Two reputed constitutional lawyers of Canada while analyzing the legalities of the possible separation of Quebec from Canada observed, “after 1945 Bangladesh was the only country of the world that successfully seceded from Pakistani State through an armed struggle. However, the principal strength of that struggle came from the unparallel election victory of Awami League, led by its charismatic leader Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. The popular support their leader enjoyed was unheard of in a Western democracy.”
Bangabandhu, the undisputed leader of our independence, remained in the helm of that monument under whose name the liberation was fought. In the absence of Bangabandhu, the four of his close associates carried the mantle of freedom and provided the leadership through the grueling nine months of torture, destruction, genocide and arm struggles in the face of modern well-equipped enemy forces. Foremost among them was Tajuddin Ahmed, the Prime Minister of the then exiled Mujibnagar government and a very trusted associate of Bangabandhu.
Aside from Bangabandhu’s inspirational name, two other factors played the defining role in the success of our liberation war in a very short period of nine months in the face of multitude of odds, both externally and internally. It was Tajudddin’s prudent leadership and the indispensable Indian help that not only saved but glorified the defining moment of our history. In the absence of supreme leader, Tajuddin was successfully able to quell the rebellion from party leaders who were bent on capturing the leadership of the provisional government on the one hand, while on the other, there was CIA axis that were conspiring to jeopardize our struggle for freedom in the form of confederation within the Pakistani state. In the words of D P Dhar, the architect of Indian policy vis-à-vis our liberation war, “only Tajuddin was mentally equipped to lead Awami League out of the situation like this (liberation struggle). That was his biggest strength. He displayed all the initiatives, while his rivals (within AL) failed to formulate what else to look for apart from Indian recognition, followed by military attacks.”
Similar sentiments were echoed by P N Haskar, who was responsible for formulation Indian policy in the first five months of the conflict. In his words, “Tajuddin was found to be the only person who had right political ideas for the task Bangladesh has set before itself. The government of India also realized that Tajuddin was irreplaceable in the sense that things have been even more chaotic if somebody else other than him took over. These two considerations decided the issue of continued Indian support to Tajuddin despite numerous representations from the opponents within Awami League.”
Tajudddin Ahmed was the General Secretary of AL and for more than two decades was the closest confidant of Bangabandhu. Since the resurrection of AL in 1964, he was the principal architect of its policy and programs. It is said that he used to write not only General Secretary’s report but of the President’s as well. He was a reticent personality who preferred to work behind the scene without self-declaration. Tajuddin played the leading role on the overall planning and direction of the historic non-cooperation movement of 1971 that culminated in the declaration of independence by Bangabandhu on the early hours of March 26, 1971.
After Tajuddin crossed over to India on March 30, 1971, suddenly he found himself not only to lead a political party, but more so to lead a nation to freedom through an arm struggle. This was a very difficult challenge, considering the fact that AL was a democratic organization, not a revolutionary one. The Bengalis in uniform, who joined the liberation war, had no legal binding to obey the command of civilian commanders who also had no legal recognition from anybody else but themselves. This transpired Tajuddin’s task even more challenging. His relation with the Commander-in-Chief of Muktibahini, General Osmany was not always very smooth. General Osmany was not a politician and on many occasions he failed to appreciate the political farsightedness and diplomatic articulation of Tajuddin which was very essential in the ultimate success of the liberation war. General Osmany, on many issues, did not have smooth sailing with the Indian Military command and Tajuddin had to fill-up the vacuum on many issues and moments.
Tajuddin’s devotion to the cause of our national emancipation is legendary in nature. He preached what he himself practiced. During those difficult days as the Prime Minister of a still-to-be freed nation, he practiced the extreme austerity himself to keep in resonance with the hardship the whole nation and especially the freedom fighters in arm had to endure. Among the top leaders of the government in exile, he was the only one who kept his vow not to meet his family during the period of exile. He used a very ordinary room for nightly retirement and even simpler bed with only a mat to sleep on.
On November 23, 1971, before the all-out attack by Muktibahini, Tajuddin Ahmed delivered a defining speech to the nation through Swadhin Bangla Betar Kendra that reflected no rhetoric nor any uncertain promise, but reflected the determined self-conviction of a leader to his suffering but determined people. In his address he reiterated, “in exchange of our tears and blood, we are fighting for our freedom, the day of that final destination is very much within our reach. But we have to sacrifice more lives; we have to suffer more. The denotation of independence is more deep and meaningful. The essence of freedom is related to the price we pay for it during war and how we use them during the time of peace. As we eliminate our enemies in the battlefield, we have to pledge to build a society that befits the blood of our martyrs.”
The dream that Tajuddin Ahmed dreamt during the most crucial crossroad of our history never crystallized into reality. As a humble ‘engineer’ of our nation, Tajuddin became a forgotten man even when Bangabandhu was in the helm of the state. The conspirators were finally successful in creating a rift between the ‘architect’ and the ‘engineer’. The results were the multiple catastrophes that engulfed our nation. During the nine months of bloody struggle for our existence, Tajuddin was the nucleus of most everything. He performed his responsibilities with utmost devotion and unbounded honesty. But this modest human being never disclosed anything about his own role. As a result, the many untold stories of our liberation war will remain unknown forever. I am not questioning the distortion of history for around three decades. But in the last government of AL and in the last six months of its current tenure, did we do enough to offer the deserving recognition to the memory of our first Prime Minister, the man who showed our nation a rare breed of patriotism? I would have been happier to receive an affirmative answer to my skepticism.
Dr. Mozammel H. Khan is the Convenor of the Canadian Committee for Human Rights and Democracy in Bangladesh.