General Muhammad Ataul Ghani Osmani – Bangladesh’s first and only General – was the Supreme Chief of Army Staff during the 1971 Liberation War. It was under his guidance and leadership that the Mukti Bahini and muktijuddhas fought against the mighty Pakistan Army. In recognition of his heroic he was awarded with the honorary title of ‘Bangabir’ (Brave Bengali) by the people of Bangladesh.
Post independence, General Osmani successively held the portfolios of Defence, Civil Aviation and Shipping after being elected to the Jatiyo Sangsad. However, he was never comfortable in Sheikh Mujib’s Cabinet. In May 1974 the mighty minister asked to be relieved of his portfolios. After the controversial introduction of the one-party BAKSAL system of government by Sheikh Mujib through the 4th Amendment of the Constitution in January 1975, General Osmani resigned from the Jatiya Sangsad and also from the primary membership of the Awami League.
It was the first political shockwave that rocked the newly formed country. The biggest one was yet to come.
The conflict and faction that existed within the Awami League party during 1971 Liberation War began to surface with greater intensity under Sheikh Mujib’s leadership in independent Bangladesh. Men who had harboured a dislike for Tajuddin’s leadership during 1971 became closer and closer to Sheikh Mujib and "happily poisoned" his ears against Tajuddin. Among these was Sheikh Mujib’s baghna Sheikh Fazlul Huq Moni. He became a key adviser to the Prime Minister and was the author of "The Four Pillars of Mujibism - Nationalism, Socialism, Democracy and Secularism" which were ‘bombastically’ enshrined in the constitution as the 'Fundamental Principles of State Policy'.
Another of Sheikh Mujib’s key adviser was Tofael Ahmed. Tofael was the first person to give him the grandiose title of 'Bangabandhu' (Friend of Bengalis) during the Bengali upsurge against Pakistan. When Sheikh Mujib became prime minister, Tofael was appointed as his political secretary.
Both Sheikh Fazlul Huq Moni and Tofael Ahmed were two of the four founding leaders of Mujib Bahini (Mujib’s Army), also known as Bangladesh Liberation Force (BLF). The other two founders were Sirajul Alam Khan and Abdur Razzak.
As young student leaders they were openly vocal in their displeasure of appointing Tajuddin Ahmad as Prime Minister during the war. They felt that he accumulated too much power and his strong leftist views would prove to be problematic upon Sheikh Mujib’s return from Pakistani jail.
Part of the reason for that was of course the conflict between Tajuddin Ahmed and Sheikh Mujib over political and organisational issues. Sheikh Mujib, as some state was never comfortable with Tajuddin Ahmed’s leadership of the war when he was away in jail in Pakistan. Obviously, he had emerged from a typical bespectacled party functionary to an international leader and there were many who happily poisoned the ears of Mujib against him.
In fact this conflict began in 1971 itself when people very close to Sheikh Muijb tried to halt the declaration of the Mujibnagar PM in April. However, the Indian government would have none of it and went ahead and broadcast the speech in defiance of whatever was being told to them. This resentment stayed on and contributed a great deal to the enthusiasm of the Bangladeshi leaders for the Mujib Bahini as a separate event run directly by the Indian army. This conflict within the AL continued and later Tajuddin Ahmed was removed from the cabinet and although they didn’t become adversaries ever, the closest lieutenant of Sheikh Mujib was replaced by Sheikh Moni in 1973.
Tofail's influence with the emotional leader was carried over when Bangladesh became a reality and Sheikh Mujib the Prime Minister. He was appointed Sheikh Mujib's political secretary and in that capacity was one of the most powerful shadows behind the throne.
In their own way each of his principal political advisers made notable contributions to the Mujib legend.
According to Professor Emeritus Serajul Islam Choudhury the conspiracies by four leaders of Mujib Bahini, their names not mentioned, were successful in creating a greater distance between Sheikh Mujib and Tajuddin Ahmad than the ploys of Khandaker Moshtaque Ahmed. Referring to SA Karim's book "Sheikh Mujib, Triumph and Tragedy", the professor recounted how negatively the four leaders presented Tajuddin to Sheikh Mujib in the former's absence.
