Tajuddin Ahmed once met a serious car accident in Savar while Bangabandhu was away from Dhaka. Bangabandhu became very worried after receiving the news and rushed to Tajuddin's house. Bangabandhu embraced him with great relief when he found out that the injury was not that serious.
As an adult Tajuddin Ahmad became more and more engrossed in politics. And he paid the price.
In 1958 Defence Minister Muhammad Ayub Khan (popularly known as just Ayub Khan), Commander-in-Chief of the Pakistan Army from North-West Frontier Province of West Pakistan (now Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa), assumed power through a coup d'état and became Chief Martial Law Administrator (CMLA). It was the first of many instances in the history of Pakistan that the military became directly involved in politics. He subsequently became the President of Pakistan.
In East Pakistan President Ayub was perceived to be biased towards the western wing. This led to anti-Ayub movement throughout the 1960s. Many prominent Bengalis were arrested on numerous occasion during this decade – including Tajuddin Ahmad and Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. In 1962 Tajuddin Ahmad was imprisoned for participating in movement for restoration of democracy. He even had to take his final examination in his law degree (LLB) while in jail in 1964.
President Ayub was widely criticised for beginning the first of the army's incursions into civilian politics, and policies that later led to the creation of Bangladesh.
During the time of Ayub Khan, I once asked Tajuddin: "As a leader of the opposition party, why do you always criticise all the actions of the government? You should at least appreciate some of the good things which the government does." He replied: "When I am hungry, I want to eat rice. If someone offers me a mixture of rice and paddy, shall I have the time and patience to pick and eat the rice one by one leaving aside the paddy?" He later explained to me how military dictators deceived the public by doing a few "so-called good things" which only distracted the attention of the people from the main issues. According to him, all military dictators always served their own interests.
Since his school days Tajuddin Ahmad had been involved in progressive movements, politics and social work. He had been imprisoned numerous times for his political activities for freedom, democracy and economic justice.
By the late 1950s and early 60s Awami League had “lost much of its charm and political ground in the grassroots level”. After the death of founder and stalwart Huseyn ‘Shaheed’ Suhrawardy in mysterious circumstances in 1963, it was left to Sheikh Mujibur Rahman to revive the party. Under his leadership, Tajuddin Ahmad worked tirelessly to add new vigour into the party and in 1964 was elected Awami League’s Organizing Secretary. He picked Bahauddin Chowdhury - his former colleague from the Muslim League days - as his assistant.Among the then leadership of Awami League Tajuddin was the most educated one. All the writings were done by him. Tajuddin became Sheikh Mujib's chief lieutenant and the pair became inseparable. It was Tajuddin's administrative qualities which consolidated the Awami League party. His organisational strength would ultimately make it possible for Awami League to decisively win the 1970 election and lead the Liberation War of 1971. But before all that came the historic Six Point Movement.
Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and Tajuddin Ahmed were born at a crucial time in history. Bangabandhu was the leader of the people of East Pakistan, now Bangladesh. Tajuddin was his follower. He was a shadow of Bangabandhu like Nehru was to Mahatma Gandhi or Chou Enlai to Mao Tse Tung.
As Tajuddin was modest by nature he spoke little in public meetings so he was not that known. He would rather like to remain behind the scene. But the ideological bent upon which the party was formed was Tajuddin's vision.
On 5 February 1966 Tajuddin accompanied Sheikh Mujib to a conference of opposition parties held in Lahore, West Pakistan. During the conference Sheikh Mujib declared Six Points which gave greater autonomy to the people of East Pakistan who were suffocating under the oppressive military regime of West Pakistani leaders. Tajuddin Ahmad was one of the key architects of this charter and played a crucial role in formulating this historic demand. The charter proved controversial. Both wings of Pakistan became engulfed in angry exchanges.
Shortly afterward, on 1 March 1966, Awami League elected Sheikh Mujib as the party’s president and Tajuddin Ahmad as General Secretary and both men began touring the entire country to drum up support for their Six Point Movement, or “6-Dafa Karmasuchi” as it was known in Bangla.
