The 33rd death anniversary of late celebrated revolutionary leader Phani Bhushan Majumder passed on 31 October like unsung hero. His life was a saga of sacrifices for the nation with the idealism of 'Simple living and high thinking'. He was a challenging personality as a revolutionary in the early 1920s, an organizer of Bangladesh's War of Liberation, a politician and minister in Bangabandhu's cabinet (1972-75).
Phani Bhushan Majumder was born in 1901 at Sendia in Madaripur under greater Faridpur district; he had his early education at Madaripur High School and graduated from Vidyasaagar College, Calcutta. He also studied law at Ripon College, Calcutta. He joined the revolutionary party in 1919. He was arrested in 1930 for his political activities and was kept confined till 1938. He was again arrested in 1940 for participating in the movement for removal of Halwell Monument under the leadership of Netaji Subhas Bose and released in 1946. He was a nephew of Roy Bahadur Ambika Charan Majumder, the founder of Faridpur Rajendra College, who was the President of All India National Congress in 1923. Mahatma MK Gandhi, Deshbandhu CR Das visited Faridpur. Deshbandhu promulgated the Hindu-Muslim Pact which raised a fierce controversy but dispassionate minds will concede that it was inspired by the highest statesmanship. He was a friend and advocate of the rights of the minorities, and an apostle of Hindu-Muslim Unity, and, therefore, he could not but be the champion of the Hindu-Muslim Pact. In June 1925 Deshbandhu was unanimously elected President of the Faridpur Session of the Bengal Provincial Conference. Deshbandhu had been in an indifferent state of health for more than six months, and the heavy burden of Council and Corporation work told greatly upon his health. He went to Darjeeling to recoup his health, and death overtook him there. On the June 16, 1925, at 5 pm, after a brief illness, Bengal's beloved idol passed away, at a most critical juncture of the nation.
Mr Majumder, a bachelor, disciple of Deshbandhu and a devoted patriot, was imprisoned in 1950 with Bangabandhu and was released after one year from Faridpur Jail. He was elected to the East Bengal Legislative Assembly in 1954. He was arrested under 92A. During the period of the Ayub regime, he was arrested twice in 1958 and released in 1962 and again arrested in 1965 and released in 1969. He had to spend a long time of 32 years of life in jail.
He was a charming, loveable and amiable personality and a steel-nerved leader. He was very close to Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi during the War of Liberation. Mr Phani Majumder was elected to the Provincial Assembly (MPA) in 1954 on a United Front ticket and 1970 on Awami League ticket. In April 1971 he joined his party colleagues at Mujibnagar. He was the Chairman of Jessore-Faridpur Mukta Administrative Zone. He was a member of the delegation which lobbied for the Bangladesh cause in the UN in September 1971. In 1972, he took charge as minister for food in the first cabinet of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.
I am fortunate that I had the privilege of witnessing the swearing-in ceremony of the First Revolutionary Government of Bangladesh and distribute the Bengali version in stencilled copies of the Proclamation of Independence among the members of the press at Mujibnagar on April 17, 1971. Abdur Rab Serniabat, MNA, and Phani Majumder, MPA, were present on the occasion.
On 10 April 1971, at Faridpur, we had a closed door meeting at district dakbunglow where among others all Members of the National and Provincial Assemblies elected in December 1970 including Advocate Yousuf Humayun (Bhola) and Asmat Ali Khan (Madaripur) were present. After the closed door sitting with the district AL leaders of Faridpur, as per decision I along with Sri Phani Majumder, MPA, Abdur Rab Serniabat and Advocate Yousuf Humayun left for Mujibnagar to talk to Prime Minister Tajuddin Ahmed to get his guidance for the next course of operations.
That journey to cross the border and entry to India was full of events; we had to pass a dark rainy night at Magura Primary School. We could not contact Asaduzzaman MPA and Sohrab Hossain MNA but SA Siddique (Baby Bhai) helped us a lot. He arranged our passage; we had to travel a long way from Jhenaidah to Chuadanga by rickshaw, keeping these two elderly prominent leaders in hiding. Exchange of fire was heard between Bangladesh AL workers, police, and students, Ansar, defected-from EPR and the Pakistan army stationed in Jessore cantonment near Barobazar. JK Abdul Aziz, MPA (PE-80, Jessore -III, Jhenaidah), and ABM Golam Majid, MPA, (PE-79, Jessore -II, Jhenaidah) helped us.
