Obituary: Assam’s sole Muslim and woman CM Syeda Anwara Taimur

Assam has remained a land of migration and immigration. The series of conflict and agitation during the Assam Movement on the citizenship Issue (1975-1985) created social instability and ethnic discord. Issues of insurgency and agitation affected the economy badly. President Rule was brought in Assam after the collapse of state government headed by Jogendra Nath Hazarika in 1979. But the winds of change were about to come. Syeda Anwara Taimur was appointed as the first lady Chief Minister on 6 December 1980. Taimur occupied the Chief Minister’s office till June 1981. In the history of Assam, she remained the only female and Muslim Chief Minister of the State.

Bespectacled, 45 year old, beetle leaf chewing, school mannish Cheif Minister, proved in the very first month of her office that she can function from where other people in administration and politics couldn’t rush through. Her appointment came at a time when Assam was passing through a highly volatile socio-political situation and when bureaucrats under the enforced year-long President Rule feared to trade.

Born in Jorhat, Assam on 24 November 1936, her father’s name was Syed Yusuf Ali and her mother’s name was Zubeda Khan.

Internalizing what she saw and heard, her lived experiences shaped her career further. Her schooling life began at a local school. Educated first at Jorhat Girls High School and she attended J.B College,  for her B.A program. She moved to Aligarh to pursue higher studies. It was from Aligarh Muslim University she did her master’s in Economics. After completing her master’s she came back to Jorhat in 1956 and joined as a lecturer of Economics in Debicharan Borua College.

Prior to her electoral instinct, she was known as a mass leader who always championed the cause of women and the upliftment of society. She was actively involved at grassroot level where she played crucial role in organizing numerous training camps and forming Mahila Cooperative Stores.

She worked as General Secretary for a number of women’s organizations including Barpeta District Mahila Samiti, Assam Mahila Pratirakshya Samiti and Assam Relief Mahila Society. Meanwhile, she also served as a member of the executive council of Assam Pradesh Mahila Samiti and the National Council for Women Education.

In 1969 as a member of a delegation representing India she attended International Women Conference and Seminar on population control held in Belgrade, Yugoslavia.

She worked and organized civil defence measures during Chinese aggression in 1962 and Pakistani aggression in 1965. And was also very instrumental in organizing relief work for the Mompa Refugee camp in 1971.

But despite her popular presence among the masses and her work at the grassroots level, she was described as “Hawkish” and her ministry was criticized for acting tough on the protesters. Assam Movement was at it’s peak when she paved her way through the turmoil. The local daily reported her ministry as “Timurid Rule”. Her tenure got heavily critized for large scale deployment of CRPF which would sporadically unleash violence on the protesters. She also bore the blame for imposing censorship on the Press by invoking Assam Special Powers (Press) Act 1960 that forced newspapers to submit publication for pre-censorship. To say if she was an authoritarian or just someone in power with responsibility still requires deep research but there is no doubt that she had a strong backing of State. One of the Union Minister from that time said on record that “the agitators now have to reckon with a popular government which has the mandate to met force with force” thus justifying her crackdown on the protesters.

Her appointment was seen as a strategic move by opposition parties calling Congress as an all-time appeaser and savior of the Muslim vote bank. The opposition blamed Congress Party for appointing a Muslim at the highest political position of State only to represent the Muslim immigrant interest.

Soon after the State got engulfed in the wave of political turbulence with rising tensions, chaos, and lawlessness, leading Anwara Taimur to resign with President’s Rule re-imposed.

Syeda Anwara Taimur irrespective of her short instinct as the Chief Minister went on to hold key positions in the ministry throughout her life and had an illustrious political career.

Taimur was first elected to the Assam Legislative Assembly from the Mangaldoi Lok Sabha constituency in 1972 as a Congress candidate. She was re-elected to the Assembly from the Dalgaon constituency in 1978, 1983, and 1991. Having served twice in the Rajya Sabha Taimur was appointed the State Education Minister in 1975 by the then Chief Minister Sarat Chandra Sinha. She again served as a minister in the Hiteswar Saikia-led State government (1991-1996) handling the portfolios of Agriculture, Hajj, and Wakf Property. Taimur also served as the Chairperson of the Central Haj Committee during 1989-90 and 1990-91. From 1983 to 1985 she was the PWD Minister of the same State.

After her decade-long association with Congress, she left Congress in 2011 to join All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) founded by Maulana Badruddin Ajmal. She served as the Vice President of AIUDF since then.

Her immense contribution, strong political presence, high credentials, and a legacy left behind was not enough to prove her citizenship. She did not find her name on the National Register of Citizens (NRC) list released in 2018. The NRC authorities in Guwahati claims they don’t have any legacy data of the former Chief Minister available with them.

Anwara Taimur was staying in Australia with her son for the past few years where she passed away on 28 September 2020, reportedly due to cardiac arrest. Situated near the Rajdhani Masjid, Dispur her home now lies abandoned. As barren as the owner’s history.

Largely forgotten by people with very less recorded history about her life Syeda Anwara Taimur played a significant role in Assam politics and society. Not only was she a politician but also a social reformer. All her endeavors were aimed at social, political, and economic development. Her penetration into politics at a time when women and more so Muslim women hardly had any representation in electoral politics bears the proof that she was defiant, resistant, and believed in change. She dedicated her life to the upliftment, promotion, and progress of the people and women at large.