When Hamid Qureshi’s speech rocked Bhopal

Freedom fighter and former minister Hameed Qureshi, into his seventies now is away from politics and public life. But there were times when he was a fiery orator, an active politician and was jailed during the freedom struggle. He was just 17 when he was first sent behind bars. How he became a hero overnight in Bhopal in the pre-independence era is an interesting story and a part of Bhopal’s history. The nationalist movement was gaining ground in Bhopal. Younger generation leaders were emerging and raising their voice for the people’s rights. Among them were Khan Shakir Ali Khan, Imran Ansari, Yahya Ali Khan, Akhlaq Mohammad Khan, Abu Saeed Bazmi, Dr Hameed Qureshi and others. The movement was so far peaceful and a mass upsurge had not been witnessed. Then suddenly a storm developed and engulfed Bhopal.

Motor Union president Fazal Ansari invited Hameed Qureshi to speak at its public meeting. Dr Qureshi, an outspoken and blunt person, delivered a rousing speech and strongly supported the union’s demands. During the course of the speech he said "We refuse to accept such rulers under whose rule the poor were deprived of the most basic of the needs."

A case was promptly registered against him by the government. Dr Qureshi’s well-wishers advised him to retract his utterances. But he was made of sterner stuff. When the challan was put up and Dr Qureshi was produced in the court, the court ordered that the proceedings be held in-camera. This enraged the citizens and perhaps for the first time in the history of Bhopal people in thousands came out on the roads. There was a sea of humanity from Peer Gate to the court building. Despite police resistance, an agitated mob barged into the court room. The mob included Shakir Ali Khan and Lutf-ullah Khan Nazmi. The court was stunned by the slogan of "Bhopal zindabad" (long live Bhopal) and "Anjuman Khuddam-e-Watan zindabad" (long live the gathering of people in service of the nation). The hearing was put off and the accused himself was snatched away from the police hands by the mob. Hamid Qureshi and the other leaders of the Anjuman were lifted on shoulders by the crowd and the police watched haplessly. At one point when Imran Ansari was garlanding Dr Qureshi, the police managed to get an opportunity to re-arrest Dr Qureshi and took him to the jail.

In vengeful mood now, the government registered a criminal case of rioting and house-breaking against the political leaders. This distanced even the elite, who were so far neutral, from the government. The court sentenced for two years the leaders like Dr Hamid Qureshi, Shakir Ali Khan, Pandit Chatur Narayan Malaviya, Noorbaaz Khan, Lutf-ullah Khan Nazmi, Quddoos Sahbai, Hafiz-ur-Rahman, Imran Ansari and Ghulam Rasool Quadri. When the court announced its verdict, a founder member of the Anjuman and later of the Praja Mandal, Akhlaq Mohammad Khan got published an article titled "Bhopal Qatlagah-a – Awam" in Madina newspaper. Warrant was issued against him and he escaped to his village and from there to Vidisha. He returned after six months. This was the turning point in the movement of independence in Bhopal.

The formation of Praja Mandal in 1938 was another upshot of the incident. The leaders of the Anjuman thought it better to bring together the people from other organizations. Thus the Anjuman was dissolved and Praja Mandal was formed with Master Lal Singh of the Hindu Mahasabha joining it. The first meeting was held at Hotel Rubi. The invitation was issued by Shakir Ali Khan, Abu Saeed Bazmi, Arshad Thanvi and Ravi Dutt Sharma. The others who attended the meeting were Master Lal Singh, Chatur Narayan Malaviya, Akhlaq Mohammad Khan, Jamna Prasad Bisariya, Musharraf Mohammad Khan and Arshi Basit Bhopali. Abu Saeed Bazmi was made its president and Babulal Sharma secretary.

Nasir Kamal, local writer and formerly a contributor to The National Mail, a Bhopal newspaper