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     Volume 4 Issue 21 | November 12, 2004 |

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Photo Feature

Eid Shopping Frenzy


As the long awaited Eid approaches, life after iftar takes on a flamboyant hue. Malls shine with glittering lights and shops are ablaze with colourful clothes to attract the frenzied shoppers. It is a time to pack into whatever mode of transport you can get hold of and hit the streets to take part in the customary crazy shopping spree of the season.
Zahedul I. Khan






"Prosno jakhon korechen, inshallah uttar ekta pabeni"- thus spoke Tajuddin Ahmad, who as the prime minister of the Mujibnagar government was instrumental in making Bangladesh a reality, and then served as its finance minister. And so our conversation ended during the last meeting in Washington in September 1974. Tajuddin Ahmad was an oasis of calm and restraint; he was gentle and had unfailing courtesy for all. He also had a natural disdain for exaggeration and emotional outbursts. Tajuddin was a few years senior to me. However, I interacted with him a number of times during my Dhaka University days between 1950- 54. .

In 1957, one evening a friend of mine took me to Tajuddin's house, situated in a narrow lane opposite the Dhaka district court. I had just returned from England and had not decided about my future career or profession. Shamsul Huq (Student's League leader, later Awami League MP), whom I knew during my University days, was sitting there; he did most of the talking. Tajuddin, a wise man, was reticent; he showed little interest in my possible political involvement. Perhaps he did not believe in lateral entry into politics and wanted everyone to come up through the ranks by active participation in political work. The matter ended there and I joined the civil service next year.

I next met him during the round table conference called by President Ayub Khan in Rawalpindi in March 1969 (immediately after the withdrawal of the Agartala Conspiracy case) to resolve the country's political crisis. He was then the general secretary of the Awami League and had accompanied Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman as his right hand man and political confidant. In the afternoon of the first day of the conference, two Bangali colleagues in the Government of Pakistan came to my house and proposed that we go together to provide strategic advice to the East Pakistan delegation members residing in the East Pakistan House. I had no problem going with them (in fact I had, on my own, gone there the day before to greet the delegation including Sheikh Mujib to give moral support), but to offer unsolicited advice to seasoned politicians appeared audacious to me! I went along, though not without some reservations. It was true that in our official positions, we had access to valuable information and an inkling of the West Pakistani civil-military elites' attitudes. However, the Pakistani political impasse was a high policy matter and required to be resolved at the politicians/statesmen level without interjection by the civil servants.

Tajuddin Ahmad was in his room; the serious and dignified man that he was, he did not move around in the verandas chatting with people. We found him in a contemplative mood reading some documents. He listened to my senior colleagues about the purpose of our visit and the offer of assistance. Tajuddin's response was deliberate and brief; he was statesman-like. There was no lack of courtesy. He thanked us for our genuine interest in national affairs but said that our active involvement at that stage was not good for us as civil servants. In the coming days, with Bangalis getting a greater share of running of the Pakistan government, the East Pakistan leadership would definitely need the services of people like us. We should maintain confidence in the politicians to arrive at a settlement beneficial to East Pakistan. It was the on-going political movement that gave strength to East Pakistan's negotiating position at the talks and not internal manipulations. Should he need any assistance from the civil servants, he would himself look for it. After that, we met Khandakar Mushtaq Ahmad, another senior Awami league leader in the veranda of the East Pakistan House. His reaction was similar to Tajuddin's, except that it was more direct. He firmly told us not to worry, as the matters in hand were political; we should let the politicians do their job. In the end, as there was no accommodation to East Pakistan's reasonable demands at the conference, the talks broke down. Martial Law was imposed in the latter part of March 1969 and General Yahya Khan took over power from President Ayub Khan. General elections for a new parliament was later called to form a national government and to draw up a new constitution. The rest is history.