Even Daniel Newberry, the US Chargé d’Affaires ad interim in Dhaka during 1973 commented on Sheikh Moni's "blatant attempts" to establish himself "as heir apparent" to Sheikh Mujib.
We are inclined to believe that the tension within the cabinet is indeed surfacing again over blatant attempts of Sheikh Moni, now allied with Jatiyo Sramik League leader Mannan, to establish himself as heir apparent to Sheikh Mujib.
During the past month, Moni has been touring the country attacking the government, principally bureaucrats, for anti-Bangladesh attitudes and calling for wholesale purges of the administration and government.
Daniel Newberry, US Chargé d’Affaires ad interim in Dhaka (1973)
Tipped as the natural successor to Sheikh Mujib, Tajuddin Ahmad became their prime target.
In a free Bangladesh, Tajuddin Ahmed ought to have played a bigger role in the transformation of society. That role could have come through his holding on to the position of head of government. As minister for finance, though, he demonstrated a tremendous degree of courage in warding off evil spirits, both in the form of international donor agencies and local opportunists. It was his conviction that a development strategy for Bangladesh did not have to include thoughts of aid from nations which had opposed its birth. Such a position, naturally, did not endear him to the right-wingers in the government; and these men kept up their noisy complaints against him before the Father of the Nation.
But what hurt Tajuddin Ahmed more than the whispering campaign against him was his sad, shocking realisation that Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was listening more to men like Khondokar Moshtaque and Sheikh Moni than to him. Decent almost to a fault, Tajuddin never complained in public. In private, though, he found it inexplicable that Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the leader and political soul mate with whom he had shaped the political course of the Bengali nation, never once sought to ask him about the events leading up to the formation of the provisional government and the war of liberation that such a government waged.
The differences between these two giants of Bengali history only grew wider. Tragedy was bound to follow.
The dire situation in the country was leading it to self-destruction, merely three years after a blood-ridden independence. Only one minister had the courage to stand up to Sheikh Mujib publicly – Tajuddin Ahmad. The Finance and Planning Minister was Sheikh Mujib’s right-hand man for over two decades. It was Tajuddin Ahmad who stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Sheikh Mujib during his dizzy rise in 1950s and 60s, forming a formidable partnership. And it was Tajuddin Ahmad – not Sheikh Mujib – who led the political warfare against Pakistan and its mighty army during the 1971 Muktijuddho as Prime Minister of newly formed Bangladesh. But loyal to core, Tajuddin made sure that all credit went to his "Mujib bhai" instead of him. After liberation he handed over the premiership to Sheikh Mujib. Tajuddin was also one of the key architects in framing the first Constitution of Bangladesh and was elected as a member of the Jatiya Sangsad in 1973 and included in the cabinet.
About Bangbandhu Mr. Tajuddin always spoke in deeply emotional and effusive terms. He really loved that man. Even when it appeared the two were moving apart he’d speak of his old friend with nothing but utmost respect. He had an unshakeable faith and trust in Bangbandhu. And I believe, Bangbandhu had great respect for him as well.
Abu Sayeed Choudhury, private secretary of Finance Minister Tajuddin Ahmad (1972 - 74)
In the aftermath of 1971 Liberation, Bangladesh witnessed a sharp decline in law and order situation. Murder, highjacking was taking place in the cities in broad daylight while there was a “total reign of terror” in rural Bangladesh. Smuggling of cotton, salt, and food grain, including those coming as relief from donor countries, contributed to exorbitant price hike of staple food and essential commodities. Protest and rallies were norm throughout the country.
In 1974, in the aftermath of famine in March and flooding in August which had engulfed the country, there were looting and plundering of relief materials at an unprecedented level. Every day newspapers were full of photos and stories of starving people, homeless, destitute, death and general hardship. With little or no food, shelter, and clothing, millions converged to the cities and towns. Allegation of corruption were meted out against even the seniormost authorities on a regular basis. Even the once revered Sheikh Mujib was not free from criticism.
On 22 Sept 1974 about 200 unfed, half-clad men and women took out a procession on the streets of Dhaka demanding food and clothing. The death cries of millions could not move the heartless Awami Leaguers. Shamelessly they celebrated Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s 55th birthday with a cake weighing 55 pounds at Gono Bhaban. Shiekh Mujib cut the cake himself.
