from the Past
with two Leaders
of Bangladeshis have met their national leaders. Since they
were the people's leaders and easily accessible. I was also
fortunate to meet and converse with some of them at various
stages of my life, at home and abroad. From my memory of the
distant past, I am writing about meetings with two of our
Bhashani captured my imagination as a rebellious populist
leader who would always champion the cause of the underdog
through emotional and fiery speeches and mass movements. He
was an iconoclast and; he would squarely criticise anyone
doing any wrong or injustice to the common cause. I first
saw him presiding at the just formed Awami Muslim League's
inaugural public meeting in Armanitola maidan in 1949. I was
a Dhaka College student then and witnessed the undemocratic
and rough way that meeting was broken-up by the police under
orders of the ruling Muslim League government. Afterwards,
I saw him in action harassing the government ministers on
public issues in the East Pakistan legislative assembly when
on a few occasions I went to see the debates.
Bhashani, accompanied by Khondaker Ilyas and Professor Muzaffar
Ahmad was going to the World Peace Conference in Prague as
leaders of the delegation from Pakistan. I was studying for
my masters in economics at the Dhaka University. As the president
of the Sanskriti Sangsad and a progressive student devoted
to the cause of world peace, I decided to support and see-off
the Maulana at the Tejgaon airport. I had taken our car and
parked it at the airport, and went to the passenger's lounge.
Bhashani in his simple dress of lungi, kurta and tupi was
sitting in a sofa, looking serene and peaceful. Ilyas, senior
to me in the University was sitting next to him. He introduced
me to Bhashani. I had known Ilyas--a selfless leftist political
worker who was jailed a number of times for his activities.
He told me about the delegation's plan to visit several West
European countries after the Prague Conference. On return
from a long stay abroad with Bhashani, Ilyas wrote a book
called "Bhashani Jakhon Europe" about the discussions
on world issues and third world liberation that the Maulana
held at the highest levels of governments and the political
and intellectual world.
I was sitting in the lounge, a tall, burly Bengali gentleman
came, sat by my side and started a conversation by asking
me why I was there and where and why the Maulana was going.
He also wanted to know about the other members of the delegation.
Little did I know that he was in fact a Major in the Army
Intelligence! He had already noted our car registration number
etc. After about a week, the DIG of police of central intelligence
in Dhaka called my father, a government officer to his office.
The DIG mentioned that there was a report against him from
the army about involvement in opposition politics (East Pakistan
was then ruled directly by the central government under section
92 A) and that his car was used to see-off Bhashani, an opposition
politician at the airport. My father cleared up the confusion
by explaining my interest in politics and occasional use of
his car. Fortunately, the DIG was a relation of ours and he
settled the matter with the army authorities.
met Bhashani in London in early 1955. Tassaduq Ahmed, a leftist
political leader from Sylhet was hosting him and his entourage.
The Maulana was all covered up in woolens due to the severe
winter of London. He asked me the latest news of the country,
and in particular the price of rice and daal (lentil).
I somehow knew the prevailing price of rice but had no idea
about the price of daal. Bhashani was unhappy and
gave me a long sermon about not knowing 'your own country'
and stated that western education in the absence of strong
roots in own country was not very useful. He also told me
about abject rural poverty and lack of rural infrastructure
in East Pakistan and advised that the country's priorities
be in rapidly developing agriculture and rural life.
he had met many important people, amongst them philosopher
Bertrand Russel, editor of the famous weekly magazine New
Statesman and Nation's Kingsley Martin, and ex-minister and
fiery leftist labour leader Aneurin Bevan. Some of them came
to call on him in the modest townhouse in which he was staying.
Bhashani also spoke of his deep concern about ongoing liberation
struggle and unrest in Algeria, Libya and in many African
and Latin American countries and he hoped that the World Peace
movement would be able to bring about justice.
when I was the SDO (Sub-divisional Officer) Tangail, I made
it a point to visit Santosh where Bhashani generally resided,
and the venue of his famous Kagmari Conference. Unfortunately,
he was not there when I visited Santosh. In the subsequent
period, I followed his political actions and speeches, which
were always motivated by the desire to bring about improvement
in the life of the common man and the rights, economic and
political, of the people of East Pakistan. He remained a true
patriot throughout, and despite occasional anomalies in his
political stance, he remained a respected and revered national
leader until his death.
had seen Sheikh Mujibur Rahman a couple of times in public
occasions before I had the opportunity to be with him in person.
That opportunity came in 1956, when he came to London on his
way back to Pakistan after completing a month-long visit to
USA under leadership exchange program of the US Government.
He was then the general secretary of the Awami League. Zahiruddin
Ahmed, an Awami League leader had accompanied him. My friend
Ishtiaq had invited them for dinner in his small flat; I was
also invited. Ishtiaq and his wife Sufia were students in
London and I believe that Justice Ibrahim (Sufia's father),
then Vice- Chancellor of the Dhaka University had requested
Sheikh Mujib to look up his daughter. Sheikh Mujib spiritedly
spoke about Pakistan's political situation. He was extremely
unhappy about discrimination against East Pakistan, use of
major portion of the economic and foreign exchange resources
of the country in West Pakistan, and West Pakistan's near
monopoly of senior civil and military appointments.
about Awami League's activities in West Pakistan as a political
party so that it could exert more influence on national politics.
