In defiance, Maulavi Faiznur Ali made a statement. The period was pre-Independent India. The occasion was the visit of the Viceroy of India, Lord Chelmsford, to Dibrugarh. A meeting was organized in his honour. The task of delivering the welcome address fell on the then Chairperson of Dibrugarh Municipal Board. To feel elation at the privilege of speaking in the presence of the country’s highest administrator would have been natural. But not so for Maulavi Faiznur Ali. The Chairman preferred to tender his resignation rather than carry out, what must have been an odious assignment for him, an ardent nationalist. He saw no glory in welcoming a person who reminded him of the yoke Indians were under.
The resignation was no mere posture or a one-off thing. His life was patriotism in action. The name of the barrister remained in the annals of history for his role as a member of the Assam Legislative Council in 1924. Faiznur Ali was the leader of the Swarajists, who numbered eight in the Council and had forged a coalition with the Independents. The Swarajists-Independent Coalition was able to criticize government actions, vote down unpopular measures and carry through motions or resolutions of popular import with considerable effectiveness. Maulvi Faiznur Ali moved the following resolution:
This Council recommends to the Government to request the Secretary of State for India and the Governor General in council to take such immediate steps as may be necessary in order to establish full Responsible Government in Assam.
The landmark resolution was carried with great acclamation after a lengthy debate on March 25, 1924.
Ali went on to play his part well as a political activist. He remained steadfast in his nationalism even in the face of social opprobrium. The freedom fighter is also remembered for his role as a social worker and advocate of amity among communities.
The forefathers of Maulavi Faiznur Ali were residents of Bhogdoi mukh in Jorhat. His parents, Haji Fannur Ali and Al hazza Jarsani Bibi moved home and settled at Jorhat patty in Dibrugarh, the sadar of the then Lakhimpur district in 1857, during the Sepoy uprising. According to his great grandson, Nasim Wajid Ali, who is the Vice-Principal of DHSK Commerce College, Fannur Ali was made the manager for three European gardens in the district due to his ability to speak English fluently. Apart from that, he was a leading arms dealer. In an article written by Dr Roshanara Begum, the granddaughter of Faiznur Ali, the former President of Axom Xahitya Xabha, Nilomani Phukan, remarked that Fannur Ali was a man of few words and an Assamese through and through.
Maulavi Faiznur Ali was born on April 2 in 1877 at Jorhat patty, which was eroded away by River Brahmaputra in later years. He proved to be a brilliant student. After completing his entrance from Dibrugarh Government Boys’ High (now Higher Secondary) School in 1893 and winning government scholarship in the process, he went on to pass his FA with first division from Islamia College in Calcutta. Thereafter, he did his graduation from Presidency College in 1897 and BL from Ripon College in 1904. However, he was unable to complete his MA in history on medical grounds.
THE EMERGENCE OF AN ACTIVIST
When the young barrister returned home after completing his legal studies, he started his practice at Dibrugarh Bar in 1905. He was appointed as government prosecutor but gave it up later. In 1924, there was a professional shift given his increasing involvement in freedom struggle and politics. His political activism started locally. Faiznur Ali became a ward commissioner and subsequently Chairman of Dibrugarh Municipal Board. He also served as a member of the local Board.
The activist represented Assam in the conference of Indian National Congress (INC) at Nagpur in 1920. The nationalist came home and had to bear the brunt of police action. His house was searched. Thereafter, Ali plunged headlong into the freedom struggle. Inspired by Mahatma Gandhi, he burnt the foreign goods of his house in front of his residence even as the police and hundreds of people looked on. When a special session of the Congress was held at Calcutta in 1921 with Lala Lajpat Rai as Chairperson, Ali represented Assam there. The 41st session of the Congress was organized at Pandu near Guwahati in December 1926 with S Srinivasa Iyengar in the chair. The Dibrugarh resident was a member of the reception committee on that occasion.
When Maulavi Faiznur Ali was told of being chosen as Executive Councillor of Assam by the Governor of the State, he refused the plum post. He could not see himself accepting such a position under the colonial rulers as he considered it inappropriate for a Congressman.
An active participant of the non-cooperation movement, Maulavi Faiznur Ali took to heart Gandhi’s ideals and trod the Gandhian path throughout his life. When Deshbandhu Chittaranjan Das formed the Swaraj party, the freedom fighter became a member and was elected to the Assam Legislative Council in 1924 as their candidate from Sivasagar-Lakhimpur constituency. He was President of the Swarajist-Independent Coalition party. Maulavi Faiznur Ali was in the Council from 1929 to 1937. He was chosen as the Speaker, the first Assamese to grace it, after defeating the British government’s approved candidate, Maulavi Keramat Ali. Before the former barrister, only British citizens had occupied the post. He represented Assam in the All India Speakers Conference held at Shimla in 1932. From 1937 to 1942, he served as a member of Assam Public Service Commission.