Bangladesh’s deteriorating situation was pushing Tajuddin Ahmad closer and closer to depression. Having been "the brain" behind "the heart" Sheikh Mujib for over two decades, Tajuddin now found himself being alienated by Sheikh Mujib himself. The once inseparable pair gradually drifted apart as they grappled with the problems faced by a newly independent Bangladesh
What can I say to that? I have given up. Let them take over. Let them do whatever they want to.
Tajuddin's frustration was shared by others. But unlike him, they weren’t willing to air their views publicly.
He had a habit of touching the tip of his index figure with the thumb, on both hands. When he was worried for something, or anxious, the pace of this touching would accelerate. One day he called me in. Seeing his fingers working at furious pace I knew there was trouble. Something must have gone wrong really bad. I decided that it was not a good time to speak. So we sat there in dead silence, until about 5 minutes later he broke it: "Mr. Choudhury, it looks like we have reached the end of the line. I can’t go on like this. It’s becoming practically impossible to continue standing by this man. Most of the people in the Awami League seem to have lost their humanity. The kind of policies they are following, the path they are taking, no, I can’t take it anymore."
I tried to play the devil’s advocate just to light up the room a bit, but it didn’t work.
"You don’t have any idea what’s going on inside. Impossible! I can’t work with them."
We travelled around quite a few countries. Everywhere we went we heard the same lament from our Ambassadors: Sir, we can’t take it anymore. The papers here are buzzing with all those negative news from Bangladesh. They are making fun of us, asking questions, making enquiries, which we are finding increasingly difficult to cope with, to give satisfactory explanations. These complaints seemed to have sunk Mr. Tajuddin into a state of depression. He was concerned, very concerned. He became quite non-communicative, even with me. All that I’d hear him mutter: "can’t take it anymore, can’t".
I remember the last few days I had been with him, how utterly crushed and brokenhearted he looked. He could hardly hide his deep disappointment: “I can clearly see the downward slide of my country, and right now I am powerless to do anything about it. The country is heading for disaster.” The gloom was palpable. He was being eaten away by despair and helplessness. I would try my best to cheer him up, but he was a deeply hurt man, a defeated man. It was the widening gap between him and Bangabandhu that drove him to a state of near depression.
Mr. Tajuddin would tell me how some of Bangabandhu’s decisions were favouring some elements, that meant excessive power in the hands of a few unsavory characters who could not possibly deliver anything good for the country. During that period of time everybody knew something was going wrong somewhere without knowing exactly what. But Mr. Tajuddin knew the inside story far more than anyone else, so his sour mood was a clear indicator of the doom and gloom that was awaiting the country. As the Deputy Chair of the Planning Commission I had to attend a lot of Cabinet meetings. In 1972 I saw the real Tajuddin, in all his brilliance, his profound knowledge, and his complete understanding of every issue on the table. He was a Minister with great influence. But things began to fade a bit around 1973. Things weren’t running the way they were supposed to. At the end I myself got disenchanted, and left for abroad in January 1975.
Nurul Islam, former Deputy Chair of the First Planning Commission of Bangladesh
On 13 October 1974, upon his arrival to Dhaka following a 37-day foreign trip, Tajuddin publicly criticised the government for incompetence and mismanagement and for its faulty economic policies.
He gave a very strong speech at the airport saying that the nation "can no longer hide its head in the sand like an ostrich".
The economic condition of Bangladesh has plunged into an abyss because of flawed economic policies.
Tajuddin Ahmad on 13 October 1974 upon his arrival to Dhaka following a 37-day foreign trip
In the circumstances it was akin to political suicide and probably reflected the desperation he felt. On being summarily dismissed, Tajuddin immediately announced his retirement from politics.
The other ministers, whatever may have been their private opinions, did not show hesitation in falling into line behind Sheikh Mujib whatever he did. The same is true of some senior civil servants and military officers. They had no reason to take sides, but take sides they did for rapid promotions. The numerous turncoats in evidence after Sheikh Mujib's assassination underscores this sad story.
Anthony Mascarenhas, author of "Bangladesh: A Legacy of Blood" (1986)
Tajuddin Ahmad's public criticism of the government's faulty economic policies drew 'sharp reaction from right-wing forces led by Khandaker Moshtaque Ahmed'.
