S.M. Murshed, judge and politician
BACK in 1968, Field Marshal Mohammad Ayub Khan was in terrific form. He celebrated the tenth year of his seizure of power through a frenzy of exhibition as well as exhibitionism. In what used to be East Pakistan, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was already in deep trouble, or so the president's people thought, with the Agartala Case looming large over his future. The future, as Ayub saw it, was safe. Maybe even assured.
It was misjudgment of the most terrible kind. So when retired Air Marshal Asghar Khan announced that he was coming into politics, the media reduced the event to a little item in the negligible portions of newspapers. The same was resorted to when Justice S.M. Murshed took the surprising but courageous step of telling the country that he too was there to participate in the country's politics. And, obviously, the fundamental reason behind the entry of the air marshal and the judge was to give the opposition a shot in the arm. It rocked the boat in which the field marshal and his complacent loyalists had so long been cruising.
The one point that will for long remain pinned to the Bengali consciousness is the role S.M. Murshed performed without ambivalence in the centenary celebrations of Tagore's birth in 1961. That was perhaps Murshed's defining moment; and he never looked back after that. And that is why it was with little regret or agonising that he walked away from the judiciary in the latter part of the sixties. His coming into politics in 1968 was, therefore, little that could really surprise those who knew him.
Consider the times in which Justice Murshed took the plunge into politics. The trial of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in what the government was putting across as a case of conspiracy to have the eastern wing secede from the rest of Pakistan had only exacerbated sentiments among the Bengalis. To be sure, Maulana Bhashani was there, ever ready to take up the cudgel on behalf of the people. But his politics, so long agitational, only promised to be even more so in the days to come.
In contrast, Murshed was offering a condition in which Bengali politics, and by extension, overall Pakistani politics, would attain the opportunity of intellectualising itself through democratic reasoning. But Murshed did not delude himself. His goal was not to officiate as the Bengali spokesman or even as a Pakistani spokesman in the absence of their recognised leaders. Neither was he willing to place himself in a situation where he or anyone else would take his entry into the political arena as indispensable.
It was not for Murshed to consider the issue of power, of wielding it or sharing it with anyone. His job was to keep politics responsive enough to the people to keep itself going. It was also what Ashgar Khan was trying to do in West Pakistan. But the difference between the two men was that Khan, because of his long association with the regime and that too with the military part of it, was a novice when it came to operating with political elements.
Murshed was the quintessential scholar, the man who measured men and matters in terms of everything that came in association with the modern. He observed issues from a decidedly judicial or legal point of view. And he looked at the social picture through the prism of morality. It was his understanding that Pakistan as it stood in the winter of 1968 was quite incapable of carrying itself forth with dignity or credibility unless it was willing to bore deep into its soul. The Six Points of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman were on the table. The Points, Murshed knew, were not the last word. But they were certainly the premise from which a new beginning had to be made.
The stock of Justice Murshed rose, as thoughts of a departure by Ayub Khan began seizing the popular imagination. It was said in varied circles, including official ones, that Murshed would be the man to preside over the transition to a new state of politics in Pakistan. It is interesting to imagine the state of the country as it would have shaped up under an administration led by a President Murshed.
Fate, and the machinations of duplicitous men in the barracks, made sure that history would run away from Murshed and then crush the country under its weight, just two years into the future. The magnificence of S.M. Murshed, however, has stayed undiminished across the years. He remains the focus of morality in these troubled times. That is the tribute on a grand scale.
Today is the 30th anniversary of the death of Justice Syed Mahbub Murshed.