“Leadership during the war reflected yearning of the people”: Tajuddin Ahmad

Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman
Tajuddin Ahmad, right, with Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and Syed Nazrul Islam. COURTESY: SIMEEN HUSSAIN RIMI

This is an interview of Tajuddin Ahmad, the first prime minister of Bangladesh, published in the Dainik Bangla newspaper on December 13, 1972. It was written in a reporting format.

"In the present condition, it is the historical duty of all the patriotic political parties to lead the country in the right direction to achieve our desired goal."

On the eve of the first anniversary of independence, the then prime minister of People's Republic of Bangladesh, Tajuddin Ahmad, said this in a special interview session with journalists on Tuesday (December 12, 1972). Against the background of the liberation struggle, he answered different queries by journalists.

"We have to seek support from socialist countries to establish socialism," he said. "A truly socialist state could not be established with the help of imperialist and capitalist countries."

He further added that the nation had to be aware and cautious so that the US could not establish a base in Bangladesh after their humiliating defeat in Vietnam.

In response to a question, Tajuddin said there was nothing in the constitution that stood in the way of socialism; rather, it provided certain directions towards that goal. "It is not possible to establish democracy with a 19th century mindset. In our democracy, we must have the support of people who believe in socialism," he said.

The prime minister of the Mujibnagar government also said that the nation could never deny the role of the valiant youths in our liberation struggle. He said the government was preparing a plan to employ these youths in building the country. After the election, it would take effective measures to realise that plan.

Tajuddin expressed with sorrow that these youths could not be employed successfully in nation-building. That's why they had gone wayward to some extent. An evil intent to snatch away others' money and assets, rather than earning it, had developed in them. "It is very harmful for the country," he said. "If the youths get corrupted, we will not have the necessary cadres for nation-building. They have to be made politically conscious and motivated. To do that, we need to establish mutual trust."

Tajuddin Ahmad said that, though the current (1972) situation seemed relatively discouraging, the people should not be upset, and that adoption of the constitution would bring stability.

During the press meeting, Tajuddin proclaimed confidently that the movement for "Muslim Bangla" would not gain ground in the country. "But we have to be aware of its risks," he said. During the Pakistan period, communalism was provoked in the name of Islam. Now they are playing with the same strategy in the name of "Muslim Bengal." It has to be confronted politically.

When requested him to shed some light on the liberation struggle, Tajuddin said it was very difficult to write on recent history and publish it, because it could create conflict among the living persons who had been involved in those events. It could even affect the national interest.

He said that, for the sake of national interest, he would not lie, but would keep quiet about it.

He also said that there had been clear indications of the independence of Bangladesh and possible guerrilla warfare in the historic speech of March 7. "In the days leading up to March 25, ambassadors from at least 40 countries had met me. I had already been aware of America's attitude towards Bangladesh."

Tajuddin Ahmad also said that Yahya Khan had made gross mistakes at the very beginning by attacking the EPR, East Bengal Regiment, and the civil administration. Generally, no colonial force attacks its sister services. "On the other hand, being called upon by Bangabandhu, we had succeeded in uniting the nation through non-violent, non-cooperation movement in March. On March 25, 1971, Yahya made a mistake by attacking this united nation. Basically, on that very night, we gained our first victory in the liberation struggle."

He said, due to the attack on the civil administration, it had been possible for them to unite in Mujibnagar, evading the attack. Even before March 25, Tajuddin had in his hand the secret message sent by Lt Gen Tikka Khan to Lt Gen Pirzada, who was military adviser to Yahya Khan. He said he had shown it to Bangabandhu.

"I never imagined that a general activist like me would have to shoulder the historic duty of the nation," Tajuddin said at the press meeting. "Possibly, our countrymen never imagined so. In reality, the leadership was a reflection of the yearnings of the people. We founded the Government of the People's Republic of Bangladesh with the attitude of not joining the capitalist block or any war alliance. It was a great step in the diplomatic front of the liberation struggle."

He told the journalists that Pakistan had tried to divide the exiled government through its friends, but could not succeed. The US government had also tried in many ways to destroy the liberation struggle. "At some stage of our struggle, the US raised the question: Did we want liberation or Mujib? In reply, I said that we wanted both liberation and Mujib. We could get Mujib only after getting liberation. Because I had the feeling that the liberation struggle would be strengthened only if we could keep Sheikh Mujib alive in our hearts and minds. And only through that, it might be possible to keep Bangabandhu alive. For 27 long years, I have been in politics with Bangabandhu. I knew him deeply."

Tajuddin also mentioned that China had helped Pakistan in the war, though strategically. "We sent a telegram to Chinese leaders through Maulana Bhashani to get their support for Bangladesh. But we did not receive any reply." He expressed with sorrow that Maulana Bhashani was now propagating wrong information.

Translated by Shamsuddoza Sajen; edited for clarity.


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