The long road one politician has travelled | The Daily Star
11:00 PM, September 25, 2009 / LAST MODIFIED: 11:00 PM, September 25, 2009

The long road one politician has travelled

Syed Badrul Ahsan finds a new work pretty intriguing


Rare is the politician who has been part of nearly every government in Bangladesh. And in this rarity Moudud Ahmed certainly holds prominent space. His career took off in the late 1960s, when as a young lawyer just back from London, he found himself drawn to the Agartala Conspiracy Case as part of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman's defence team. In subsequent years, at least for a while, he remained close to the man who would make history as Bangabandhu and come to be revered as the father of Bangladesh. But Moudud Ahmed was never part of the Awami League government and indeed soon discovered, to his dismay, that the very principles of democracy and human liberty he had been waging battle for were being put at risk by the very politicians who had led Bengalis to freedom from Pakistan in 1971. Mujib was irate at discovering that Moudud had come to the legal defence of leftwing political elements who, in the former's view, were subversives intent on undermining the state.
And then came the state of emergency in December 1974. Within hours, Moudud had been arrested and whisked off to prison. As he narrates the story, the move by the government left even some leading figures of the government (and among them were Mansur Ali and Kamal Hossain) surprised. It soon transpired, though, that it was Bangabandhu himself who had ordered Moudud's arrest. That effectively was the end of Moudud's association with the Awami League government. He had never been a member of the Awami League, but his political inclinations, beginning with his days as a young Bengali studying for the Bar in London in the 1960s, had approximated the Awami League's belief in secular democracy. In London, Moudud was part of a group clandestinely involved in giving shape to an intellectual movement directed at securing East Pakistan's freedom from the rest of the country Mohammad Ali Jinnah had forged in the 1940s. It was a tentative affair; and on return home, Moudud Ahmed plunged into organizing a viable defence for an incarcerated Mujib. It was not an easy job in the initial stages. Begum Fazilatunnessa Mujib, wary of Moudud and everyone else who offered to help, needed to be convinced that there were indeed friends of her husband's ready to stand up for him. Begum Mujib had every reason to be cautious, for at that point in time Mujib's friends and relatives had as good as shunned the family because of fear of Pakistan's intelligence agencies.
Moudud Ahmed's portrayal of how legal defence for the accused in the Agartala case was organized makes instructive reading. He retells the story of how Thomas Williams QC was persuaded to join the team, an act that swiftly led to a good number of Bengali lawyers, till then loth to come to Sheikh Mujibur Rahman's defence, eventually and eagerly putting up the case for the Awami League leader. The rest of the story is today an established historical reality. Moudud Ahmed was part of the team which accompanied Bangabandhu to the round table conference in Rawalpindi on 24 February 1969 and from that vantage point had occasion to observe incidents and events not many are aware of even today. General Yahya Khan's attempt, even as he prepared to take over from an increasingly dissipating Ayub Khan, to strike a deal with Mujib is one of the many snippets Moudud throws up in this work.
Choloman Itihash goes beyond the period it chooses to confine itself in, namely, 1983-1990. The writer travels back to his childhood, recalls his family's days in Calcutta and especially during the riots of 1946. As an adult, he renders poignant the tragedy his and his wife Hasna live through as their sons go through illness, with one of them eventually succumbing to it. The father in Moudud Ahmed comes alive. For the reader, it is vicarious torment which comes with a telling of the tale. And then there is politics, and after that more politics. Moudud Ahmed's foray into 'Bangladeshi nationalism' through association with the country's first military ruler is quite frankly an insight into the many devious methods dictators employ in their bid to claim the political high ground. Moudud praises Zia and then makes it clear the general left him, eventually, feeling hurt. As deputy prime minister in the Zia regime, Moudud wages constant turf wars with the likes of Shah Azizur Rahman, the titular prime minister. It is always, or seemingly, Shah Aziz who has the dictator's ears. A time soon arrives when Zia shows Moudud the door. Amazingly, only the previous night, Zia and his wife had been having dinner with Moudud and Hasna!
Moudud Ahmed devotes a considerable span of his book on the evils that accrue from military rule. He castigates the legacy as it has developed in Pakistan. He speaks of the times when he was led, blindfolded, by military intelligence into the cantonment and quizzed on allegations of corruption against him. And this happens under the Ershad dispensation, only months before Moudud was to link up with him through ditching Begum Zia and the Bangladesh Nationalist Party she led following the fall of the elected presidency of Justice Abdus Sattar. The writer is unsparing in his criticism of General Ershad and yet somehow does not convince readers of the rationale behind his turn toward the very man whose goons have put him through physical as well as psychological suffering.
These are the stories, one after the other, as they define an intriguing political character in Bangladesh's history. Moudud Ahmed veered away from secular politics during the final phase of Bangabandhu's administration and then clearly went for a reinvention of himself as a rightist following the regressive happenings of 7 November 1975. And then his disenchantment with Zia grew. Justice Sattar did not impress him after May 1981, but he did look forward to Begum Zia's coming into politics. She was then ditched for Ershad. And then he came back to her fold.
If ever there was a book arousing readers' curiosity in the life and times of the writer, this is it. You may not agree with Moudud Ahmed at all, but you cannot resist reading him.

Syed Badrul Ahsan is Editor, Current Affairs, The Daily Star .

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