Being a member of the cabinet, Tajuddin Ahmed has no right to publicly comment against or criticize the policies of the government. Thus he has to resign from Bangabandhu's cabinet. Mr. Tajuddin Ahmed will be compelled to resign, if he does not do so on his own initiative.
His no-nonsense speech also infuriated Sheikh Mujib. Tajuddin would last only 13 more days in the cabinet.
His enemies, however, were able to create a distance between him and Bangabandhu under the pretext of events like price-hike, food insecurity, and economic "mismanagement" that were essentially by-products of a very unstable global economy following oil crisis and beyond the capacity of a finance minister.
Tajuddin resigned on 26 October 1974, at a time when the country was facing a very difficult time including a famine. Before resigning, he was, however, able to present his third budget and first Five-Year Plan. His thoughts of self-reliant development were adequately reflected in this plan. This plan envisaged the use of voluntary mobilisation of resources including the educated youths and students for poverty eradication through development of physical and human infrastructures.
The subsequent events, particularly the oil crisis, food shortage, deteriorating law and order, high inflation and all kinds of conspiracies, both within and outside Bangladesh, did not allow Tajuddin to stick to his guns and promote a nationally owned pro-poor development strategy.
It may be argued that Bangabandhu had in an effort to improving ties with the US government removed Tajuddin from his cabinet. This move signified not only an attempt to appease America but also signaled a slight shift away from the Indo-Soviet Axis that Tajuddin represented. While there could have been reasons in 1974 for Bangabandhu to pose as a non-aligned nationalist through these decisions, his subsequent decision to form BAKSAL seemed to be in complete inconsistency with his earlier actions. While the left-leaning Tajuddin should have been Sheikh Mujib's natural choice in implementing the ideals of BAKSAL, he was completely left out of it.
A few days after we came back from our 37-day trip abroad Mr. Tajuddin told me in his office: "Mr. Choudhury, I’m going to tell you something today, and you’ll be the only witness to that". I was alarmed. "Sir, what’s the point of my being the witness? I’m only a Government Officer. If you leave this office tomorrow I’ll be somewhere else the day after. So, I’ll be of no use as a witness. You should choose one of your trusted political friends instead."
Mr. Tajuddin wouldn’t listen to me: "No, it is you who has to listen." Then he took up the red phone to call Bangbandhu, and this is what he said: "I think I should talk to you on a few urgent matters. In your office there is hardly any opportunity since you are always surrounded by your people. There is no environment there for a heart-to-heart talk, so I’ve chosen the red phone to express my views. You have been trying to establish a one-party system, and I have been trying to argue against it. Today I’m going to give you my final opinion. I’m not in agreement with this one-party track of yours". Mr. Tajuddin took a pause at that point. Obviously Bangabandhu said something at the other end, upon which Mr. Tajuddin shot back: "First of all I’m not convinced with your argument. Secondly, it’s not a question but a statement, as the Prime Minister of Bangladesh you have so much power in your hands that I do not think there is any need for more power in a one-party or any other system. You already have a tremendous amount of power, so all those arguments you are giving in favor of a one-party system seem pretty hollow to me. Third of all, before the Independence, over a span of 24-25 years, there is no field or meadow anywhere in this country that you and I didn’t cover together. Every time we spoke to our people we gave them hope for a happy prosperous country, whose basis would be democracy. The democracy we had extolled all our lives, we had vowed to pursue at all times, is now being totally erased by just one stroke of your pen for the sake of your vision of a one-party system of government. I very strongly and unequivocally express my opposition to this decision of yours."
Then there were a few other things they talked about. In the end what Mr. Tajuddin said was startlingly prophetic: "By taking this step you are closing all the doors to remove you peacefully from your position. (This sentence in English was his own). I’m telling this based on a lifetime experience of mine. People will have no alternative. If anyone wants to remove you from power you’re not leaving any democratic means for them to do it. There will be but one course for them to get rid of you, and that is going to be the gun."