On the way to Haldanibazar, I found my brother-in-law Debaprasad Roy alias Lalbabu (Palton), an Awami League activist, and told him not to disclose our identity to anybody till we reached Mujibnagar. He managed to come down to West Bengal along with his wife Arati and a year old baby son Bappi the following week in April 1971. We rushed towards Chuadanga where Major Jalil was not to be found. We were told he would not be there for a week. Capt Haidar (who was killed on 7 Nov 1975) asked me to leave the place immediately as Pakistan army convoys were approaching that way.
On 31 Chaitra, 1377 BS --- Chaitra Sankranti --- the last day of the Bengali year, 14 April 1971, we crossed the border to Krishnanagar. But there was an emotional incident. There is a small canal between the borders. While crossing the canal, the 70-year old revolutionary leader Phani Majumder, who had spent 32 years in British and Pakistani prisons, touched the soil of Bangladesh side and, weeping like a baby, applied the soil to his forehead, saying, "Since my arrest in connection with the Chittagong armoury case in 1937, I did not visit Calcutta, I did not leave you 'my motherland!' If I cannot come back, O my mother', as Maharaj Trailaksha Chakraborty could not, this will be my last blessing sign on my forehead on the last journey." We were all sobbing and I was humming Tagore's song: "O, soil of my motherland, I bow at thy feet."
It may be recalled that on 14 April 1941, the Bengali New Year, Rabindranath Tagore's final testament was read out at Shantiniketan in his presence. Rabindranath was too weak to read it himself. Its title was "Shabhyatar Shankat" (Crisis in Civilization). Tagore concluded the address: "Perhaps the dawn will come from this horizon, from the East where the sun rises. A day will come when unvanquished Man will retrace his path of conquest, despite all barriers, to win back his lost human heritage."
Bangladesh is the dawn of the horizon of Tagore, where the sun is the symbol of life on the national flag, as the 'Gayetry mantra' in the Vedas --- the source of life and knowledge --- notes, "Who does not know that Bengal's sky is softer, the groves and meadows greener, the sun more golden, the moonlit night more silvery, the south-wind more wistful and the waters in the rivers sweeter, because of the presentation by this great wizard with his magic spell over them?"
We could not return. Later, I joined the government in April. Home Minister AHM Kamaruzaman asked me to work with him. The ten million Bengali refugees were stranded in inhuman, pitiable conditions in 825 Indian camps across the border in West Bengal, Tripura, Assam, Meghalaya, Manipur, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh. It may be recalled that a joint command of the Indian army and the Mukti Bahini was secretly formed in October 1971.
Phani Bhushan Majumder was the chairman of the regional council for south-western region-2 (Jessore-Faridpur) during the Liberation War in 1971. He visited different regions of India to create public opinion in favour of independent Bangladesh, and had an occasion to speak in the Indian Parliament (Lok Sabha).
Phani Bhushan Majumder was inducted in the cabinet of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in 1972. He was elected a member of the Jatiya Sangsad in 1973 as a candidate of the Awami League and once again was included in the cabinet as Food Minister. Later, he was given charge of the Ministry of Land Administration and Land Reforms.
The assassination of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman on August 15, 1975 came as a severe blow to the Awami League, which had led the country's Liberation War in 1971.
Following the cataclysmic event, many top and mid-level AL leaders either fled the country or went into hiding. Some were detained and tortured or forced to back the new regime installed by the killers of Bangabandhu and his family members.
Majumder was compelled to be minister of Local Government, Rural Development and Cooperatives in the cabinet of Khondakar Mostaq Ahmad. He was arrested under the martial law regime of Ziaur Rahman in 1977. Majumder was elected a member of the Jatiya Sangsad in 1979 as a candidate of the Awami League. He was a member of the presidium of the Awami League. He died on 31 October 1981.
, a freedom fighter, is a former public relations officer and founder member of Bangladesh Secretariat in Mujibnagar in April 1971. He has been Press Secretary to the President of Bangladesh (1999-2001); and Addl Press Secretary to the Prime Minister (1997-1999). E-mail: [email protected]