Vol. 5 Num 80 Sun. August 15, 2004  

Bangabandhu's death anniversary special
The leader and the man

The fifteenth day of August is a sad day. On this fateful day in 1975, the glory of a nation's history earned through enormous sacrifices of decades, was stained by a small group of armed adventurists who usurped the right of the sovereign (common man) to change the pattern of governance intoxicated by a dubious claim to patriotism. It was a heinous and abhorent act which put a sudden and premature end to the life of Bangladesh's most celebrated political hero Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. The act was violent and its debased ruthlessness did not spare even individuals having nothing to do with politics. It was a senseless and barbaric act, to say the least. We again express our deepest condolences to all the families.

History has a strange way of recognising heroes and establishing them in their true and legitimate place of honour. Attempts to distort are convincingly and quietly discarded by history in its relentless and eternal pursuit for truth. Because Truth has been History's most precious treasure, the principal barometer it uses to discard and choose between the relevant and the irrelevant with mystic accuracy. In Bangabandhu's case the verdict, in my humble judgement has already been delivered and he stands majestically established in the history of Bangladesh. There are events & personalities which cannot be equated with others and attempts to draw parallels are undertaken in stupid defiance of this fundamental lesson of history. Such as acts of defiance is treated by history with dignified indifference and in this case it should not be different.

The eventful political life of Bangabandhu, spread over three decades, has touched every aspect of our political history. Every event in the evolution of Bengali nationalism, from its inception to the achievement of nationhood, received the magic touch of his bold and charismatic leadership. He picked up the baby -- Bengali nationalism -- caressed, nursed and defended it against predators with the caring defiance of a father. He managed with deep compassion its restless adolescence, its wild youth with imagination and its adulthood with an uncanny level of political maturity. He converted political charisma into an art, the creative element of which he used with the brilliant skill to inspire a Nation and a People to a greater vision.

His leadership demonstrated the critical difference between a political programme and a political philosophy imbued with a noble content of deep commitment to the welfare of the common man and a burning sense of patriotism. These two elements got combined in a mystic proportion in the content of his political messages to the masses sincere, unadulterated, pure and transparent and he transmitted his message through an wave length of incredible receptivity he created with the masses. His defiance of an insensitive minority in Pakistan to the legitimacy of the voice of the majority was inspired simply by his deep love for the common man and their rights. These two elements provided an inspiring inner strength and an element of invincibility to the quality of his conviction. To Bangabandhu, these issues were non-negotiable both politically and morally. He personally commanded a great belief in the invincibility of his position and that gave the inner strength to continuously gamble with life -- Agartala and the arrest in 1970 being the most conspicuous and daring examples. The historic speech of 7th March was an incredible manifestation of this twin urge of patriotism and defiance and this will remain a immortal milestone in the political history of Bangladesh.

Bangabandhu commanded a clear vision of future Bangladesh as a Nation and this presented a fundamental challenge to him in post -- independence Bangladesh. One of the significant elements in Bangabandhu's political programme was the element of universality born out of a conviction that future Bangladesh must and can only be built on the basis of a non-discriminatory political structure. He clearly realised that discrimination is the breeding ground for exploitation -- both economic and political; and a disdain for discrimination and exploitation became the core elements in his political philosophy. He articulated his vision of NATIONHOOD in the constitution of 1972 which embodied the basic element of the NATIONHOOD -- a non-discriminatory secular Bangladesh and a message against economic exploitation of the common man through an indulgence in unbridled capitalism. While the Nation has experienced aberrations in its pursuit of these twin objectives, principally because of the shortsighted intervention of the political usurpers -- the core element of the NATIONHOOD still remains consolidated.

In defining the fundamental political structure of Bangladesh, Bangabandhu showed remarkable vision and foresight and lifted himself beyond any narrow personal consideration. A least-known historical example would bring out the resolution of a issue of monumental importance. I was working as a Joint Secretary to the President Late Justice Abu Sayeed Chowdhury, shortly before I joined Bangabandhu as his Private Secretary. While the constitution of 1972 was in its final stages of drafting, Bangabandhu requested Dr. Kamal Hossain to show the draft to the President. A very significant issue, an Article regarding location of the Executive Authority of the Republic as mentioned in the draft received the attention of the President. In the context of the bitter historical experience with authoritarianism, the Executive Authority was proposed to be located with the Prime Minister. This concept, as mentioned in the original draft was contrary to the provision of most constitutions where parliamentary democracy was being practiced.

