In the later years of his life he would slowly walk with the aid of his walking stick from one table to another in his restaurant every evening and personally enquire of his clientele about the quality of food and service. Asked why he was taking the effort of limping from one table to the next, he would say, “service before self”. This was Mirza A Samad, born in an illustrious family in Jalpaiguri in 1927.
He was one of the most self-effacing persons to walk in the political corridors of the country. Yet he was one of the most determined soldiers in the difficult terrain that the East Pakistan Communist Party would have to traverse in those dark days of early Pakistan, where the government derided any communist as an atheist, and not welcome in the pure Islamic land of Pakistan. His affiliations with the Communist Party began in his early years, and as a leader of the Students' Federation he soon began to be noticed in the party circles. He was one of the youngest members to have obtained a party ticket, while still in his twenties. He would proudly say the he got the party ticket at around the same time as the illustrious Jyoti Basu.
He moved from India to East Pakistan after 1947 with the party's blessings and was inducted into the party high office. He chose to stay away from the brightly illuminated rostrum and work quietly submerging himself in motivational activities. This is how he was instrumental in sowing the seeds of self-determination and secularism in the minds of the Bengali people, almost from the moment the country came into existence. He played a decisive role in guiding the Language Movement of 1952 and pushed forward, wave after wave of cultural activism that shook the very foundations of the religious state, in the wake of the Language Movement. He married Laila Samad, the eminent writer and journalist of her time during this period.
In 1954, the Communist Party, although not officially banned, was operating virtually clandestinely because of police repression. As a high official of the East Pakistan Provincial Communist Party, Mirza Samad played a dramatic role in shaping the political course of this country. The C.P. helped forge a coalition of Awami Muslim League, Khelafat Party, underground Communist Party and other smaller parties, into what would later be known as the Jukto-Front, an electoral alliance that would shake the very foundations of this still-born state. Although A.K. Fazlul Haque was not initially in favour of joining this coalition, Mr. Samad led a gherao of Mr. Fazlul Haque's residence at K M Das Lane and ultimately persuaded him to join the electoral coalition against the Muslim League. Mr. F Huq had insisted on taking on board the Nejame Islam Party as well. However, the Nejame Islamists insisted on excluding a “godless” party like the Communist Party from the coalition. The Communist Party yielded, in order to make this coalition a reality and the Awami Muslim League (it had not yet shed its Muslim name) agreed to withdraw four of their candidates and let the communists contest in these seats.
The result was a resounding victory for the Jukto-Front against the E P Muslim League in 1954. It was actually Mr. Samad's decision to gherao Mr. Fazlul Huq and his negotiating skills that enabled the forging of this coalition, which permanently broke the back of the Muslim League in East Pakistan and laid the philosophical base for the ultimate separation of the country. Without being disrespectful, Mr Fazlul Huq, in seeking a greater role for his party had vacillated a bit, but his later predominance in East Pakistani politics can be attributed in a way to this gherao, engineered by Mr. Samad.
After the Jukto-Front victory, the Communist Party workers were still hounded, albeit in a softer manner. As one of its most dedicated and active workers, Mr. Samad was able to set the party on a course that could have taken the leftist movement very far. But this was Pakistan, and after the Ayubian Coup of 1958, repression of the party was intensified with renewed vigour. In a way, he also chose to take a back-seat in the party because of the apprehension that the careers of his relations, many of whom were highly placed in the government, may suffer. By that time however, the rights of the Bengali nation were being articulated by millions of voices and both Ayub and Yahya Khan got swept away by the tide for the rights to democracy and secularism that the Bengali nation was seeking under the able leadership of the young Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and Bangladesh was created.
Mr. Samad briefly took control of the NAP after the Liberation, but after a road accident he began to feel that age was gnawing away at his spirits and decided to make way for younger people to lead the party. He was still very much the silent worker that he always had been and after the brutal killing of Bangabandhu in 1975, many meetings of the left parties were held in his home to determine the party's course of action.
This was Mirza Abdus Samad – a silent self-effacing worker--like a true communist, who left us unsung last Thursday morning.
The writer is an activist, a trustee of the Liberation War Museum and a member of Bangladesh Mukti Sangrami Shilpi Shangstha.