Syed Mahmud was born in the village Syedpur Bhitari, Ghazipur (UP). His father's name was Md Umar and grandfather's name was Qazi Farzand Ali. His ancestors had come to Bihar during the Lodis (and had subsequently migrated to Ghazipur, only to return back to Bihar). But his political life started in Aligarh where he received his education during 1901-08. During his student days at Aligarh from 1901 to 1908 he had among his friends and class fellows persons like Tasadduq Ahmad Khan Shervani, Abdurrahman Bijnori, Syed Husain and Saifuddin Kitchlew. Though belonging to a very aristocratic family, Syed Mahmud was an ardent supporter of Congress from its very early days. Here he was among those few students, who were trying to make Muslims join the ongoing anti colonial nationalist struggle led by the Indian National Congress. He, along with his friends, participated in the annual session of the Congress in 1905 at Benaras. In February 1907, he led a strike against the British manned management of the college. It started with disciplinary action against a sharp student, Raja Ghulam Husain, who had some confrontation with a constable in the annual exhibition (numaish). Violating the assurance given by the European Principal to Mohsinul Mulk, six students (including the three students viz. Syed Mahmud, Tasadduq Sherwani and Abdur Rahman Bijnori) were punished.
Having expelled out of MAO College Aligarh, Syed Mahmud went to the Lincoln's Inn of London to become a barrister. Later, wrote a thesis on Mughal Politics and Administration from the Cambridge. He also got influenced with Pan Islamism under the influence of W.S. Blunt and E.G. Brown. Here also he organized some students and developed ideological conflicts with Ameer Ali (d.1928), who was running the London branch of the Muslim League. In 1909, in London he came in contact with Mahatma Gandhi and J.L. Nehru. In 1912, he obtained Ph.D. from Germany and came back to India, and from 1913 he started his legal profession in Patna under the able guidance of Mazharul Haq. In 1915, he married Mazharul Haq's niece. Throughout his career he insisted on communal harmony, played significant role in the Congress- League Pact of Lucknow in 1916. Served with the Home Rule League, AICC and gave up his legal practice to participate in the Khilafat Movement. He also authored, The Khilafat & England. In 1922, he was imprisoned. In 1923, he was elected Deputy General Secretary of the AICC along with Jawaharlal Nehru which resulted in close friendship between the two leaders. Nehru signed as witness at the marriage of Syed Mahmud's daughter. In 1929, with M.A. Ansari, he formed `Muslim Nationalist Party' within the Congress, and became the General Secretary of the Congress, and served in this capacity till 1936. 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.
The S.K. Sinha led cabinet in Bihar made Syed Mahmud Minister for Education, Development and Planning in 1937. His emphasis was on providing primary education to largest possible number of people, 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. To mitigate the Hindi-Urdu tension, he launched a bilingual (Urdu; Hindi) newspaper called Raushni. He also wrote a book, A Plan of Provincial Reconstruction (1939). It became so popular that several editions were re-printed in the same year. It displays his vision for the problems like public health, education and human resources, material resources of Bihar. This book dealt at length about rural indebtedness and agricultural finance. He was engaged in such exercise when other big leaders of Bihar were engaged in caste based factionalism, much lamented by Ram Manohar Lohia, Jaya Prakash Narayan and Sahajanand Saraswati.
During 1946-52, Syed Mahmud was the Minister for Transport, Industries and Agriculture in Bihar. In 1949 he suggested Nehru to enter into a particular military pact with Pakistan in order to safeguard the nation from China which could not materialize. Pained with communal partition of India, an optimist in him motivated him to write another book Hindu Muslim Accord (1949), celebrating the `Ganga-Jamuni Tehzeeb of India'. From 7th December 1954 to 17th April 1957 he was the Union Minister of State for External Affairs but resigned due to eye troubles. He participated in the historic Bandung Conference (1955), where the Panchsheel was spelled out. He played remarkable roles in India's useful diplomatic relations with the Gulf countries, Iran and Egypt.
By 1940s, the Muslim League leaders of Bihar had developed a low level hostility against him, so much so that they instructed their followers not to participate in the last rites (janaza) of his mother –in-law, the marriage ceremony of his daughter was sought to be disturbed by the lumpens claiming to be supporters of the Muslim League. In June 1961, the communal riots and the abdication of responsibilities by the state disillusioned him. It got further accentuated in the riots of 1964, when he started re-thinking the question of minorities in both India and Pakistan, founded the Muslim Majlis Mashawerat (MMM), yet he warned against having exclusively identity based political party in the India's secular democracy. He rather wanted it to act more as a pressure group. In April 1968 he left the MMM precisely because its leaders started talking in exclusivist language. In post-Independent Bihar, the Congress leaders acted only as caste leaders, established linear network of patronage distribution. For example, the Bhumihar and Rajput leaders had their `sub-contractors' in many districts, who established a large number of high schools and colleges, offering recruitments to their caste fellows. These employees acted as their electoral strength/booth managers. Syed Mahmud did not develop this kind of linear networks of patronage distribution. His eminence draw attention among the scholarly organizations likes Darul Musannefin Shibli Academy Azamgarh (UP) and they elected him as President. He served as Shibli Academy’s President till his last breath.
Source : shibliacademy.org