Published: Thursday, March 7, 2013

Politician to the core

Abdul Jalil (1939-2013)

Abdul Jalil (1939-2013)

The death of Abdul Jalil at the age of seventy four brings to an end a political career that could have scaled the peaks of high ambition and yet did not quite find fulfillment. It was the final stages of his career, beginning with the advent of the Fakhruddin-led caretaker government in January 2007, that will perhaps remain a point of reference in Bangladesh’s political calendar. His arrest by the authorities under rather draconian emergency laws and the humiliation he was subjected to in detention were happenings that upset the national psyche. Making matters worse was the release of the details of his interrogation by the regime, evidently with a view to adding to his predicament. It was action that blackened the image of a government which had originally started off on a mission of reform.
And yet, for all the miseries he went through in the final phase of his life, Jalil was an important, sometimes intriguing figure in national politics. His negotiations with the BNP’s Abdul Mannan Bhuiyan in a bid to have the two major national parties reach a point of agreement on the future yielded no results, but they did point to his prominence on the national arena. His prediction in the early years of the last decade that the government, then led by the BNP, would fall, left citizens bewildered. To add to the consternation, Jalil even set a date, 30 April, by which the government would collapse. The day came, and went. The government did not fall. What went into a clear slide was Jalil’s reputation as a politician. It was sheer pain watching a man who had entered politics under the tutelage of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman become a target of ridicule. He was supposed to have been a politician with a different image.
That politics was Abdul Jalil’s first and last, as also lasting, love came through his coming away from London, where he had gone to study for the bar, in the late 1960s and joining the Awami League. The times were exciting; Sheikh Mujibur Rahman had revived the party and the momentous Six Points had burst upon the country. The Bangalee nation was coming into its own. Jalil wished to be part of the change that was to be. And indeed he became part of the change as the Bangalee nation went through the many phases of its long revolution, all the way up to the liberation of East Pakistan as the independent state of Bangladesh in 1971.
His moment of triumph came in 1996 when Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina gave him charge of the ministry of commerce in her government. His record as a minister was unblemished and perhaps he could have had the experience of presiding over other ministries had the Awami League not lost the general elections of October 2001. Jalil would then perhaps have taken a back seat in the party had Sheikh Hasina, unwilling to choose between such men as Tofail Ahmed and Abdur Razzaq in her quest for a general secretary for the party, not made the shrewd move to have Jalil take over as the new general secretary. He did quite a good job, if that inexplicable talk of 30 April is not taken into account.
Abdul Jalil’s fortunes took a nosedive when his party returned to power at the elections of December 2008. He was still general secretary but was kept at arm’s length, probably because of what was seen as his abject submission before the caretaker authorities when his wife appealed for his release from incarceration and treatment. He was not quite the same man after that ordeal; and his party was not quite the same organization he had been privileged to be part of. He was eased out of his position. He did come back to parliament, though, from his Naogaon constituency, at the 2008 elections and was inducted into the largely toothless advisory council of the Awami League. But his focus by then had become his own Mercantile Bank, to which he devoted his waking hours.
In Abdul Jalil throbbed the soul of a patriot, a freedom fighter. He was a truly political animal, despite the intense hurt politics eventually inflicted on him. In his last years, despite his disillusionment, he remained loyal to his party and its leader. His belief in a democratic, secular Bangladesh was never in question. It endured.
Body arrives today
The body of Abdul Jalil MP will arrive in Dhaka from Singapore tonight. Tomorrow, 8 March, his first namaz-e-janaza will be held at 9.30 a.m. at the Mercantile Bank office in Dilkusha Commercial Area, Dhaka. It will be followed a second janaza before the Awami League central office in Dhaka at 10 a.m. A third janaza will be held at 11 a.m. at the south plaza of the Jatiyo Sangsad.