Tajuddin Ahmed: A rare patriot
Two reputed constitutional lawyers of Canada, while analysing the legalities of the possible separation of Quebec from Canada, observed: "After 1945, Bangladesh was the only country of the world that successfully seceded from Pakistani state through an armed struggle. However, the principal strength of that struggle came from the unparalleled election victory of Awami League, led by its charismatic leader Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. The popular support their leader enjoyed was unheard of in a Western democracy."
In the absence of Bangabandhu, four of his close associates carried the mantle of freedom and provided the leadership through the grueling nine months of torture, destruction, genocide and armed struggle against a well-equipped enemy. Foremost among them was Tajuddin Ahmed, the prime minister of the then government in exile in Mujibnagar.
Aside from Bangabandhu's inspirational name, two other factors played the defining role in the success of our liberation war in a very short period of nine months. They were Tajudddin's prudent leadership, and the indispensable Indian help that not only saved but glorified the defining moment of our history. One the one hand, Tajuddin was successfully able to quell the rebellion from party leaders who were bent on capturing the leadership of the provisional government, while on the other there was the CIA axis that was conspiring to jeopardise our struggle for freedom in the form of confederation within the Pakistani state. In the words of D.P. Dhar, the architect of Indian policy vis-à-vis our liberation war: "Only Tajuddin was mentally equipped to lead Awami League out of the situation like this (liberation struggle). That was his biggest strength. He displayed all the initiatives, while his rivals (within AL) failed to formulate what else to look for apart from Indian recognition, followed by military attacks."
Similar sentiments were echoed by P.N. Haskar, who was responsible for formulation Indian policy in the first five months of the conflict. In his words: "Tajuddin was found to be the only person who had right political ideas for the task Bangladesh had set before itself. The government of India also realised that Tajuddin was irreplaceable in the sense that things would have been even more chaotic if somebody else other than him took over. These two considerations decided the issue of continued Indian support to Tajuddin despite numerous representations from the opponents within Awami League."
Tajudddin Ahmed was the general secretary of AL, and for more than two decades was the closest confidant of Bangabandhu. Since the resurrection of AL in 1964, he was the principal architect of its policies and programmes. He was a reticent personality who preferred to work behind the scene without self-declaration. Tajuddin played the leading role in the overall planning and direction of the historic non-cooperation movement of 1971 that culminated in the declaration of independence by Bangabandhu in the early hours of March 26, 1971.
After Tajuddin crossed over to India on March 30, 1971, he found himself not only leading a political party but also leading a nation to freedom through an armed struggle. This was a very difficult challenge, considering the fact that AL was a democratic organisation, not a revolutionary one.
The Bengalis in uniform, who joined the liberation war, had no legal binding to obey the command of civilian commanders, who also had no legal recognition from anybody else but themselves. This made Tajuddin's task even more challenging. His relation with the Commander-in-Chief of Mukti Bahini, General Osmany, was not always very smooth. General Osmany was not a politician and on many occasions he failed to appreciate the political farsightedness and diplomatic articulation of Tajuddin, which was essential for the ultimate success of the liberation war.
Tajuddin's devotion to the cause of our national emancipation is legendary. He preached what he himself practiced. During those difficult days as the prime minister of a still-to-be free nation, he practiced extreme austerity himself to keep in resonance with the hardship the whole nation, and especially the freedom fighters, had to endure. Among the top leaders of the government in exile, he was the only one who kept his vow not to meet his family during the period of exile.
On November 23, 1971, before the all-out attack by Mukti Bahini, Tajuddin Ahmed delivered a defining speech to the nation through Swadhin Bangla Betar Kendra that had no rhetoric nor any uncertain promise, but the self-conviction of a leader to his suffering but determined people. In his address he reiterated: "In exchange of our tears and blood, we are fighting for our freedom. The day of that final destination is very much within our reach. But we have to sacrifice more lives; we have to suffer more. The denotation of independence is deeper and more meaningful. The essence of freedom is related to the price we pay for it during war and how we use it during the time of peace. As we eliminate our enemies in the battlefield, we have to pledge to build a society that befits the blood of our martyrs."
The dream that Tajuddin Ahmed dreamt during the most crucial crossroad of our history never crystallised into reality. As a humble "engineer" of our nation, Tajuddin became a forgotten man even when Bangabandhu was at the helm of the state. The conspirators were finally successful in creating a rift between the "architect" and the "engineer." The result was the multiple catastrophes that engulfed our nation.
During the nine months of bloody struggle for our existence, Tajuddin was the nucleus of almost everything. He performed his responsibilities with utmost devotion and unbounded honesty. But this modest human being never disclosed anything about his own role. As a result, the many untold stories of our liberation war will remain unknown forever. During the previous tenure of AL and in the last three years and six months of its current tenure, did we do enough to offer deserved recognition to the memory of our first prime minister, the man who showed our nation a rare breed of patriotism? I would have been happier to receive an affirmative answer to my scepticism.