When Mahatma Gandhi arrived at Dibrugarh to collect donation for Harijans in 1932, the Deputy Commissioner, the managers of the tea gardens and their wives met him at the residence of Maulavi Faiznur Ali. The meeting was arranged at the request of the then Governor of Assam, Sir Michael Keane. When the Viceroy and Governor General Lord Irwin came to Assam in 1933, Maulavi Faiznur Ali got the opportunity to discuss the country’s situation with him at Chinamara Tea Estate in Jorhat over lunch. This attests to his standing during those times. Sir Robert Reid, the Governor of Assam, Lord Satyendra Prasanno Sinha, Governor of Bihar and the first Indian to occupy such high rank in administration, and his wife spent some time at Ali’s home when they came to Dibrugarh.
THE PEACE BROKER
The former Chairperson of Dibrugarh Municipal Board always tried to bridge the difference between communities. He played an active role in the restoration of normalcy following communal tensions among the workers of Assam Oil Company in Digboi in 1929. There were several fatalities, besides the financial ramification for the oil major. At the request of the General Manager of the AOC, Maulavi Faiznur Ali gave his all to tackle the situation and succeeded in diffusing the situation. His contribution was acknowledged and praised in the Government’s Gadget. The incident is also indicative of the trust that he enjoyed among the different communities.
Around this time, several members of the Muslim community of Dibrugarh were trying to convince Ali to leave Congress and join the Muslim League. However, he resisted and remained loyal to his party. His reaction invited the ire of the members of Muslim League and they boycotted him socially for several years. But vindication was not long in coming when the very people who had shunned him retracted their earlier decision.
When riots broke out in various parts of the State after Partition, Maulavi Faiznur Ali was made a member of the three-member ‘Communal Riot Inquiry Commission’ to enquire into them. He also led the Advisors’ Board that reviewed the cases under Preventive Detention Act. He was one of the members of the Constituent Assembly that formulated the Constitution of the nation.
After India became a Republic with signing of the Constitution in 1950, the freedom fighter was nominated by the Congress as their candidate to the Lok Sabha. Later he fought the State Assembly election in 1952 and was elected to Assam Legislative Assembly.
In his local area, Maulavi Faiznur Ali took the lead in demanding the establishment of medical college in Dibrugarh. He was the Chairman of the medical college demand committee and kept in constant touch with Gopinath Bordoloi and Bidhan Chandra Roy to push the matter. When the Assam Medical College was inaugurated in Dibrugarh, he was made the President of the Managing Committee. The freedom fighter and legislator was also a member of the managing committee of Dibrugarh Kanoi College.
This out and out nationalist was a devout Muslim. But his study of holy books extended to the Bhagavat Gita and Upanishads. The khaddar clad gentleman visiting Biraj ashram was a common sight. He used to meet Om Baba, after whom the ashram is now known, and hold discussions on education with Dr Jogiraj Basu, who resided there. There came to be a sort of mutual admiration society between the residents of the ashram and Ali. He even came to be called as baba by people. Om Baba’s analysis of the holy Koran made a great impression on him. The library at the ashram was another attraction for him. A man of few words, he was fluent in several languages including Assamese, Bengali, Urdu, Hindi and English. He also knew Persian and Arabic.
PERSONAL FACT FILE
Maulavi Faiznur Ali married Sarafan Nisha or Aideo as she was popularly known, the first daughter of mouzadar, Jinnur Ali Bordoloi, of Titabor. He died on April 24, 1962 at the age of 85 years, leaving behind his wife, five sons, Ashraf Ali, Akram Ali, Anwar Ali, Shaukat Ali and Wasif Ali, and three daughters, Eliza, Ilina and Jyotsna.
Late Wasik Ali, Nasim Wazid Ali, Samsher Ashraf Ali, who is a businessman, and Dr Roshanara Begum, who is the Joint Secretary (finance), are children of Maulavi Faiznur Ali’s eldest son. Wasif Ali is survived by Habiba Begum, Ila and Yusuf Ali. The eldest daughter of the freedom fighter was married off to the eldest son of Mofizuddin Ahmed Hazarika. Ilina became the wife of an advocate, Mir Ishfaq Hussain. The youngest, Jyotsna, married an army officer, who went on to become the Bangladeshi Ambassador to Turkey.