Do we forget Tajuddin Ahmad?
Tajuddin Ahmad, who led the Provisional Government of Bangladesh as its prime minister during the Liberation War in 1971 is regarded as one of the most instrumental figures in the birth of Bangladesh. He was born on 23 July 1925 at Dardaria, a village in the Dhaka district of the Bengal Presidency, in British India, now Gazipur District in Bangladesh to Maulavi Muhammad Yasin Khan and Meherunnesa Khanam in a conservative, middle class Muslim family. He was the eldest of nine siblings - three brothers and six sisters.
During Tajuddin's formative years, British rule in India was nearing its end and Bengal was battered by famines, communal tensions and other problems. It became a hotbed of anti-British activism. Against this backdrop, his political activism began at a very early age, sometimes interrupting his studies. The anti-British activists of Bengal were his earliest political inspiration. After attending a few schools in Gazipur, Tajuddin moved to Dhaka and went to Saint Gregory's High School, where he matriculated in 1944, securing 12th position in undivided Bengal. He obtained BA with honours in Economics from the University of Dhaka.
Tajuddin joined the Muslim League in 1943. As one of the four full-time party workers, Tajuddin helped publish the party newspaper. During his Dhaka University years in the newly independent Pakistan, Tajuddin, a resident student of Fazlul Huq Muslim Hall, participated in student activism within the university. After the Partition, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman who had enrolled in Dhaka University to study law and a few others founded the East Pakistan Muslim Students' League on 4th January 1948. Tajuddin joined the party as a founding member.
At the same time, as a frequenter of Dhaka's political circles, Tajuddin was drawn increasingly towards the national political arena. In 1949, the 150 Moghultuli faction cut ties with Muslim League and founded the Awami Muslim League with Maulana Bhashani as its president. The Awami Muslim League soon gained popularity among the masses of East Pakistan. Members of that group, notably Oli Ahad and Mohammad Toaha founded the Jubo League, a youth organisation at a youth convention that took place in March 1951. Tajuddin was elected a member of the Jubo League executive committee at its first annual council later that year.
With the Provincial Assembly elections due next year, Tajuddin joined the Awami Muslim League in 1953. He was elected as the general secretary of the Dhaka District of the party. The Awami Muslim League participated in the election in a coalition with some other parties with their joint 21-point election manifesto embodying many popular demands. Tajuddin, running on the Jukta Front ticket, was elected from his constituency, defeating the general secretary of the East Pakistan Muslim League, Fakir Abdul Mannan by an overwhelming three to one proportion of the vote. At his twenty-nine, he became one of the youngest elected legislators of the assembly.
In the Awami League, Tajuddin became close to Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. Since 1962, following party President Suhrawardy's policy, the Awami League joined a front of democratic parties, called the National Democratic Front, against Ayub's military regime and ceased functioning as an individual party. In 1964, after Suhrawardy's death, Mujib, the General Secretary of the Awami League revived it as a party in the face of opposition by some senior leaders. Mujib's influence in the Awami League only increased with Tajuddin acting as his right-hand.
Sheikh Mujib and Tajuddin attended the Lahore Conference and put forward the revised version of the six-point demand. They called for a new constitution, ensuring autonomy of provinces on key matters like monetary policy and defence instead of the prevalent absolute central governance. In the party council of the Awami League on 14-15 March 1966, Sheikh Mujib was elected president and Tajuddin general secretary. The military junta and the West Pakistani political leadership viewed six points as a threat to Pakistan's unity. The Ayub Administration was determined to suppress six points by any means. Awami League workers, already being brutally oppressed, came under even greater persecution. Tajuddin himself was arrested in 1966, as were many other senior Awami League leaders.
Ayub Khan rejected the opposition party forum's plea for Mujib's release in Agartala false case citing legal difficulties. A legal battle ensued between the Awami League and the junta over Mujib's release. Faced with popular pressure, the conference was postponed. On 17 February 1969, Tajuddin, just released from imprisonment joined his two Awami League comrades, lawyers Kamal Hossain and Amir-ul Islam, who were already leading the legal proceedings, on their flight to Rawalpindi to negotiate Mujib's release. Despite its initial objections, the Ayub government eventually conceded and agreed to release Mujib unconditionally so that he could attend the Round Table Conference.
As the General Secretary of the Awami League from 1966, Tajuddin coordinated the party during the tumultuous late 1960s and early 1970s, suffering imprisonment on several occasions. He formulated the early draft of the historic six-point that eventually led to the birth of Bangladesh. He coordinated the Awami League's election campaign for the 1970 Pakistani general election, in which the League gained a historic parliamentary majority. He also coordinated the non-cooperation movement of March 1971 precipitated by President Yahya Khan's delay in transferring power to the elected legislators.
Tajuddin was among Sheikh Mujib's delegation in the Mujib-Yahya talks to settle the constitutional disputes between East and West Pakistan and transfer power to the elected National Assembly. Following the Pakistani army's crackdown on the Bangladeshi population on 25 March 1971, Tajudddin escaped to India. In the absence of Sheikh Mujib, he initiated the setup of the Provisional Government of Bangladesh in 1971 and headed it, operating in exile in India, as its prime minister.
In independent Bangladesh, Tajuddin served as the Minister of Finance and Planning in Sheikh Mujib's Cabinet from 1972 to 1974. He was also a member of the committee drafting the Constitution of Bangladesh. He resigned from the cabinet in 1974. Following Sheikh Mujib's assassination in a military coup, Tajuddin was arrested and assassinated on 3rdNovember 1975, along with three senior Awami League leaders in prison.
The writer is asst officer, Career & Professional Development Services Department, Southeast University