“Sayed Asharaf may have stopped the forces of communalism from taking over”
Awami League is a party of the mavericks. Yet, only a handful of them despite not becoming the party chief or head of the government have earned the status of the party legends.
Among these chosen few are Sayed Nazrul Islam, Tajuddin Ahmed, Captain Mansur Ali, Kamruzzaman Hena, Zillur Rahman, Abdus Samad Azad, Advocate SA Malek, Abdur Razzaq, Sheikh Moni, and of course, Tofail Ahmed, who still lives among us.
Can Syed Ashraful Islam’s name be included on that list?
We may be ill-positioned to insist with certainty that he will join the likes of Zillur Rahman or Abdus Samad Azad as figures who were immensely instrumental in shaping the party identity, but still, certainly, it is a case for lively debate.
What would be the most courageous moment of Syed Ashraful Islam’s political life?
Facing the Pakistani army with limited training and equipment as a young freedom fighter was definitely something he was immensely proud of, but arguably not the bravest act that separates him from the rest of the pack. Neither was his fight to bring those to trial who brutally murdered his father Syed Nazrul Islam.
Many would argue his frontline leadership for democracy against military dictatorship or certainly the way he brought the Awami League to safety and kept the party intact during the tremulous time after 1/11 were outstanding and courageous displays of leadership.
But I have a slightly different opinion. I would rather select May 5, 2013 as the most significant moment of his political life when he stood up against the Hefazat-e-Islam’s terror, issuing a dire warning: Leave before dusk or face consequences. This courage and leadership, on that very day, was exactly what we needed to see.
This single act of bravery and leadership, those who have closely followed the events of that day would agree, may have saved Bangladesh from becoming a failed communal state like Pakistan or Afghanistan.
Still, when emotion settles down, the judgments of his comrades may vary because of Syed Ashraf’s personality traits — his push for political conviction, his insistence on the importance of honesty, his willingness to sacrifice and admit to the failure of the party policies in many cases. These are seen as luxurious, and burdens for the party in today’s Bangladeshi political landscape.
It would also be an important consideration, while the previously mentioned names shaped us as a nation fundamentally: Did Syed Ashraf’s ability to stand against the tide influence any fundamental change to the party that can serve as an enduring legacy?
Syed Ashraf will loom large in many years to come, because he showed us the dignified way of doing politics that is in danger of being forgotten, and reminded us about importance of decency in democratic politics.
In this sense, he is no less than the giants who have upheld the expectations of the public.
This is why Syed Ashraful Islam, despite disagreements, has earned so much respect from every spectrum of politics.
It is simply just impossible not to respect a man who had the decency of admitting his own errors. That is a rare virtue of a politician of any given time in the history of politics.
For Awami League supporters, he was a politician with the same qualities as his father — dedication, honesty, trustworthiness. Ashraful served Sheikh Hasina the same way his father Syed Nazrul Islam served Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.
An op-ed, unfortunately, doesn’t allow enough space to explain Syed Ashraful Islam, but to be honest, canonization after death is not necessary to appreciate a leader like him, who has lived a public life by setting examples — a life that can certainly serve as a model for the current and future politicians of the country.
Viktor Frankl wrote in Man’s Search for Meaning: “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: The last of human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
Choosing the right path in an ordinary life is extremely difficult. In politics, it’s even harder. Almost impossible. Syed Ashraful Islam will remain in our memories for many more years to come, because like his father, he lived up to this obligation.