Thursday, January 12, 2017

Bihar Postal Series- Syed Mahmud most Conspicuous Omission

Bihar Postal Series- Syed Mahmud most Conspicuous Omission 
By Syed Ali Mujtaba

The Postal Department of India, recently has commemorated great deeds and achievements of eight personalities of Bihar by releasing stamps on them. However, the most conspicuous by its absence in this list is  Dr Syed Mahmud, one of the foremost freedom fighters from Bihar.

The eight stamps released on December 26, 2016 to remember freedom fighters of Bihar are: 1) Dr. Sachchidananda Sinha 2) Karpoori Thakur 3) Dashrath Manjhi 4) Vidyapati 5) Kailashpati Mishra 6) Kunwar Singh 7) Phanishwar Nath Renu 8) Sri Krishna Sinha.

The omission of Syed Mahmud from this list is most glaring. The presumption is, whoever has prepared the list of Bihar postal stamp series, is either ignorant about Syed Mahmud’s contribution to India’s freedom struggle, or the usual communal mindset that prevails in such selections and omissions process.

Mahmud was educated at the Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) and as student attended the 1905 session of the Indian National Congress. He was one of those students who opposed the pro-British loyalties of the All India Muslim League.

After being expelled from AMU for his political activities, Mahmud traveled to England and studied Law at Cambridge University before going on to study at Lincoln's Inn to become a barrister. While in London, he came in contact with Mahatma Gandhi and J.L. Nehru in 1909.

He obtained Ph.D. from Germany and came back to India in 1912. It was from 1913 he started his legal profession in Patna under the able guidance of Mazharul Haq. After practicing law for a few years in Patna, he was drawn into the freedom struggle and movement for India's independence.

Syed Mahmud was one of the young Muslim leaders who played a role in crafting the  Lucknow Pact between the Congress and the Muslim League in1916. Under the influence and leadership of Mahatma Gandhi, he participated in the Indian Home Rule Movement and in the Non-cooperation movement and the Khilafat movement. 

In 1923 he was elected to the post of deputy general secretary of the All India Congress Committee along with Jawaharlal Nehru which resulted in close friendship between the two leaders. Nehru signed as witness at the 'Nikahnama' marriage of Syed Mahmud's daughter.

In 1930, along with M.L. Nehru and J.L. Nehru he was imprisoned in the Naini Jail of Allahabad, for his participation in the Civil Disobedience Movement.

After the sweeping Congress victory in the 1937 central and provincial elections, Syed Mahmud became Minister for Education, Development and Planning in Sri Krishna Sinha led cabinet in Bihar.

This development had its own share of controversy, Syed Mahmud was considered one of the leading prospective candidates to serve as Chief Minister of Bihar but instead Shri Krishna Sinha was made the Chief Minister.

Maulana Abul Kalam Azad in his book “India wins freedom” talks at length about this controversy and blames Nehru for not making him the first CM of Bihar. Perhaps, Mahmud’s Muslim identity came in the way of his selection in that communally charged atmosphere and Nehru chose Sri Krishna Sinha to placate the Hindu lobby within the Congress party in Bihar.

While, serving as education minister in Bihar Mahmud’s emphasis was on providing primary education to largest possible number of people. He worked for revision of curricula, appointed Urdu teachers in the Patna University. He fought for raising the proportion of Muslims in the government jobs and in the local bodies in Bihar.

Syed Mahmud was one of the members of the Congress Working Committee that endorsed the 1942 Quit India movement, calling for an immediate end to British rule. He went to jail along with other freedom fighters for being part off the Quit India agitation.

After India's independence, Syed Mahmud was elected to the first Lok Sabha from the Champaran-East constituency and second Lok Sabha from the Gopalganj constituency.
He served as Minister of State for External Affairs between 1954 and 1957. He participated in the historic Bandung Conference (1955), where the Panchsheel was spelled out. As a mister of external affairs he played remarkable roles in India's useful diplomatic relations with the Gulf countries.

Syed Mahmud was one of the secular Muslim leaders who opposed the Muslim League's demand for the creation of a separate Muslim state of Pakistan. He was pained with communal partition of India.

Syed Mahmud authored several books. “The Khilafat & England” was one among them. He wrote another book, "A Plan of Provincial Reconstruction (1939)". His book on Hindu Muslim Accord (1949), celebrating the `Ganga-Jamuni Tehzeeb of India,' is widely quoted. He launched a bilingual (Urdu; Hindi) newspaper called “Raushni” to mitigate the Hindi-Urdu tension.

Mahmud's standing with Indian nationalist’s leaders was second to none. The postal department by omitting Mahmood’s name from the postal series on Bihar has belittled the contributions of a giant freedom fighter from Bihar.

Syed Ali Mujtaba is a journalist based in Chennai. He hails from Bihar and can be contacted at

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