and later became known as Moulvi Farid Ahmed, the leader of the Nizam-e-Islam party.
The university union comprised of four students, each from the four student halls, making the total number 16. A 17th member was elected from the female students based in a house called ‘Chummery House’ near Dhaka University campus. The Vice Chancellor was the president of the union and would distribute offices among the elected members. The most important two positions – VP and GS were nominated on the basis of the following criteria:
- If the VP was a Muslim, then the GS would be a Hindu.
- The VP and the GS would be nominated from each hall by rotation.
- If the VP was a Muslim in one session, then a Hindu VP would be nominated in the following year
- Other office bearers would be equally distributed among the four halls
In this system the VP post went to Ahmedul Kabir of Salimullah Muslim Hall for the 1945-46 session (who later became the editor of the Bangla daily ‘Dainik Sangbad’). I cannot remember the name of the Hindu GS of that year. There was no colourful inauguration like the hall unions and I don’t even remember if any significant event took place under the leadership of Ahmedul Kabir. In the middle of that session Ahmedul Kabir’s student life ended and Farid Ahmed was nominated as the VP.
University Union Election 1947-48
There was no election of the university union in 1946-47, so the next election was for the 1947-48 session when I was in the final year of my MA programme. The rota system meant that the VP would be a Hindu from Dhaka Hall and the GS would be someone from Fazlul Haque Muslim Hall. I was actively involved in the hall union election supporting my classmate and friend Toha (later known as Comrade Toha). His room was next to mine in the hall and we actively worked together in the language movement. After Toha was elected as the VP, he insisted that I stand for the GS election of the university union. Arvind Bose from Dhaka Hall was nominated as the VP candidate.
Although there was only one panel, quite a few students contested as independent candidates, so it became important to campaign for our panel. Arvind Bose and I both campaigned hard going to every room of every hall, and everyone believed that we two would hold the VP and GS positions respectively. The campaign continued for two weeks in which we not only reached every hall student, but also collected addresses of non-resident students and went to their homes. We had to make sure that every voter had been reached so that no one could say we had not approached them. In doing so, we became extremely tired and exhausted.
Our hard work paid dividends as our panel won by huge margins, with none of the independent candidates coming even near. The pleasure of success is unique, and the exhaustion of the previous few weeks disappeared almost instantaneously. We then had to meet everyone to thank the voters and shake their hands for supporting us, and my face ultimately began to ache due to smiling continuously for hours and hours.
The president of the university union was the Vice chancellor Dr Syed Muazzam Hossain, who was the head of the Arabic department when I was doing BA Honours in Arabic. He was extremely handsome and smartly dressed with the attire of a perfect English gentleman. He was always seen wearing his hat on the university campus. The inauguration took place in a grand ceremony at Curzon Hall with the Vice Chancellor in the chair. However, as discussed before, the activities of the university union were quite limited as hall unions had more active roles in different matters. The activities that we had to arrange centrally included inter-hall literary competitions and inter-hall sports. As mentioned, the university union had no involvement in national politics.
During my tenure as the GS of the university union we arranged two major programmes that were beyond the regular activities of the union. The first was a reception in honour of the then Minister of the Pakistan government, Dr Mahmud Hossain. He had been a Reader of the History department of Dhaka University and was also the Provost of my hall when I was the GS of the hall union. The second event was the reception given to the then Prime Minister of Pakistan, Nawabzada Liaqat Ali Khan, on 27 November 1948 at the University Gymnasium Ground.
 A hostel for the Muslim students of Kolkata University
 Named after Lord Curzon, it is one of the landmark buildings of Dhaka University built by the British. It is now the building of the Faculty of Science.
 It was at this event where the first official demand for Bangla to be recognised as an official language of Pakistan was made through a memorandum that the author read out as the GS of the union. The details of this event will come later when the language movement is discussed.