All those lost men . . .
Syed Badrul Ahsan, Editor-in-Charge, The Asian Age: There are all the stories of the men, and sometimes women, who have gone missing in our historical chronicles. In a number of these instances, it was these individuals themselves who were to blame for falling by the wayside. And then there are the people who ought to have occupied significant perches in history and yet have remained outside the historical narrative. You cannot blame them for the way fate has treated them.
If you can recall Shamsul Haq, one of the earliest of politicians in the Awami Muslim League and then in the Awami League when the party graduated to secular principles, you might remember too that he is one political leader we have willed ourselves into forgetting. It is said he died a sad man, even somewhat psychologically disturbed. How much do we know of him, of his political career and his role in those years of democratic struggle in Pakistan?
One man who ought to have lived was Moulvi Farid Ahmed. A foremost parliamentarian in the Ayub Khan era, he was noted for his oratory and his erudition, qualities which certainly were a reflection of the many ways in which he and his fellow travelers sought to enlighten their people. But then, Farid Ahmed ruined his career when in 1971 he proved unable to resist the Yahya Khan junta’s invitation to turn his guns on his own Bengalis. He paid the price on the day Pakistan surrendered in Bangladesh. Captured by the Mukti Bahini, he was never seen again. It was a waste of a life.
One other man who from the mid 1960s onward stayed carefully busy in rebuilding his reputation was Nurul Amin. Demonised over his government’s role in February 1952 (though it remains a question whether the non-Bengali bureaucrats like Aziz Ahmed around him triggered the situation for which he paid the price), Amin transformed himself into a moving spirit against dictatorship in the pre-1971 circumstances. He was one of the two men who bucked the Awami League wave in 1970 to gain a seat in the new Pakistan national assembly. That was his moment of rehabilitation, which moment he quickly lost when he offered his services to Tikka Khan in the post-25 March darkness. He ended up serving Z.A. Bhutto as vice president in what remained of Pakistan after the death of East Pakistan.
Nurul Amin lies buried beside Mohammad Ali Jinnah in Karachi. There is always that tug at the heart when you let the mind explore the stories of blunders, of wrong judgement leading to disaster. Do not forget that the late Tridiv Roy was one other man who lost his marbles in the course of the relentless armed struggle for Bangladesh by its people. He would, post-1971, serve the Bhutto government as a minister before gaining a new area of activity through becoming Pakistan’s ambassador abroad. It is a trifle sad recalling the inability of his family to bring his remains back to the Chittagong Hill Tracts for last rites. But it was a destiny Roy had opted for on his own in the year Pakistan lost the majority of its population when East Pakistan ceased to exist.
It is often a sorry sight watching all the men who could have made a difference in the lives of their people take the wrong turning at the crossroads. Zahiruddin was a trusted lieutenant of Bangabandhu all the way till March 1971. On his whistle-stop electoral tour of West Pakistan in mid-1970, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman had Zahiruddin on his team. It was Zahiruddin’s task to rise, after Bangabandhu, at the public rallies organized in some major West Pakistani cities and explain the Six Point plan to the crowds in chaste Urdu. Zahiruddin was elected a member of the national assembly in December 1970. And then he collaborated with the occupation army once 25 March came to pass. From that moment on, he was condemned to be one individual history chose to pass by. His one final glory came in the post-1975 period when he was sent off to Islamabad as Bangladesh’s first ambassador to Pakistan (not high commissioner as Bhutto had pulled his country out of the Commonwealth in 1972 to protest the rapid recognition by the West of Bangladesh as a sovereign nation). Interestingly, another lapsed Awami Leaguer, in Pakistan and M. Khurshid by name, was sent down to Dhaka as Pakistan’s first ambassador here.
Hardly anyone remembers Zahiruddin or for that matter Khurshid in these tumultuous times. They were politicians in the true sense of the meaning. Khurshid lost his future because the new Pakistan emerging after 1971 had no place for his party. Zahiruddin’s was a sadder fate. His party had little need of him; and after his diplomatic stint in Islamabad, he simply disappeared from history.
Chances are that few people, if at all, remember Amena Begum. She was a staunch Awami Leaguer at a time when the party senior leadership was tucked away in prison. With Mizanur Rahman Chowdhury she was instrumental in organizing a province-wide general strike in favour of the Six Points on 7 June 1966. The strike was wildly successful. Subsequently Amena Begum fell out with her party leaders, linked up with others and then was lost to us.
History has all too often been an enigma. Which is why its appeal remains enduring. Some men and women make history. Some others are simply swallowed by it.