After Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman it is perhaps Tajuddin Ahmad, his closest aide, who can be termed my favourite Bangladeshi politician. He entered my highly romantic and imaginative heart in 1971. I was then a school-boy in his mid-teens. I was yet to know that we belonged to the same school. His intelligent and thoughtful role all through March 1971 turned him into my favourite hero. I was well-informed and curious and I didn't fail to recognize the merit of the hard-working, supremely patriotic general secretary of Bangladesh Awami League. His tragic death and the discovery of his so many rare qualities later on permanently turned him into my favourite politician, my favourite tragic hero. I wasn't a very distant relative of Syed Nazrul Islam, another of our highly respected liberation war stalwarts. Both my parents were cousins of his wife. He was our family favourite - an idealist, an honest and upright politician. But Tajuddin Ahmad inexplicably became my hero. Years later I learned that he was immensely liked by Syed Nazrul Islam too. During the turbulent days of 1971 Tajuddin Ahmad, like all great men in history, had a few enemies. But Syed Nazrul Islam, the acting President, stood beside him like a rock and gave his Prime Minister full support in all his pro-people deeds. Islam's vision, wisdom and sincerity allowed the workaholic Tajuddin Ahmad to function freely. Together they shaped our destiny in 1971 in the temporary absence of their great leader.
I feel like describing a significant 1971 incident. It was in late December. We had resumed going to school after nine months. It was a late winter afternoon. We gathered in our playground after our classes and were listening to Brother Charles, our friendly chemistry teacher. One of our friends commented sarcastically, 'Look at the leaders of independent Bangladesh! Look at their names. An unimpressive bunch definitely.' Bangabandhu was still in jail then. We felt that our friend was echoing the words of his parents but we weren't aware then that they were Muslim Leaguers. We kept quiet, although we were hurt. But Brother Charles instantly protested, 'Young man, be careful while passing sweeping remarks. Your Prime Minister was a first boy of the class of your own school. He was the best student of Dhaka University's Economics department too. How shameful that you are not aware of these facts!'
Brother Charles made me as happy as a king. The incident is significant because our countrymen were till then used to Khan Bahadurs and Roy Bahadurs who licked the boots of military dictators. These leaders were neither idealists nor pro-people but were elites of society. Muslim Leaguers were rich and aspired to be richer, owning tea gardens or thousands of bighas of land. Tajuddin Ahmad was scholarly and idealistic. He was not the son of a Nawab, was he?
How could he be a great leader? Or, for that matter, how could Bangabandhu be a great leader? He was neither a Field Marshal nor a Nawab! He was neither Oxford educated nor did he wear Paris-tailored suits. His people loved him to a fault all right.
Tajuddin Ahmad was one of the noblest leaders to be born in this part of the world. He remains a great tragic character in Bangladesh's politics. Millions of Bengalis like me know him and admire this martyred leader from the core of their hearts. Unfortunately, the country went through dictatorial rule for a long period of time. Our youngsters were then not encouraged to think about such things as our liberation war and their heroes. No wonder a lot more people know about General Zia or General Ershad than about Tajuddin Ahmad. This is another cruel joke of history. However, it was only natural that history would thrust upon the capable shoulders of Tajuddin Ahmad the onerous task of leading our people during our war of independence in the absence of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. Tajuddin Ahmad was totally successful and brought us freedom. He neither failed his leader nor his people.
Our great War of Liberation in 1971! Bangabandhu had to fight democratically for twenty four long years to bring the nation to its threshold. Nothing sadder and happier, nothing greater in significance has ever happened to our land and our people. We must gratefully preserve our 1971 memories, honour our millions of martyrs and our valiant freedom fighters and evaluate the great leaders of the war. Tajuddin Ahmad had a pivotal role to play during our greatest crisis. He was the great patriot who loved his country and its poor, suffering millions. The enlightened people of Bangladesh will never forget him and his exemplary honesty, dedication, hard work, erudition and sincerity.
Today is July 23, Tajuddin Ahmed's 90th birth anniversary. He was born five days and seven years after Nelson Mandela. Both Rabindranath Tagore and Kazi Nazrul Islam were born in May. I find the fact significant. Similarly significant to me is the fact that Mandela and Tajuddin were born in July. The two great men had so many qualities in common. Wisdom, love for their people, sacrifice and suffering. Great commitment to their motherland. Strong beliefs, logical mind and respect for the opinion of others. They don't make men like them these days!
Tajuddin Ahmad's forefathers migrated from Gaffargaon in Mymensingh to Kapasia in Dhaka. He was born in Dardaria of middle class parents. After changing a few schools he landed at St. Gregory's High School, from where he stood 12th in the Dhaka Board in the SSC exams. He became fourth in the HSC exams. He was a scout and was in politics as a student. He became a Jukta Front MLA in 1954 even before passing his MA. He defeated a very senior Muslim League leader by a huge margin. He was in jail when he got his Bachelor of Law degree. The 1943 famine shook him to his roots and turned him into a devoted social worker. He was always with the sufferers. He belonged to the progressive section of the Muslim League in his early youth. Later he was one of the founders of the Chhatra League. He actively participated in the Language Movement. He was one of the founding members of the Awami League on June 23, 1949. At 28, he was the general secretary of Dhaka District Awami League. At 30 he was the party's cultural and social welfare secretary. He was the joint secretary in 1964. He was in the forefront in the turbulent 1960s - leading the democratic movement, going to jail and helping his party to sweep the 1970 elections. In 1971, he led the nation with great wisdom and selflessness. He was a sad and misunderstood man later in independent Bangladesh and had to live a retired life for a few months till his tragic martyrdom in Dhaka Central Jail on November 3, 1975. What a reward for the man synonymous with the birth of Bangladesh! What a reward for one of our greatest patriots! Born seven years after Mandela and dead at only fifty! As a young literary man I watched my heart bleed silently and profusely for Bangabandhu and his close aides. No true Bangalee could forgive their tragic deaths.
Tajuddin Ahmad had all the qualities of a perfect politician. Loving our people was his religion. He was sober, thoughtful and courageous. He was very learned, very amiable and simple. His patriotism and his superior administrative skills were incomparable. He was honest and just, never encouraged sycophants and never betrayed his country or people. He was not fond of the World Bank but its then chief Robert McNamara considered him a brilliant Finance Minister. He was a great optimist and would gain strength by reading books during a crisis. He had a great analytical mind which impressed Prof. Nurul Islam, the gifted economist who worked with him. He was very patient and very tolerant. He was self-effacing and modest. His forgiving nature and his fairness of mind impressed everyone.
As a humble literary man I always dreamt of an independent Bangladesh where both Bangabandhu and his loyal associate Tajuddin Ahmed lived long like Nelson Mandela and served their Sonar Bangla and her people. Just imagine what difference that would have made. Instead, on his 90th birthday, I am silently sad and shedding a tear or two for my boyhood hero, my favourite tragic hero. Tajuddin Ahmad is dead. May he live long in our hearts!
Junaidul Haque writes fiction and columns. He has published four volumes of short stories and two volumes of columns