In early 1966, Pakistan’s People’s Party chairman (later president of Pakistan) Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto challenged Sheikh Mujibur Rahman to a debate in which he intended to prove the futility of the Six Points Program that Mujib’s party proposed to implement for the emancipation of the Bengalis in East Pakistan. Bhutto came to Dhaka with his big entourage to debate Mujib in an open public meeting.
Tajuddin, who was one of the main architects of the Six Points Program, prepared all the facts. The day before the debate Tajuddin went on behalf of Mujib and met with Bhutto. They discussed the debate issues related to the Six Points Program. Bhutto was thoroughly impressed by Tajuddin’s depth of knowledge, later relayed by senior Muslim League political party members. Next day, shortly before the debate would start, news spread throughout Dhaka city of sudden departure of Bhutto to Pakistan. He just took off without giving prior notice. Bhutto never challenged Mujib to another debate.
The extent to which Tajuddin Ahmed mattered in Bengali politics was made obvious to a group of young economists cheerfully explaining the details of a proposed Six Point plan on regional autonomy to Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in 1965. The venue, as a participant at the moonlight-dappled meeting once told this writer, was a boat on the Sitalakhya, away from the prying eyes of Ayub Khan's intelligence. Bangabandhu was satisfied with the economists' analysis of the Six Points. And then Tajuddin took over, with question after question. The young economists, until then focused on Mujib, knew at that point that the Awami League had a formidable presence in Tajuddin's intellectual persona.
Tajuddin's political and intellectual brilliance was a matter of worry for Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. When, soon after the elections in 1970, President Yahya Khan prepared to visit Dhaka, Bhutto told him to watch out for Tajuddin, for Tajuddin asked the questions and demanded the answers. After all, Bhutto had reason to know. In early 1966, when as Ayub Khan's foreign minister he had challenged Mujib to a debate over the Six Points at the Paltan Maidan, it was Tajuddin who chose accept the challenge on behalf of his leader. In the event, Bhutto did not turn up.
On 8 May 1968 Tajuddin Ahmad was arrested along with Sheikh Mujib and 33 East Pakistani politicians and officers from both military and bureaucracy by the Government of Pakistan on allegation of conspiring with Indian government agents in a scheme to divide Pakistan and threaten its unity, order and national security. A case, "State vs Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and others", was filed and became widely known as the Agartala Shoŗojontro Mamla (Agartala Conspiracy Case) as the main conspiracy was alleged to have taken place in the Indian city of Agartala in Tripura state (east of present day Bangladesh). The arrest sparked uproar and the general public took to the streets to demonstrate their discontent. A mass upsurge took place and regular violent encounter between the people and government became the norm in the country. Few months later, on 12 February 1969, all the detainees were released without any charges. The following month the military dictatorship of Ayub Khan came to an end and on 25 March 1969 he handed over control of Pakistan to Commander-in-Chief General Yahya Khan, a fellow West Pakistani.
To calm the explosive tension between the two wings of Pakistan, President Yahya promised General Election would be held the following year. And true to his word it did. But the result proved catastrophic for an unified Pakistan.
In 1969, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman paid a visit to Karachi to explain the six-point program of Awami League to the people of West Pakistan and to organise his party. He was accompanied by a large delegation, including Tajuddin Ahmad.
An interesting incident took place during the visit. Pir Pagaro, who was a leader of a religion-based party, invited Bangabandhu and his team to his house for dinner one evening. On the same day Tajuddin Ahmad suddenly became sick. On learning that he would not go to the dinner I asked our cook to prepare alu bharta, pabda macher jhole and dal for him. When I told Tajuddin Ahmed about this menu, his face suddenly lit up, he immediately rushed to his colleagues and asked: "What do you want to eat tonight? If you want mutton biriyani, roast chicken and kebab, you can go to Pir Pagaro's house. If you prefer to eat alu bharta, padba macher jhole and dal, you better stay here. Now the choice is yours".
Some went and the others stayed back. Years later, Nurjahan Murshed explained that Tajuddin Ahmad was a firm believer in secular politics, and did not like to associate himself with any kind of religion-based politics. So, in order to avoid going to Pir Pagaro's house, he became "politically sick." Obviously he did not want to do anything against the dictates of his conscience.
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