At the other end of the phone Bangabandhu was obviously very upset at that, for his shouting voice was clearly audible to me. Mr. Tajuddin responded by saying: "But Mujib Bhai, do you know what will be the most unfortunate thing? The gun is not only going to find you, it is going to find us as well even though we are the ones who pleaded with you not to go ahead with it. Ultimate victim is going to be our country."
A few days after that conversation I just blurted out: "Sir, if the situation has become so unbearable that you are unable or unwilling to stick around anymore, then why don’t you just go to Bangbandhu and say that you don’t want to be in your position anymore?"
"You don’t know Mr. Choudhury, I have a little problem saying that to Mujib Bhai."
"What is that problem, Sir, can you explain?" I asked.
"Before Independence we have been together a long, long time, either he was beside me or I was beside him. The only time we were apart was when one or both of us were in prison. So our relation has a very deep root, and that has created a kind of loyalty that is not easy to explain. Now, if he asks me to quit I will. But for me to tell him is very hard, even though that is what I very much want to do."
Tajuddin Ahmad had feared that the growing political and economic crisis would have fatal repercussion - even for himself.
Near the end he even hinted at the possibility that the Government might put him in jail on some trumped-up charge. I thought he was being a bit melodramatic out of pure frustration. So I would say: "Nonsense, they would not dare doing anything like that". He would stare, say nothing, other than smile a bit.
In a move that may be termed as suicidal for Sheikh Mujib, he asked Tajuddin to resign. On 26 October 1974 a glum looking Cabinet Secretary Towfiq Imam and Joint Secretary Habibul Haq came to the Secretariat carrying two sealed envelopes and met Tajuddin Ahmad who was waiting in Nurul Islam’s (Deputy Chairman & Planning Commission) office.
The day Mr. Tajuddin resigned his job he was sitting with me in my downstairs office. I did not notice anything unusual in his manners but as normal as any other day. Even when his Private Secretary Abu Sayeed Choudhury called him upstairs, I had no reason to suspect what was going to happen a moment later. He was only talking in generalities like “I can’t stay here, I’ve to leave,” but nothing specific. Never gave a hint that it was going to happen the same day.
Nurul Islam, former Deputy Chair of the First Planning Commission of Bangladesh
Best wishes to you. In the greater interest of the country you should no longer remain in charge of the Finance Ministry. This is why you are being asked to offer your resignation (or something like that). Attached please find a letter of resignation awaiting your signature. Yours truly, Shaikh Mujibur Rahman.
Mr. Kafiluddin Mahmud read out the letter before handing it to me. Then he burst out crying, tears rolling down his face. He took it very hard, bemoaning a few times: "Oh Allah, Oh Allah!"
Tajuddin Ahmad readily compiled and put his signature on the letter of resignation. Habibul Haq and Towfiq Imam collected the letter, asked Tajuddin not to "take any offense" since they "had to carry out this unpleasant job" and left.
Meanwhile, Sheikh Mujib had scheduled a press conference where all the Cabinet Ministers and press members were waiting. Important officials were also invited.
I remember the last few days I had been with him, how utterly crushed and brokenhearted he looked. He could hardly hide his deep disappointment: "I can clearly see the downward slide of my country, and right now I am powerless to do anything about it. The country is heading for disaster". The gloom was palpable. He was being eaten away by despair and helplessness. I would try my best to cheer him up, but he was a deeply hurt man, a defeated man. It was the widening gap between him and Bangabandhu that drove him to a state of near depression.
Mr. Tajuddin would tell me how some of Bangabandhu's decisions were favouring some elements, that meant excessive power in the hands of a few unsavory characters who could not possibly deliver anything good for the country. During that period of time everybody knew something was going wrong somewhere without knowing exactly what. But Mr. Tajuddin knew the inside story far more than anyone else, so his sour mood was a clear indicator of the doom and gloom that was awaiting the country. As the Deputy Chair of the Planning Commission I had to attend a lot of Cabinet meetings. In 1972 I saw the real Tajuddin, in all his brilliance, his profound knowledge, and his complete understanding of every issue on the table. He was a Minister with great influence. But things began to fade a bit around 1973. Things weren't running the way they were supposed to. At the end I myself got disenchanted, and left for abroad in January 1975.
