It is time once again to remember Tajuddin Ahmad.
In the entirety of the War of Liberation, he made it a point to stay detached from his family as long as the struggle for Bangladesh’s freedom went on. He led a spartan life even as he provided leadership to the guerrilla struggle against the Pakistan occupation forces and presided over a streamlining of the civilian administration within the Mujibnagar government-in-exile.
The nation’s first Prime Minister was perspicacious enough to comprehend the many conspiracies being hatched around him, the obvious goal being either to eject him from leadership of the war or undermine Bangladesh’s cause from within and without. His tenacity and political genius were quick to detect the intrigue planned by the likes of Khondokar Moshtaque Ahmed to drill holes in the national cause at the United Nations. He was swift and ruthless in taking action, through preventing Moshtaque from travelling to New York and through authorizing Justice Abu Sayeed Chowdhury to speak for Bangladesh before the world body.
Forty eight years after the liberation of Bangladesh, how would Tajuddin Ahmad reflect on the political and economic conditions prevailing in the country today? For part of the answer, let it be remembered that when in the immediate post-liberation period, Moshtaque quibbled about a rather small sum of money he was entitled to from an insurance company in the pre-1971 period, Tajuddin politely asked him to drop his demand. It was not proper for a senior political figure, he made it known to Moshtaque, to come forth with such demands when it was a whole nation that had borne the brunt of war and devastation.
Here is another instance of the frugality Tajuddin Ahmad, as minister for finance in Bangabandhu’s government, wished the nation to practise in the aftermath of the war. Invited to speak at a memorial service for two martyrs by an organization in Dhaka’s Malibagh, he made it plain that he was in no position to donate more than a hundred taka, and that too from his own pocket, to the organization. Sensing the disappointment among his audience, he explained calmly the dire state of the economy, in layman’s language, that could not be overlooked in those parlous times. When he finished, the crowd of young Bengalis cheered him.
This was Tajuddin Ahmad.
How would he respond to the many measures, some of them extremely worrying, fiscally adopted by his successors in the ministry of finance? His would be a loud voice against any and all measures to have black money turned into white money on the watch of some finance ministers we have known, men who have left us sorely disappointed by kowtowing before the elements who have made a regular bonfire of the national economy over the years. Had he lived, Tajuddin Ahmad would have manned the economic fortress against all moves toward a manipulation of the economy into the pseudo-capitalism it has been pushed into becoming on the watch of all his successors. His commitment to socialism being what it was, his stand on Bangladesh’s relations with the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank being what it was, the exploitative society we are trapped in today would be a figment of imagination. It would not be there.
For Tajuddin Ahmad, the shares scandals which have so often shamed the country would be instances of criminality that would swiftly and ruthlessly and decisively be brought under the purview of the law. In his hands, the sanctity of Bangladesh Bank would be preserved and no individual, no matter how powerful or influential or close to the powers that be, would escape the law. For that matter, such elements would not muster the courage to engage in the shares market or ask for loans from state-owned banks and then not repay them. Men of integrity make it hard for men of questionable character to damage the foundations of the State. And Tajuddin Ahmad was a leader of impeccable integrity.
And because he was, it is not hard to imagine what his position on defaults in repayments to the banks would be. On Tajuddin’s watch, loan defaulters would find no friends in the higher echelons of government, would not influence the powerful into giving them money that belonged to the State, would not have the gall to demand that they be given long periods, assuming they were given the loans, for the loans or the interest on them to be paid back or not paid at all. For Tajuddin, the poor and the underprivileged mattered. Had he lived long enough, he would place a cap on individual wealth and then ensure that the wealthy paid higher taxes, that indebtedness would be no reason for law enforcers to persecute and prosecute the poor peasants and farmers of this country while leaving the corrupt rich untouched, beyond the pale of the law.
And, yes, Tajuddin Ahmad would not push the scandal of the Farmers Bank under the rug. He would go purposefully after those who presided over its undoing and ensure that justice was done to them over their misdeeds. An absence of justice or selective justice would be anathema to him.
Tajuddin Ahmad would ensure the rise and growth of social democracy in Bangladesh, would initiate and put in place an economic platform for the State where garment workers would not need to march on the streets for wages, where the nouveau riche would not play games with national resources, where politics would entail lively and meaningful debate on the issues, in Parliament and across the country.
Syed Badrul Ahsan is a political commentator and biographer of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and Tajuddin Ahmad