Anisuzzaman’s uncompromising, moral leadership | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, May 17, 2020 / LAST MODIFIED: 02:27 AM, May 17, 2020

Anisuzzaman’s uncompromising, moral leadership

It was a privilege for me to work with professor Anisuzzaman in the drafting of the Constitution. I had the extraordinary good fortune of knowing him for more than 50 years, since our school days in St Gregory's School, Dhaka. Since then we have travelled side by side towards the independence of the country and in the struggles for democracy. 

I recall the respect he enjoyed amongst his students as an outstanding teacher.  But more so we valued his voice of conscience. He had been active in all pro-people's movements. During the Liberation War he was invited to join the Planning Commission set up by the Mujibnagar Government. Professor Razzaq, whom we all respected as the guru of all gurus, had a special respect for him. He regarded him as a model of a good teacher and indeed a good person.

A high priority task, following liberation, was to draft a constitution for Bangladesh. Anis readily responded to my request to assist in drafting the Constitution in Bangla. He agreed and took leave from his post in Chittagong University so he could give his full time towards this major task. 

Anis' creative role in drafting the Bangla text of the Constitution is inadequately reflected in referring to him as a translator. He was, in effect, a co-drafter of the Constitution. He used to attend the meetings of the Constitution Committee and joined in the debates. After each meeting we would come home together and work till late at night deciphering the summaries of the day's discussion. It would be a disservice, therefore, to see him only as a translator.

On the contrary, he was able to contribute to the debates and his views were valued by the members of the Drafting Committee. As an active participant in the freedom movement he could articulate the aspirations of the movement for independence and thus formulate the basic principles of the Constitution. Anis was able to inscribe the values which inspired the people to dedicate themselves in our national liberation struggle into the Constitution because he too was an active part of the movement for independence.

His interest in constitutional developments remained over the years. I remember that in 2016 he was persuaded to deliver the annual lecture on the Constitution.  He drew upon his prodigious memory to give a detailed account of the debates  in the Constituent Assembly. His lecture gives us an excellent account of the contribution of different drafting committee members. It was he who can be credited as proposing, then, the idea of an election period interim caretaker government, in order to ensure a fair and free election. 

He had a special gift of writing which enabled him to make the most complex of issues understandable to many. He could express critical views without giving offence by putting forward persuasive arguments that convinced those who might once have been offended. And once convinced they would take corrective action. Whenever we needed to put forward proposals for reform, we could count on him to formulate these in a language that was convincing. 

He was no ordinary scholar. His scholarship was reflected in the large number of his publications on literary criticism. He had served as a Commonwealth Staff Fellow in the University of London School of Oriental and African Studies (1974-75) and a visiting Fellow of Paris University and the North Carolina University. 

But beyond his scholarly contribution we must acknowledge his prominent role in major popular movements, particularly his involvement in the Language Movement, the 1969 students' movement and the Non-Cooperation Movement of 1971. Anis' role was central in putting together all the ideas that emerged during our discussions in a simple and more persuasive language. We could, through discussions, formulate proposals for reform which everybody would find acceptable.

Anisuzzaman was among the young academics in Dhaka University who opposed communal and rightist politics. They worked together to discuss the need for radical changes in society. In effect, he assumed intellectual leadership amongst these academics which led to his participation in the popular movement. It was because of his own involvement and beliefs that he was able to make a creative contribution in the discussions towards the formulation of the basic principles of the Constitution. 

In the vibrant environment of the university in the sixties, issues of economic disparity and political democracy involved teachers and students to support people's rights, democratic participation and equal opportunities and economic justice. As the political movement for democracy and regional autonomy gained strength, university teachers became more active in the exchange of ideas for a social and political transformation. Among the academics led by professor Razzaq, those who were motivated to struggle for a just cause and indeed had been in the vanguard of the language movement now rallied for people's rights to freedom and justice. Professor Anisuzzaman was indeed actively engaged in this struggle for democracy and social justice.

Even after independence he continued to guide us in our struggles towards democracy, secularism and human rights. His loss is personal for many of us, but the nation has lost a true democrat. He will be remembered for his moral leadership reflected in his uncompromising commitment to these values.


Dr Kamal Hossain is a lawyer in the Supreme Court of Bangladesh. As Minister of Law and Parliamentary Affairs he was appointed Chairman of the Constitution Drafting Committee.

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