Mujib said he had hung an Awami League signboard in Lahore
through Nawabzada Nasrullah Khan but in reality, the party
had no existence there. When I asked him about his party's
position on self- determination for the Kashmiri people through
a free and fair plebiscite as required in a UN resolution,
he seemed very agitated. He dismissed the question by saying
that Pakistan had violated the Kashmiri people and their rights
in Azad Kashmir and if allowed to freely vote, they would
not vote for joining Pakistan. Remarkably, he also said that
we should not worry about the Kashmir question when in fact
we cannot be at all be sure how long East Pakistan itself
would remain a part of Pakistan. His statement remained vividly
in my mind because it was many years before he made the famous
six- point demand in Lahore, which was for an autonomous Bangladesh
within a federal Pakistan. It was clear that as early as 1956,
he was totally fed-up with the West Pakistani leadership and
had in his vision an eventual independent Bangladesh. The
whole of next day I, along with a friend took Sheikh Mujib
and Zahiruddin to visit various sites like the British Museum,
London School of Economics and the speakers' corner at the
Hyde Park. Later he generously entertained us at lunch at
a Sylheti restaurant on Tottenham Court Road and took our
pictures with a camera he was carrying himself.
in 1969 that I had another opportunity to meet with Sheikh
Mujib when he came to Pindi to attend the round-table conference
called by President Ayub Khan to solve the political crisis.
Sheikh Mujib had been released from imprisonment from Kurmitola
cantonment after the withdrawal of the Agartala conspiracy
case. I was then serving as a Deputy Secretary in the President's
secretariat. In my personal capacity and as a Bengalee, I
wented to receive him at the airport. Newspapermen and police
were there in plenty. The plane arrived, but there was no
sign of Mujib. From the back of the plane Mizanur Rahman Choudhury,
a senior Awami League leader (I knew him when I was SDO in
Chandpur) arrived and everyone ran towards him thinking that
he was Sheikh Mujib (there was some similarity in look and
build). Minutes later Mujib himself came down through the
front door and we all went to East Pakistan House where he
was to stay.
Mujib was in a victorious mood and soon came out to talk to
us in the veranda. Somebody tried to introduce me to him and
he generously said that he knew my uncle (Abdur Rab) very
well. Sheikh Mujib mentioned that on his way to Pindi he had
gone to the house in Lahore of Justice Anwarul Huq (who was
the presiding Judge in the Agartala conspiracy case) to express
regrets about the unceremonious way the judge had to leave
Dhaka due to unruly public demonstrations. We were proud of
this forgiving and courteous gesture on his part, which would
not have been possible for most people under the circumstances.
he went to meet people in the crowd after arriving at the
Lahore airport and someone inflicted a small knife wound on
his hand, which we saw. We became concerned about his safety
because of the charged political atmosphere and requested
him to be careful.
Sindhi and Baluchi leaders had come to see him and Sheikh
Mujib assured them that he would not only champion the cause
of East Pakistan, but simultaneously the cause of the people
of the smaller provinces of Pakistan. They were delighted.
were rife at the time that President Ayub would offer the
position of prime minister of Pakistan to Sheikh Mujib. He
told us jokingly that before leaving Dhaka, Begum Mujib had
told him that whatever happens he should not accept that position;
she did not wish to live in West Pakistan as her heart would
dry-up in its dry weather. She had advised that if Mujib did
accept a high position, it should only be in East Pakistan.
In fact, while in Brussels in March, 1971, I was told by a
high West Pakistani official that during the fateful political
negotiations of 1969, Tajuddin Ahmad's name was being mentioned
as the future prime minister.
Mujib enquired whether we wanted to join him in a car ride
to see Islamabad (which he said was made mostly with transferred
resources from East Pakistan), but then advised us not to
accompany him because like the three CSP officers who were
indicted in the Agartala conspiracy case, we might also be
in trouble. That he did not want to happen. Later I came to
know that in fact Mujib went to visit his friend Yusuf Haroon,
a senior Sindhi politician at the Falletis Hotel in Pindi.
Next day, when we visited East Pakistan House, the talks were
breaking down but Ayub Khan had agreed, with the consent of
Sheikh Mujib to remove the unpopular Governor Monem Khan and
appoint Dr. Nurul Huda, then finance minister in East Pakistan
as the Governor.
time I met Bangabandhu was in July 1973 as Bangladesh prime
minister, in his office at Gano Bhaban. I was then serving
in the World Bank in Washington and wished to continue there
under my contractual obligations to the Bank. The prime minister
held the Establishment Division and in any case, nothing could
happen those days in Bangladesh without the direct knowledge
and consent of Sheikh Mujib. Rafiqullah Choudhury CSP, secretary
to the prime minister arranged for my interview in a day's
occasions when I had to go to Gano Bhaban, the situation was
chaotic with all sorts of people hanging around in waiting
rooms and corridors, and demonstrators coming in regularly
to meet with Sheikh Mujib, either to greet him with loud slogans
and garlands and/or to raise various demands. He would stand
on the staircase and say a few words to the crowd below; this
seemed enough to satisfy them. There were many senior politicians
and government officials there also, all waiting (sometimes
with files in hand) to get a few minutes of the prime minister's
time and attention and to obtain his verbal instructions.
Sheikh Mujib, then in absolute power, was a changed man from
the man I had met in 1956 and 1969. It was obvious that he
was overburdened with the responsibilities of office and problems
then facing the country. He did find a few minutes for me
though, appreciated my situation and came to a quick decision.
He agreed to my continued stay in the Bank for a limited period
for which I was grateful.
Azizul Jalil, a former CSP and a retired member of the World
Bank staff, writes from Washington.
(R) thedailystar.net 2004