BANGABONDHU AND TAJUDDIN AHMED
ABDUL MATIN retraces the special relationship between two of our greatest leaders.
Bangabondhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and Tajuddin Ahmed were born at a crucial time in history. Bangabondhu was the leader of the people of East Pakistan, now Bangladesh. Tajuddin was his follower. He was a shadow of Bangabondhu like Nehru was to Mahatma Gandhi or Chou Enlai to Mao Tse Tung. Under instructions from Bangabondhu, Tajuddin Ahmed, as the first prime minister of Bangladesh, led the war of independence to victory in 1971 while Bangabondhu was in Pakistani custody.
Bangabondhu founded the Students League in 1948. Tajuddin Ahmed was a founding member of this organisation. Tajuddin Ahmed was closely associated with the formation of the Awami (Muslim) League in 1949 when Bangabondhu was appointed its joint secretary. Both Bangabondhu and Tajuddin Ahmend were elected members of the East Bengal (later East Pakistan) Legislative Assembly in 1954.
Under the leadership of Bangabondhu, Tajuddin Ahmed helped to reorganise the Awami League after the death of Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy in 1963. He was instrumental in formulating the six-point programme of the Awami League. Together with Bangabondhu, he joined the conference of the leaders of the opposition parties in Lahore in 1966 where Bangabondhu announced his historic six-point programme.
Tajuddin Ahmed accompanied Bangabondhu to the round-table conference with Ayub Khan in Rawalpindi in 1968 and took part in all the critical meetings with Yahya Khan in March 1971. After his historic speech of March 7, Bangabondhu virtually became the de facto ruler of Bangladesh. Under his guidance, all the administrative directives were issued by Tajudddin Ahmed during the non-cooperation movement from March 7 to March 25.
Both Bangabondhu and Tajuddin Ahmed were inspired by Bengali nationalism. Their patriotisms were beyond any question. Both of them were intelligent, courageous and superb organisers. Bangabondhu had charisma and ability to mesmerise the audience with his unique oratory. Tajuddin Ahmed lacked charisma. He was calm but very logical and methodical in his approach. The combination of their qualities created a formidable partnership.
During the pre-liberation days, Tajuddin Ahmed’s daily routine started every morning with a visit to Bangabondhu’s residence in Dhanmondi. Other Awami League leaders also gathered there for consultations. According to Tajuddin Ahmed’s daughter Rimi, her father and Bangabondhu were inseparable from each other. They could hardly spend a day without seeing each other.
Tajuddin Ahmed once met a serious car accident in Savar while Bangabondhu was away from Dhaka. Bangabondhu became very worried after receiving the news and rushed to Tajuddin’s house. Bangabondhu embraced him with great relief when he found out that the injury was not that serious.
Tajuddin Ahmed was deeply worried when Bangabondhu decided not to leave his house at Road No. 32 in Dhanmondi on the frightful night of March 25, 1971. It was previously planned that both Bangabondhu and Tajuddin Ahmed would take shelter in a secret hideout during that night. Failing to get Bangabondhu, Tajuddin Ahmed left his house with Dr. Kamal Hussain and Barrister Amirul Islam. Dressed in a lungi and a vest, he carried a shirt and a gun with him. Tajuddin Ahmed and Barrister Amirul Islam ultimately reached India while Dr. Kamal Hussain decided to stay back in Dhaka.
The Pakistan army started what they called the “Operation Searchlight” on that frightful night when thousands of unarmed Bengalis were killed. Bangabondhu declared the independence of Bangladesh early in the morning of March 26, just before his arrest by the Pakistan army.
In absence of Bangabondhu, Tajuddin Ahmed formed the Government of Bangladesh in exile, with Bangabondhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman as the president and himself as prime minister. The cabinet formally took oath at Mujibnagar on April 17, 1971. Tajuddin Ahmed welcomed the journalists at the ceremony on behalf of “the Government Bangabondhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.”
Tajuddin Ahmed formed the armed wing of the Government of Bangladesh, known as the “Mukti Bahini” (Freedom Fighters). With assistance from the Indian army, they fought a guerilla type war against the Pakistan army in the name of Bangabondhu. Finally on December 16, 1971, the Pakistan army surrendered to the joint command of the Mukti Bahini and the Indian army. Bangladesh thus emerged as an independent state in less than nine months after the declaration of independence.
Even though the credit for the victory in the war of independence goes to a large extent to Tajuddin Ahmed, he never claimed any recognition for his achievement. On the contrary, he instructed Secretary Nurul Quader Khan before the latter’s departure for Dhaka on December 17 that “nobody other than Bangabondhu should be given any credit for the victory of Bangladesh.”
