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IN 1969, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman paid a visit to Karachi to explain the six-point program of Awami League to the people of West Pakistan and to organise his party. He was accompanied by a large delegation, including Tajuddin Ahmad.

An interesting incident took place during the visit. Pir Pagaro, who was a leader of a religion-based party, invited Bangabandhu and his team to his house for dinner one evening. On the same day Tajuddin Ahmad suddenly became sick. On learning that he would not go to the dinner I asked our cook to prepare alu bharta, pabda macher jhole and dal for him. When I told Tajuddin Ahmed about this menu, his face suddenly lit up, he immediately rushed to his colleagues and asked: "What do you want to eat tonight? If you want mutton biriyani, roast chicken and kebab, you can go to Pir Pagaro's house. If you prefer to eat alu bharta, padba macher jhole and dal, you better stay here. Now the choice is yours."

Some went and the others stayed back. Years later, Nurjahan Murshed explained that Tajuddin Ahmad was a firm believer in secular politics, and did not like to associate himself with any kind of religion-based politics. So, in order to avoid going to Pir Pagaro's house, he became "politically sick." Obviously he did not want to do anything against the dictates of his conscience.

My acquaintance with Tajuddin Ahmad dates back to my school days. Early in 1953, I stayed with my brother in Room N-12 of Fazlul Huq Hall of Dhaka University for about a month. Tajuddin Ahmad was one of his roommates. Tajuddin Ahmad lived a very simple but disciplined life. His usual dress was pyjama and shirt. He used to wash his clothes himself. (I came to know later that he used to wash his clothes before going to bed even when he was the prime minister of the Bangladesh government in exile.) He used to eat chira, gur and banana in the morning.

Tajuddin Ahmad was a meritorious student and regularly kept a diary. He was well-read and had deep knowledge about politics. He was a regular speaker at all students' meetings and they used to listen to him with full attention and great interest. He was also very popular among the people of his locality in Kapasia. They used to come to him for assistance. He always listened to them attentively and helped them as much as he could, often going out with them to different places.

After I got admitted to Armanitola Government High School in 1953, my brother and I moved to a house close to my school. My brother was then a student of law at the University of Dhaka. Tajuddin and other close friends of my brother were regular visitors to our house and often shared meals with us. He once complained to my brother: "I am not eating chops or cutlets at your house. I shall eat dal-bhat. Why do you serve dal-bhat on such flat plates? I would prefer to eat in soup bowls instead." We still have those dinner plates at our ancestral house, and remember his comments whenever we use them.

During the time of Ayub Khan, I once asked Tajuddin: "As a leader of the opposition party, why do you always criticise all the actions of the government? You should at least appreciate some of the good things which the government does." He replied: "When I am hungry, I want to eat rice. If someone offers me a mixture of rice and paddy, shall I have the time and patience to pick and eat the rice one by one leaving aside the paddy?" He later explained to me how military dictators deceived the public by doing a few "so-called good things" which only distracted the attention of the people from the main issues. According to him, all military dictators always served their own interests.

Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman being in jail in Pakistan, it was Tajddin Ahmad, the worthy deputy of Bangabandhu, who took the onus of leading the Bangladesh government in exile. As the prime minister, he earned the confidence of the people of Bangladesh and the trust of Indira Gandhi, then prime minister of India. He united and mobilised the liberation forces fighting against the Pakistani army and formed the armed wing of the government of Bangladesh, called the "Mukti Bahini," under a united command.

He was always calm while taking decisions but firm in his convictions. The credit for the victory in the war of independence in Bangladesh goes to a great extent to his foresight, able leadership and great organising capability. Unfortunately, his contributions to the independence of Bangladesh are yet to be evaluated properly.

After his return from Pakistani captivity on January 10, 1972, Bangabandhu took over as the prime minister of Bangladesh and made Tajuddin the minister of finance and planning. As a minister, he never liked to be dictated by the civil servants. Once I heard him telling a senior civil servant: "Please do not tell me what I should do. As a civil servant, your duty is to give me the options with their merits and demerits. Let me take the decision on my own."

It was a misfortune for the country that a misunderstanding between Bangabandhu and Tajuddin was created by a group of people. As a result, Tajuddin had to resign from the cabinet on October 26, 1974. It was unfortunate that Bangabandhu took the decision to remove Tajuddin, perhaps without verifying the allegations against him. He was hurt by Bangabadhu's decision but never expressed any displeasure against him. In fact, he continued to support Bangabadhu even after that. The history of Bangladesh would have been different today if Bangabandhu had continued to depend on Tajuddin, once his most trusted deputy, for his advice during that difficult period.

It was perhaps the darkest chapter in our history when Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, to whom we owe so much for the independence of Bangladesh, was brutally killed with other members of his family on August 15, 1975. Tajuddin was also killed, together with three other national leaders, Syed Nazrul Islam, M. Mansur Ali and M. Quamruzzaman, inside the Dhaka Central Jail on November 3 of the same year.

Some disgruntled army officers were involved in both the gruesome killings. We are ashamed as a nation that we failed to protect our national leaders who made so many sacrifices for the independence of Bangladesh. The soil of Bangladesh, once soaked with the sacred blood of three million martyrs, thus continued to soak more blood, this time of the leaders who freed this soil from the clutches of Pakistani occupation. It is unfortunate that thirty-four years passed since the killings but the perpetrators are yet to be punished and the real motives of the killings are still unknown.

Dr. Abdul Matin is a former chief engineer of Bangladesh Atomic Energy Commission.
The article is based on his recently published book A Passage to Freedom.

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In fact Tajuddin Ahmad is one of the brightest politician in the country. After the liberation of the country, I had a chance to interact with Tajuddin in Narayanganj when he was the minister of finance and planning. We were discussing about some labour problems in Narayanganj and he was so sharp to resolve those problems. I think if there is any failure of Bangabandhu this is to allow Tajuddin to leave him. This is our unfortunate we could not protect them who gave us the freedom. Should we learn something from the history?

: Sailendra Saha

Great leaders lead a nation to greatness and that never happened in Bangladesh. Thus, let us ask if we ever had even a good leader. All these big talks about our leaders mean nothing when we consider the outcome of their leadership.

: T- Husain





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