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183. Nawab Syed Muhammad Bahadur

President of Indian National Congress

First Muslim Sheriff of Madras

Nawab Syed Muhammad was the son of Mir Humayun Bahadur, one of the wealthiest Muslims of South India. Humayun Bahadur was a sincere nationalist-minded Muslim who helped the Indian National Congress in its early stages, by giving both financial and intellectual support. When the third Indian National Congress was held in 1887, Mr. Humayun Bahadur gave monetary help to the Congress leaders. On his mother's side Nawab Syed Muhammad was descended from the famous Tipu Sultan of Mysore. He was the grandson of Shahzadi Shah Rukh Begum, daughter of Sultan Yasin, the fourth son of Tipu Sultan.
The date of his birth is not known from any reliable source; according to the Hindu he died on February 12, 1919. His active political life centred round the two cities of Madras and Delhi. He lived at a time when the Muslim League did not become a militant organisation demanding exclusive privileges. He was not a member of the Muslim League since he was a nationalist in his outlook.
He had very liberal views on education, both general and technical. He seems to have been much pained on seeing the colossal illiteracy of the Indians in the beginning of the twentieth century. He maintained that the main duty of the State was to educate its people by setting up free primary schools. He believed that the stability of a State and the loyalty of the citizens to the State, the two pillars of social equilibrium must be erected on an educated social base. But he also maintained that the Government must pay more attention to technical education which would promote industrial development and economic welfare of the people.
He joined the Indian National Congress in 1894 and became an active member of the organisation. In all his speeches and addresses Syed Muhammad convincingly maintained that the Muslims and the Hindus must live like brothers and their different religions must not separate them but bind them together. He sincerely believed that the main aim of the Indian National Congress was to unite the peoples of India into a strong nation.
In politics Syed Muhammad may be regarded as a moderate, following the great leader Gopal Krishna Gokhale. He did not believe in revolutionary activities and his goal of political freedom was not separation from the British Empire. He was an admirer of the British sense of justice and fairplay. Therefore, Self-Government within the British Empire was the ultimate aim of the early Indian leaders and Syed Muhammad was one among them. He was much agitated by the racial discrimination and denial of equality to the Indians in South Africa. He was also a severe critic of the British Government for the dismemberment of the Turkish Empire after the First World War. He maintained that all the Indian Muslims must join together and save the Turkish Empire and the Khilafat from disintegration.
A believer in social uplift of the masses, he was the President of the Madras Mahajana Sabha from 1903, and his nationalist views were rewarded by election to the Presidency of the Indian National Congress in 1913. He was the first Muslim Sheriff of Madras and was appointed as such in 1896. He was nominated to the Madras Legislative Council, in 1900 and to the Imperial Legislative Council in 1905.
Syed Muhammad was awarded the title of Nawab in 1897 by the British Government when he attended the Diamond Jubilee Celebration of Queen Victoria.

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