On the ninety-second anniversary of Tajuddin Ahmad’s birth, how do we remember him? Better yet, how must we recall the man who appears to be inexorably disappearing into a deep pool of historical oblivion despite the role he has played in the making of Bangladesh’s history? To remember Tajuddin Ahmad is to remember ourselves as we once were. It is to define and outline a course of politics that will allow the generations to be to comprehend the tall man he was in his perception of the world he was part of.
There are all the platitudes we can come forth about Tajuddin Ahmad’s life and achievements. There are all the moments we can and should bring to light once again against the background of the momentous decisions he made once the Pakistan army launched its genocide of Bengalis on 25 March 1971. We will recall the steadfastness of purpose he demonstrated in letting the world know that the people of Bangladesh were perfectly capable of giving to themselves a government that could and would wage guerrilla war against the enemy. We will necessarily remember the uphill battle he waged, even as he shaped battlefield strategy through the formation of the Mukti Bahini, against his detractors in the Awami League, men who were desperate about pushing him aside and seizing the movement for national liberation on premises that were as spurious as they were invalid.
As a nation we remain grateful to Tajuddin Ahmad for the strong, uncompromising leadership he demonstrated during the war. He remained unfazed by the whispering campaign around him, by the ceaseless conspiracy that sought to have the rug pulled from under him by men less qualified than he in the making of political formulations. And we will of course revere, today and for all time, the socialist heart that beat in Tajuddin Ahmad. He was a thorough political animal, a man erudite to the core and unflinching in his belief that his fellow Bengalis were destined to be free in terms of political sovereignty. He never lost faith in his people, not even in those last few months he was compelled to spend as a prisoner in a land he had had such an instrumental role in catapulting to freedom.
And thus do we have some very good reasons why Tajuddin Ahmad should be remembered. Besides the intangible that naturally has come to be associated with his place in history, there are the many tangibles we ought to bring into the task of restoring Tajuddin Ahmad to the high perch that has seemed to be stealthily pulled out from under him over the years. And here are the tangibles:
The government of Bangladesh can take formal and concrete steps towards creating a commission that will study the circumstances under which Tajuddin Ahmad formed the Mujibnagar government and had it conduct the War of Liberation in the nine months of the conflict. It is not enough that the Tajuddin legacy be disseminated and upheld merely by his children. The State has a responsibility in officially recording the contributions of an individual whose presence in 1971 was pivotal to our struggle for freedom.
And then comes the need for well-researched biographies of Tajuddin Ahmad, in both Bengali and English, the purpose being clear and simple: many among the older generation have either forgotten the wartime leader or have in a demonstration of ignorance or arrogance or both have sought to consign him to the backwaters of Bengali history. Tajuddin Ahmad was and is an integral part of this nation’s history. The world needs to be told his story.
A Tajuddin Ahmad Centre of Public Policy, based on the principles he shaped and upheld in life, can surely be set up, principally with the support and encouragement of the government. The objective here will be to take people, especially the young, through the life and times of the late leader and encourage them into initiating research on various aspects of politics and governance that test the intellectual aspects of the Bengali mind.
Given the vast swaths of historical undertakings Tajuddin Ahmad traversed through his association with the Father of the Nation, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, an annual Tajuddin Ahmad Memorial Lecture series, encompassing subjects and themes of historical and contemporary significance, can be brought into fruition through the cooperative efforts of the government, the wartime leader’s family and scholars across the spectrum. Researchers and students of history will thus be happily linking a paramount political leader to their need for an interpretation of the social forces that power the engine of Bangladesh’s dealings with the world beyond its frontiers.
A Tajuddin Ahmad Memorial dedicated to visual and video representations of the late leader’s socialistic principles along with film footage showing him in his various roles during and after the war would have a positive impact on the public imagination. His understanding of socialism and the socialist society he dreamed of inaugurating in Bangladesh would be the core principle at work in such an organization.
In schools and colleges across the country, textbooks should, in the larger interest of the intellectual and historical growth of the mind, include elaborate chapters and sections on the contributions of Tajuddin Ahmad and his colleagues in Mujibnagar to the Six Point programme in the 1960s, followed by the prosecution of the war itself in 1971.
Thus can this nation keep aloft the lamp that Tajuddin Ahmad lit forty six years ago. In that long-ago year he struggled bravely and mightily to bring into implementation mode the supreme moral and political principles he personified in his career.
One who turns away from the story of Tajuddin Ahmad will be guilty of suppressing a major segment of Bangladesh’s history.
For Tajuddin Ahmad is — and will be — synonymous with the larger Bengali historical narrative.
(Tajuddin Ahmad, pre-eminent Bengali politician and wartime prime minister, was born on 23 July 1925 and murdered in prison on 3 November 1975 )