Syed Badrul Ahsan

On a sultry late afternoon in May 1972, Tajuddin Ahmad stood before an audience of essentially young men and women in Dhaka’s Malibagh. Invited by the Shaheed Faruk-Iqbal Smrity Sangsad — Faruk and Iqbal were two young Bengalis killed in army firing in early March 1971 as the non-cooperation movement in East Pakistan gathered pace — Tajuddin Ahmad stepped before the microphone and began speaking in his usual soft-spoken manner. Never an orator in the mould of his leader Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and yet possessed of the grit which often defines men of history, he reminded his audience of the many impediments which lay ahead for the newly independent country he happened to be serving as finance minister. Those two martyrs, he told his audience, were symbolic of the sacrifices the nation had made during the nine-month War of Liberation from Pakistan. He did not fail to tell the young men and women gathered before him on that steamy day that many more sacrifices were necessary if Bangladesh was to be a land of prosperity and dignity for its people.
Tajuddin Ahmad, in a move which did not quite make his audience happy, then told the organizers of the meeting that he was personally donating a hundred taka to the fund of the Faruk-Iqbal Sangsad. Many in the audience had thought, naively, that as finance minister Tajuddin would contribute a fairly large sum of money to the organization which had invited him to speak of the martyrs being commemorated. In the event, through his hundred taka donation, Tajuddin Ahmad made a couple of things pretty clear. In the first place, his donation was from his own resources and not from government funds. In the second, he subtly reminded his audience of the need for frugality in that early season of national freedom. More than anyone, Tajuddin knew of the travails the Bengali nation had journeyed through in the nine months of the struggle for freedom. Three million people had been done to death by the Pakistan occupation army; tens of thousands of women had been raped by Pakistan’s soldiers; whole villages and towns lay in ruins as a consequence of the war. Devastation was strewn across Bangladesh.
That contribution of a hundred taka, Tajuddin Ahmad appeared to be suggesting, was all that the nation could afford at that particular point in its history. Austerity was his theme. It was realism at work; and reality had been the bedrock upon which Tajuddin Ahmad had based his life and his politics. It was not just the war for Bangladesh that revealed the stern stuff he was made of, the principle which guided him all his life. There was too the very fundamental feeling in him that having come through its worst crisis, Bangladesh was in dire need of austerity. The war had not merely given the Bengali nation a sovereignty it had not had in its earlier phases in history. It had also been a warning, a brutally stark one, of the careful, measured course it needed to traverse in its passage to the future. As one convinced of the power of socialism to change Bengali society, any society for that matter, Tajuddin was acutely aware of the role the State would be required to play in the changed circumstances. As finance minister, it was his conviction that a war-ravaged Bangladesh called for the State to be governed along socialistic lines and for the political leadership to acknowledge the idea that winning the war on the fields of battle was one thing but winning the war against endemic poverty was quite another. When Tajuddin Ahmad spoke of his hundred taka donation on that declining afternoon in Malibagh, the message from the finance minister went out loud and clear, even if not many plumbed the depths of his ideas at the time — that a nation born of a determined guerrilla war could not afford the luxury of seeing the old order maintain itself on its perch. The War of Liberation had been waged for much more than a change in geography. It had as its fundamental goal a radical transformation of society. The vehicle for that transformation was socialism.
That hundred taka donation was a sign of the long and winding road ahead for Bangladesh’s people. Tajuddin Ahmad, in post-liberation conditions, was not offering the moon to his people. He was presenting hard reality on a platter.