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15 January, 2020 11:07:42 AM / LAST MODIFIED: 15 January, 2020 11:09:50 AM

Bangabandhu and Tajuddin: A unique comradeship

Bangabandhu invested Tajuddin with the authority to interact with his intellectual advisers to prepare the AL’s manifesto for the 1970 election
Bangabandhu and Tajuddin: A unique comradeship

From as far back as 1948 Tajuddin had developed a close working relationship with Bangabandu. When Bangabandu eventually assumed the Presidency of the AL in 1966, in the wake of Suhrawardy’s death in November 1963, his trusted colleague Tajuddin who strongly supported the six points programme was elected as the General Secretary of the party. Tajuddin was by temperament a worker and an activist, his political intelligence, commitment and organisational skill were exceptional but he never aspired to use this to seek elevation to the highest rank of public office. It was this quality, which specially attracted him to Bangabandu and made them natural political allied whose diverse complementary talents could be meldet to produce a unique political partnership, which was of vital significance in mobilising the nation behind the struggle for self-rule.
Tajuddin, as the General Secretary of the AL, played a crucial role in reorganising the AL which had for the period 1966-68 been exposed to ruthless repression by the regime of Governor Monem Khan, with workers from the lowest tier to the highest echelons of the party in jail. He worked tirelessly to reconstruct the AL into and election-fighting machine, which could deliver Bangabandhu’s message of Six Points to every corner of Bangladesh. Bangabandhu provided the inspiration for the party to launch and sustain the struggle. But Banabandhu in turn, needed a person with the political skills, capacity for creative thinking, dedication to the cause and above all, complete confidence that he would never betray him, to handle party affairs.
Bangabandhu invested Tajuddin with the authority to interact with his intellectual advisers to prepare the AL’s manifesto for the 1970 election and to work with them in detailing the negotiating position of the party for preparing a constitution based on Six Points. At a later stage Tajuddin was involved by Bangabandhu in all his political negotiations with Yahya and Bhutto. Finally, Bangabandhu entrusted Tajuddin to assume the day-to-day responsibility of running the administration of an independent Bangladesh during the crucial month of March 1971 when Bangabandhu effectively ruled the country. These major responsibilities invested in Tajuddin by Bangabandhu indicated his deep confidence in him and made it evident that in his absence Tajuddin could be trusted to deputise for him.

For all his unique qualities, Tajuddin was a person of great modesty and humility. During the nine months of the liberation war when Bangabandhu was incarcerated in Mianwali jail in West Pakistan by the Military junta, Tajuddin was compelled to assume leadership of the interim government of an independent Bangladesh based in Kolkata, which oversaw the direction of the Liberation war. He took on this task with reluctance since he never aspired to elevate himself above the other AL leaders who served as Bangabandhu’s lieutenants. For those who had, up close, witnessed the interaction of Bangabandhu with Tajuddin and other close colleagues, there was never any doubt as to who was the most talented among them and who bangabandhu could trust to deputise for him if he was not to be on the scene. It was fortunate for the direction of Bangladesh’s liberation struggle that Indira Gandhi also recognised these qualities of Tajuddin and accepted him as the leader of the Bangladesh interim government.

In the post-liberation period, when Bangabandhu took over the reins of Power in Bangladesh, he invested Tajuddin with the senior most position in the cabinet, the post of Finance Minister and also for the first year, that of Planning Minister. His choice was predicated on his recognition of Tajuddin’s abilities but was also motivated by his belief in his integrity to ensure the honest superintendence of the country’s finances during these critical days of financial stringgency. Tajuddin invested all his time and energy in overseeing the Finance Minsitry during a period of exceptional difficulty. He similarly invested his full support for the Planning Ministry in its formulation of policy proposals for the cabinet as well as its negotiating and programming of external aid.

During Tajuddin’s tenure as Minister of Finance and Planning there was never even a whisper of any corruption which could be associated with him. Bangabandhu consulted Tajuddin on all-important issues relating to finance and the economy. Bangabandhu took no important decision on the economy without consulting Tajuddin. In other areas of importance, Bangabandhu initially did consult Tajuddin but over the years, in areas outside the economy, the historic intimacy, which prevailed between them progressively, eroded. This growing distance was furthered by the interventions of particular members of the ruling party hostile to Tajuddin from his tenure as PM in 1971, who worked tirelessly to distance Bangabandhu from his closest and most reliable colleague.

This distance widened as the days went by and culminated in the exit of Tajuddin from government around October 1974. This was a period when Bangabandhu really needed Tajuddin’s sage advise. It was as period of growing economic problems, aggravated by famine induced by the resort to food politics by the United States. Political tensions, manifested through increasing violence initiated by armed insurgents, were destabilising civic life across the country. The government responded with strong counter-insurgency operations undertaken by the para-military RakhiBahini whose resort to extra-judicial actions further aggravated the political tentions. In this crucial phase, Tajuddin’s proximity and advice would have served as an invaluable asset to Bangabandhu. But Tajuddin was now no longer a cabinet colleague.

Both Bangabandhu and Tajuddin would have been much less comfortable with the eradication of socialism as a fundamental guiding principle of the state and the exponential growth in inequality to a point wher Bangladesh has evolved from being part of a state with two economies to a state, which has devolved into two societies. While we may take pride in the sharp reduction in poverty and improvements in our human development indicators income and social disparities have widened. Bangabandhu’s memoirs and diaries carry enough of his thoughts of socialism and on constructing an exploitation free society to indicate that Bangladesh has departed a long way from his vision of a more egalitarian society. Tajuddin was himself, a passionate believer in a society built on egalitarian principles. His partership with Bangabandhu was not just constructed around their struggle for democracy but was built on a shared vision of a just society.

It is however, in the realm of democracy, the main driving force in the political struggle of Bangabandhu and Tajuddin, that they would have reason to be more concerned. For Tajuddin democracy was integrally related to socialism. He believed that to construct and sustain a democratic polity Bangladesh needed a society, which democratizes economic opportunity and social relations.

The operative issue, however, remains that if we are truly committed to honouring the memory of Bangabandhu and Tajuddin and beyond them, the martyrs of the liberation war we will need to apply our minds to reconstruct our society along more just and democratic lines. Such a society is more feasible today because Bangladesh now has considerably expanded its economy and enhanced its resource base through strong leadership, underwritten by the efforts of a dynamic entrepreneurial and working class backed by a socially conscious civil society. Over the next two years if such economic and political reforms can be put in place Bangaladesh may not only aspire to become a more just and democratic society. But we would lay the foundations for a more advanced and sustainable growth process, which will serve as a more credible pathway to an upper middle income or even higher income country.  

The writer is a contributor to The Independent




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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman

Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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