• Saturday, November 29, 2014

Moshtaque's much ado about tupi

Shakhawat Liton

There was no agenda for the cabinet meeting on August 21, 1975. Yet newly appointed ministers turned up at the Bangabhaban on time. The meeting began with President Khandaker Moshtaque Ahmed in the chair.

Moshtaque, who had been installed in the presidency by the killers of Bangabandhu a week earlier, instantly set an agenda for the meeting.

"We have a national dress. But the dress is not complete. We do not have any headgear [cap]. If all of you do not mind…." Moshtaque said. There was a pause. He put his tupi on the table and said, “This headgear will be a part of the national dress if you approve it."

Moshtaque's proposal surprised some ministers. Yet nobody differed with him. Some of the ministers supported the proposal while the others remained silent. The proposal was passed … Moshtaque's headgear became part of the national dress code.

The cabinet meeting finally prescribed an official dress that would have as its features a closed neck, full-sleeved coat and trousers of inky colour suited to the occasion. The cabinet also decided that there would be a national headgear [tupi] which would be black in colour of a specified design.

Next day, state run newspapers published on the front-page photographs of Moshtaque's headgear, declaring it as the national cap, along with the cabinet's prescription about the national dress.

There was no other important discussion in that cabinet meeting even though the situation in the country was volatile and tense. Uncertainty reigned supreme following the brutal assassination of President Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and most of his family members and the overthrow of his government by some disgruntled army officers on August 15, 1975.

The cabinet led by Moshtaque, who was commerce minister in Bangabandhu's government and made president by the masterminds of the August 15 bloody changeover, found nothing unusual in the situation.

The Moshtaque cabinet earlier at an evaluation meeting on August 16 found the country's overall situation satisfactory. The state run and controlled media publicised the cabinet's evaluation.

In such a state of satisfaction, the cabinet on August 21 discussed Moshtaque's headgear. And then the meeting was over. 

The story went on.

A few days after the August 21 cabinet meeting, then Finance Minister AR Mallick received a file from the Bangabhaban. He went through the file and found a proposal that said black velvet cloth was imported from Malaysia or elsewhere. The national cap might be made with this cloth. 

The then secretary to the president had sent the file to the finance minister with a proposal to exempt tax on import of the cloth. For this, the finance minister's approval was required.

Mallick, however, disagreed with the proposal as the import was made without any tender. Besides, the price of the cloth was high. The finance minister sent back the file without giving his consent.

A few moments later, two people came to meet Mallick at his office. They informed the finance minister that they had imported the cloth on the orders of President Moshtaque. The president had ordered the import without any delay. They failed to convince the finance minister.

Within moments, his phone rang. Mallick picked up the phone and found the caller from the Bangabhaban. The caller asked the finance minister to exempt duty on the imported cloth.

"The President can exempt the duty. Being the finance minister, I will not do it. If the president thinks, he can make it free. He has got the right," the finance minister argued.

The conversation was over. The finance minister was no more communicated about the matter. He was not to know whether or not tax on the import of the cloth was exempted.

 

 [The report was prepared on the basis of the news reports on the cabinet meeting published in state-run newspapers on August 22, 1975, and the books "My Life's Story and Liberation Struggle of Bangladesh" by Dr AR Mallick and "Five Years in Bangabhaban by Mahbub Talukder.]

 

Published: 12:01 am Sunday, August 17, 2014

Last modified: 9:21 pm Sunday, August 17, 2014

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