The President differed with the draft philosophically and decided to bring it to the notice of Bangabandhu. Myself and my boss Mr. A.S.H.K. Sadique, the former education minister and the principal secretary to the President were given the responsibility of going through documents and speeches of Dr. Ambedkar, the framer of the Indian constitution and all the relevant literature on the subject -- the most prominent being Dr. Malhotra's "Treaties on Indian Constitution". At the President's instruction we prepared a draft on the issue reflecting the President's views which the President decided to send to the Prime Minister, Bangabandhu. Essentially the President felt that the Executive Authority of the Republic should be located with the custodian of the Republic, the President. A tricky problem arose regarding typing the President's letter to the Prime Minister. Since it was a very sensitive issue potentially triggering a difference between the President and the Prime Minister, and its potential leak to the press through the typist, the President decided to write the letter under his own hand writing which he did. I was assigned the responsibility of personally handing it over to Bangabandhu and I was strictly instructed by the President not to hand it over to any one excepting Bangabandhu. I met my respected senior colleague Late Mr. Rafiqullah Chowdhury, the Prime Minister's Secretary and conveyed President's instruction to him. I was duly presented to Bangabandhu who was alone and handed over the envelope to him which he personally opened. He went through the letter with unusual attention and commented almost immediately he finished reading the letter "Anu, I agree with the President". He could immediately see the conceptual strength in the President's proposal. I felt tempted to mention this example to demonstrate the extent to which Bangabandhu could rise above personal ego and be respectful to be requirements on which the NATIONHOOD should rest.

From the establishment of Civilian Authority, defining the core infrastructure of the Republic, Bangabandhu realised the critical need to be a part of the international community to earn respect as a Nation. In the context of geo-political of the day American Chinese Pakistan axis, (the moral basis apart) Bangabandhu showed remarkable diplomatic vision in ensuring Bangladesh's admission to the United Nations. For a poor Bangladesh its inclusion in the aid disbursing economic network was critical for its initial survival. Membership of the World Bank and the IMF came to the forefront demanding decision. Thorny issues like division of assets was raised by the World Bank with certain unreasonable conditionalities. Mr. Peter Cargill, a former ICS Officer who served in India and later became the Vice President for Asia in the World Bank came to Dhaka to formally discuss the issue with the Prime Minister. I was present during the discussion with curious interest. After exchange of pleasantries the subject was opened. Bangabandhu asked Mr. Cargill to look outside the balcony of the old Gono Bhaban and comment on the objects that Mr. Cargill observed. Mr. Cargill was apparently amused and perplexed at Bangabandhu's request and answered: "Excellency, I see a lawn outside with full of grass". Bangabandhu told Mr. Cargill politely and yet firmly with his huge structure taking a shake: "Mr. Cargill my people will eat grass that you saw in that lawn -- but will not accept unreasonable conditions imposed by you". Mr. Cargill smiled -- and yet the message was loud and clear conveyed through a small act of political drama by a great actor. Under Planning Secretary Mr. Syeduzzaman's leadership the issue was resolved between the World Bank and Bangladesh on the principle of taking responsibility for visibly located projects and Bangladesh became a member of the World Bank and the IMF. The rest is history.

Bangabandhu's love for the common man was a matter of consuming passion with him and a precious article of faith with his conscience. Examples testifying to that are too many to be quoted. I feel almost irresistibly tempted to narrate a small and yet profound incident experienced by me. Bangabandhu was in the hospital in London to undergo surgery to remove a huge stone in his gallbladder. As an accompanying officer, I had my duty to attend to him a few days after the surgery. He asked me with a tired voice from his hospital bed: "Anu, where are you staying". I answered: "Sir, myself and Hashem Bhai (his press secretary) were staying in one room in a small hotel on Oxford Street, so that we could minimise the hotel rent". An apparently insignificant issue. Bangabandhu commented: "Anu, please stay in a small hotel, don't spend too much money -- it is poor people's money -- I have always wanted to give and never to take". With these words expressed with a sobbing voice Bangabandhu wept in that quiet room in a London Hospital tears rolling down his cheeks and he weeping like a child; myself, a young civil servant being the lone spectator of this historic expression of a great man's transparent love for the common man of Bangladesh. There was no political stage, no big audience before the stage -- the greatest political hero at the height of power and glory paying a quiet tribute to and expressing his love for the common man in the lonely room of a London Hospital through tears.

That was Bangabandhu the leader and the man.

Nurul Islam Anu is a former civil servant and Private Secretary to the then Prime Minister of Bangladesh.