Tajuddin Ahmed and his cabinet returned to Dhaka on December 22 and took over the administration of Bangladesh. Under pressure from the international community, President Zulfikar Ali Bhutto of Pakistan released Bangabondhu from prison. Bangabondhu returned to Dhaka on January 10, 1972. The love and affection of Tajuddin Ahmed for his leader is visible in the video clip of Bangabondhu’s arrival at the Dhaka airport. It shows an overjoyed and highly excited Tajuddin Ahmed, with tears of joy in his eyes, fondly stroking Bangabondhu’s face like a child does to his father!
Tajuddin Ahmed gladly resigned as prime minister on January 12 to make room for Bangabondhu to form a new government and proudly declared that he was the “happiest man on earth”. Bangabondhu took over as the prime minister and appointed Tajuddin Ahmed as the minister of finance and planning.
It is unfortunate that a vested group created a misunderstanding between Bangabondhu and Tajuddin Ahmed soon after Bangabondhu’s return to Bangladesh. It is believed that Bangabondhu was advised to remove Tajuddin Ahmed from the cabinet in order to pave the way for a visit by Henry Kissinger, then US Secretary of State under Nixon administration, to Bangladesh. It may be recalled that the Nixon administration was against the independence of Bangladesh and supported Pakistan during the war of liberation. The relationship between Tajuddin and Henry Kissinger was thus never cordial.
Bangabondhu was keen to develop bilateral relationships with the USA and other capitalist countries for increased economic aid. Tajuddin Ahmed wanted to develop the country through socialism and self-reliance. He believed that “socialism could not be established with economic aid from the capitalist countries.” Tajuddin Ahmed was a firm believer in secularism. Bangabondhu also believed in secularism but he wanted to maintain special ties with the Muslim countries.
The vested group succeeded in isolating Tajuddin Ahmed from Bangabondhu. The misunderstanding finally led to the resignation of Tajuddin Ahmed from the cabinet of Bangabondhu on October 26, 1974. Tajuddin Ahmed was shocked but bore no ill feelings against Bangabondhu. Whenever friends and admirers visited him at his house, he always advised them to support Bangabondhu.
Even after Tajuddin Ahmed’s resignation, Bangabondhu maintained a cordial personal relationship with Tajuddin Ahmed and his family. He sent a pair of white rabbits for Tajuddin’s son Sohel knowing that he was fond of rabbits. Bangabondhu personally invited Tajuddin Ahmed and his family to the weddings of his sons, Kamal and Jamal.
Tajuddin Ahmed was shocked and literally broke down when Bangabondhu and his family were brutally killed on August 15, 1975. Mushtaq Ahmed conspired with some disgruntled retired army officers to kill Bangabondhu. Later Mushtaq took over as the president of Bangladesh. Bangabondhu died without knowing who conspired against him.
Tajuddin Ahmed was taken into custody by Mushtaq on August 23. As he was leaving his house on his way to the Dhaka Central Jail, he apprehended that he would not come back again. Tajuddin Ahmed, Syed Nazrul Islam, M. Mansur Ali and AHM. Quamruzzaman were killed in cold blood under instructions of Mushtaq inside the Dhaka Central Jail on November 3, 1975. The conspirators were thus successful not only in creating a rift between Bangabondhu and Tajuddin Ahmed but also in eliminating both of them plus three other national leaders.
There can be no comparison between Bangabondhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the Father of the Nation, and Tajuddin Ahmed, the first prime minister of Bangladesh. The name of Bangabondhu has become synonymous with Bangladesh. Like other great leaders, Bangabondhu dreamed, inspired and gave directions for achieving our independence. Tajuddin Ahmed, as his true disciple, took the onus of materialising Bangabondhu’s dream into reality. They worked together, suffered together, triumphed together and finally fell victims to the same conspiracy which killed both of them.
Leaders like Bangabandgu and Tajuddin Ahmed never die. They will live in the hearts of the people Bangladesh as long as their creation, Bangladesh, survives. The conspirators succeeded in creating a misunderstanding between the two leaders but could not separate their hearts which always longed for each other. The misunderstanding between them is an insignificant chapter in the long and glorious history of their association and should not overshadow what the two leaders achieved together in such a short time.
Abdul Matin is a former chief engineer of Bangladesh Atomic Energy Commission and author of Tribute to Bangabondhu and Other Essays.