The day Mr. Tajuddin resigned his job he was sitting with me in my downstairs office. I did not notice anything unusual in his manners but as normal as any other day. Even when his Private Secretary Abu Sayeed Choudhury called him upstairs, I had no reason to suspect what was going to happen a moment later. He was only talking in generalities like "I can't stay here, I've to leave," but nothing specific. Never gave a hint that it was going to happen the same day.
Soon after the return of Bangabandhu the same elements (that included Khondokar Moshtaq and his followers plus some of the big shots of the Mujib bahini) who had tried to create all sorts of problems for Mr. Tajuddin during the War, got back to their old ways by throwing roadblock after roadblock at him in each and every initiative he took. Overtly or covertly they tried to turn Bangabandhu against Tajuddin. Eventually they succeeded. Bangabandhu seemed to be backing further and further away from Tajuddin.
Tajuddin Bhai was, in my opinion, the main architect of every major success of Bangabandhu's political life. Yet the mistake he [Sheikh Mujib] made by letting himself be talked into losing faith in this man ultimately cost him very dearly.
Tajuddin Bhai was a living example of the words 'discipline' and 'efficiency'. Every little file that ever crossed his desk received the utmost care and attention by him, no matter how important or how insignificant they were. His capacity for clear analysis and quick judgment was phenomenal. There was nobody in the whole country who could come close to match his intellectual abilities.
Let me close by recalling one small story. Once a file was sent by Bangabandhu for Mr. Tajuddin's approval, Tajuddin Bhai studied the file and wrote in response: "As the Minister of Finance I cannot approve this. I’m sorry that I am unable to comply with your request. Since you are the PM and you have the constitutional right to decide for or against any proposal you may approve it yourself if you so wish. There is no need for my approval".
It was not too long after that Tajuddin Bhai resigned.
He said his goodbye to everyone and left quietly.
Mr. Tajuddin then told me that he heard from his sources that the Army and the Police have been kept on alert. They have been ordered to keep an eye on the whereabouts of Tajuddin. The Army had gone as far as surround the Secretariat. Mr. Tajuddin said: "I will go around the Ministry to say goodbye to everybody, and then go home." To Mazhar he said: "Please call Arham Siddiqui (his friend) to send his car. I won’t use the official car anymore."
At the moment he was about to leave the Secretariat for the last time I asked: "Sir, what are you going to do now? Do you have any plans?" He was very clear in his reply: "I’m never going to sacrifice my principles. And I’ll refrain from taking any step, or doing anything, that may remotely cause any harm to Mujib Bhai."
Tajuddin Ahmad’s resignation was announced in the press conference – much to the "glee and satisfaction" of Khandaker Moshtaque Ahmed.
At that time the Chief of BSS, Bangladesh Information Service, was Mr. Jawadul Karim, who happened to be a relative of mine. He told me later: “You know Sayeed, at the Press Conference following Mr. Tajuddin’s resignation, Bangbandhu looked very grief-stricken, very downcast. His face was a picture of great loss. The only person who wore a crooked smile all the time was Khondokar Moshtaq. He didn’t even try to hide his obvious sense of glee and satisfaction. If he could he’d have embraced everybody out of sheer joy. It couldn’t have escaped anyone’s notice. He was bouncing around everywhere.” Mr. Karim even told me this: “This friction between Bangabandhu and Mr. Tajuddin, it had to be the work of Khondokar Moshtaq. I bet that man is going to ruin Bangabandhu some day.”
In the meantime, secret service agents were assigned to monitor Tajuddin's movement and register the names of any influential people who came in contact with him.
Sometime after Mr. Tajuddin’s resignation I went to see him at his Dhanmondi residence. Among a lot of things we talked about he said this: "You have come to see me, but there are secret service agents covering my house outside. You can rest assured that your name will be on their books." Later, I remember having told Bangabandhu: "Mr. Tajuddin is a friend of mine, so I go to see him at his house."
"Why are you telling me this?" said Bangabandhu.
"Because I can’t be sure who will report this to you, so I am telling you in advance."
Mr. Tajuddin was very worried about his country. I would ask him: “What do you think is going to happen to this country? How can it be saved?"
"What can I say to that? I have given up. Let them take over. Let them do whatever they want to," is all he had to offer in response.