In August 1972, Tajuddin Ahmad came with a delegation to Washington for the first time as the Bangladesh finance minister to attend the World Bank and IMF Annual Meetings. They were staying at the Sheraton Hotel. As a World Bank staff, I was there many times for my own work. I had invited some members of the delegation and a few World Bank staff members working on Bangladesh to a dinner at my house. Based on my slight acquaintance with him, I thought I should also invite the Finance minister. When I met him in his hotel room, his private secretary tried to introduce me. Tajuddin graciously said that he knew me and introduction was unnecessary. When I invited him, he pointed out very politely that his programme, as is appropriate for a man in his position, had already been drawn up by the Bangladesh embassy and unfortunately, he could not go beyond the set arrangements. He had come primarily to meet as many people from other countries important to Bangladesh's interest as possible. He told me that I was his fellow country man ("nijer lok") and surely would not mind his inability, because it was more important that he used all the available time to meet others. He spoke in such a sincere manner that I came away without any sense of grievance.

In early 1974, Tajuddin Ahmad came to Washington to participate in the Development Committee meeting of which he was an alternate member. I met him at a reception given by the Bangladesh Ambassador. Tajuddin spoke to me warmly and offered condolences at the death of my uncle (Abdur Rab, Chairman of the first Bangladesh Pay Commission).

In September 1974, Tajuddin Ahmad had come again to Washington for the Bank-Fund Annual Meetings. Bangladesh's relationship at that time with the Bank was not too cordial; Tajuddin and the then Planning Commission often took strong positions concerning Bank's many recommendations and conditions for assistance. On that occasion, I met him informally for some time at a friend's house. I raised a number of issues related to the situation then prevailing in Bangladesh. He listened to my concerns with interest. I had asked him about the unsatisfactory governance in Bangladesh, corruption, poor law and order situation and the reasons for the people's feeling of betrayal by the leadership so soon after the independence of the country. I also mentioned the chronic shortages and high prices of food, clothing and other essentials affecting the common people.

The finance minister was humble and sorrowful. It appeared that he had many things to say but his lips were sealed. In discussing the issues, he was too decent and disciplined to mention even once the name of Sheikh Mujib or attribute any blame to his leadership. He frankly admitted that most of the issues raised by me were real and it was necessary to resolve them. He said the people were not motivated enough, there was lack of dedication to the country's interests, and honesty and hard work were absent. I asked him what the real constraint was, did the government need more powers? With a sigh he answered, "With such overwhelming victory in the 1973 elections and the parliament dominated by the Awami League, what more powers could be given by the public to the present leadership of the country? That was obviously not the problem".

I then enquired whether it would perhaps be good to have a one-man rule with dictatorial powers for some time to put the country back on track. He gave an enigmatic smile and said it would not help as actually some such powers were already being exercised, but without much benefit to the country. On imposing martial law to govern the country, Tajuddin answered "Na, seta kakhono sunder hoi na (that never turns out nice)". A lifelong believer in parliamentary and participatory democracy, Tajuddin was of the view that martial law was never a solution as it was not accountable to the people.

At that point, he would rather close our discussion. He was obviously not in a position to open up his mind and give his true feelings on the subject, as he was an important minister in Sheikh Mujib's cabinet and because he already had many staunch enemies in his party. He found an instant diversion by offering me grapes from a bowl lying by his side. He then said, as if consoling me as much as he consoled himself "Since you have raised the question, inshallah you will surely get an answer". Even today, his last words remain vividly in my memory.

Since then, I have often wondered about what he really meant. He was obviously frustrated by the turn of events in free Bangladesh. His own position had become weaker by the year -- he was isolated, lonely and getting further from the centre and source of power, which was undoubtedly Sheikh Mujib. He could have been dissatisfied with the overall policy and direction of the country and perhaps had already given up any hope of a constructive solution within the framework of his party. Did he intend to start a new party or split from the main Awami League and form an Awami League (Tajuddin) or with another name? What did he hint at, what would he do? It is still is a mystery to me.

On return to Dhaka from that trip, Tajuddin made public statements at the airport regarding the Bank-Fund policies and his disagreements. Soon after, he was called by Sheikh Mujib and reportedly asked to resign from the cabinet (according to some people, he would have been fired otherwise). I suspect that may not have been the entire or the real reason for Tajuddin's departure! He continued to remain a member of the Awami League and the Parliament. Tajuddin Ahmad was, however, inactive and retained no influence in the government or the party until his tragic assassination in November 1975 inside the Dhaka Central Jail.

The author, a former CSP officer and a retired member of the World Bank Staff, writes from Washington.




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