Near the end he even hinted at the possibility that the Government might put him in jail on some trumped-up charge. I thought he was being a bit melodramatic out of pure frustration. So I would say: "Nonsense, they would not dare doing anything like that." He would staresay nothing, other than smile a bit.
Mr. Tajuddin was a truly exceptional man. He left the government, and went straight home. Didn’t grouch or grumble, change sides or parties, switch loyalties, like others do in countries like ours. His loyalty toward his party was unshakable as his love and faithfulness toward Bangabandhu.
Nurul Islam, former Deputy Chair of the First Planning Commission of Bangladesh
One day Mr. Hamidullah, the Governor of Bangladesh Bank called me up, saying: "Mr. Choudhury, would you come to join me for a cup of coffee? I have something very interesting to tell you". He didn't want to say what it was, over the telephone. So I went to see him. This is what he said: "I went to see Mr. Tajuddin at his residence last evening. I was there for quite a while, and discussed a lot of things. He discouraged me to visit him at his home anymore".
"He told me the same thing. You shouldn’t come to see me here, it may land you in trouble. They keep an eye on all comings and goings in this house, he said," I added.
Mr. Hamidullah continued: "At one point of our discussion he asked me about you. Did I see you, how you are doing, etc. I told him, yes, I did see Abu Sayeed quite often and he was doing well. Then he started praising you profusely. I never heard a Minister praising an officer so much. Do you know what he said? He said, an officer like that was worth more than ten officers. If Sheikh Sahib had an officer like Abu Sayeed in his office then he wouldn’t do those mistakes. And the history of Bangladesh would be quite different today".
Abu Sayeed Choudhury, Private Secretary of Tajuddin Ahmad
Tajuddin Ahmad retired from active politics and left the political arena for good. He went into exile of a kind, until his murder the following year.
Tajuddin’s resignation from cabinet on 26 October 1974, as per the wishes of his leader Sheikh Mujib, marked yet another sad day in the history of Bangladesh. To date it remains one of the few instances of men in public office abdicating voluntarily. Ironically, Tajuddin was also deprived of a place in the cabinet that was reconstituted three months later on 26 January 1975. Nor was he offered any membership of the infamous Executive or Central Committee of BAKSAL during that summer.
Despite the dramatic setback, Tajuddin remained loyal toward his party. He never publicly expressed his disappointment, change side or parties or switch allegiance, like others did (and still do today) in the political arena. He remained faithful to Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and quietly faded into the background.
Even after Tajuddin Ahmed's resignation, Bangabandhu maintained a cordial personal relationship with Tajuddin Ahmed and his family. He sent a pair of white rabbits for Tajuddin's son Sohel knowing that he was fond of rabbits. Bangabandhu personally invited Tajuddin Ahmed and his family to the weddings of his sons, Kamal and Jamal.
Tajuddin's departure only intensified the dangers for Bangabandhu and for the country.
As I said before, the greatest tragedy of Bangladesh was the chasm that was created between Mr. Tajuddin and Bangabandhu. I strongly believe that but for this unfortunate falling out between the two leaders the history of Bangladesh would have been quite different today. Those two were a perfect duo for our nation, if they would be always together, working together, planning and making bold decisions together, then without a doubt, Bangladesh would by now be well on its way to becoming the cherished land as dreamed by our people in the liberating spirit of the War of Liberation. But alas! Our unfortunate land had, instead, to witness the most devastating spectacle of the terrible split between the two, which eventually led to the end of all our hopes and aspirations.
The sacking of an Ahmad family member by a Mujib family member did not stop with Sheikh Mujib and Tajuddin Ahmad.
During her first administration (1996-2001), Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, eldest daughter of Sheikh Mujib, sacked deputy minister Afsaruddin Ahmad, a younger brother of Tajuddin Ahmad, from his role as State Minister for Public Works on grounds of wrongdoing. On 31 May 2009, during Sheikh Hasina’s second administration, Tajuddin’s only son, Sohel Taj, resigned from his role as Ministerof State for Home. He also gave up his membership of parliament.
Nevertheless, it is the resignation of Finance and Planning Minister Tajuddin Ahmad as per the wishes of his best friend and leader Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman which remains one of the most heartbreaking of resignations.
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