The discipline which characterized Tajuddin Ahmad’s politics was a trait he developed very early on. An interpretation of his personality is to be had from the diaries he meticulously maintained from the late 1940s and till the early 1950s.
It was a time when politics had not yet turned into Tajuddin Ahmad’s career, not in that full sense of the meaning. But the diaries are a strong hint of where his fortunes were taking him. Unlike the diaries of other famous people, these carriers of Tajuddin Ahmad’s thoughts were not detailed analyses of events or incidents. Little of the philosophical is there, for they project a Tajuddin quite content to note, in all the brevity he can call forth, the important incidents of the day.
A Multi-faceted Tajuddin Ahmad
A particular aspect of the diaries is that they reveal a multi-faceted Tajuddin Ahmad. On the one hand, he is a young, keen student of society and people. On the other, he is one whose aspirations are clearly focused on a career in politics, though he stays well away from making any public display of such ambitions. At another and equally important level, the diaries are an exposition of his links with common folk, those he has known all his life either as relatives or neighbours or through simple acquaintance. The realism which was in future to guide Tajuddin in his observations of life around him manifests itself through the diaries.
The diaries cover the years between 1947 and 1952. Within this span, both in terms of time and space on the pages of his notebooks, Tajuddin Ahmad’s comprehension of the world around him gives him a political lead which no other aspiring politician was to have in that particular moment in history. Tajuddin speaks of politics and yet does not fail to speak of the common people he comes across. He is not selective as a diarist, a trait which achieves prominence in him through his interaction with people across the spectrum.
A Keen Observer
A keen observer of the world around him — and the world for him stretched from his country roots to what was to be his presence on the national political stage — Tajuddin Ahmad notes the little details as well as the broad picture. And he writes almost on a daily basis, giving one the impression that his day cannot pass into night until the day’s recording of events catching his fancy goes into the diary.
Tajuddin never ignored people. It is a truth about him which comes through in his diary entry for Sunday, 14 September 1947. He was twenty two but the maturity of one far older than in that age was part of his character. As he writes:
‘Majid and the son of Rahim Buksh khalifa came at around 11 in the morning. I spoke to them for nearly two hours.’
Clearly the two men were from his village Dardaria and like a typical Bengali, Tajuddin delighted in seeing them at his door and inquiring, it is reasonable to suppose, after other people he knew from his rural background.
It is unthinkable that a beggar will sit down to eating with putatively respectable people, but Tajuddin has no problem with the beggar who has accompanied Majid and the tailor’s son. It is an early hint of the society Tajuddin foresees shaping up in his country, a society where equality will matter. Discrimination is not part of his lexicon.
The Practical Aspects of Life
The practical aspects of life matter to Tajuddin. Note the entry for Thursday, 18 September 1947:
Clearly the scene is from his village. In the manner of all Bengali young men in the 1940s and even later, Tajuddin is tied to his roots. He is comfortable in that bullock cart just as he is comfortable in an urban setting.
A nearly permanent feature of Tajuddin’s diaries was the note he made of the weather before calling it a day every evening. Here is a sign of his weather-related interest:
A Young Man Committed to Politics
Tajuddin, despite his links with rural Bengal, made it a point to write his diaries in English, a language over which he had had mastery since his schooldays. One would have been particularly thrilled to read his diary entries in the original, for there is that ancient danger of something always getting lost in translation. That is not to say that the diaries as they have come to readers give one any reason for disappointment. On the contrary, they are revealing of a young man whose future commitment to politics is given subtle hints in the way he refers to happenings.
Observe the entry for 21 February 1952, a day that was soon to be immortalized in Bangladesh’s history:
It is then that Tajuddin comes squarely up against the more important reality of the day:
It appears that Tajuddin is yet unaware of the shootings which have taken place. He moves off and makes his way after about twenty minutes to the office of the Director of Public Instruction (DPI). He is there to inquire about what he calls the grant-in-aid programme of the Muslim Education Fund from a member of staff in the office. At the end of his conversation, Tajuddin leaves the DPI’s office at 3 pm.
Soon Tajuddin becomes aware of the tragedy which has occurred. But he is unable to probe the reports, which are soon being revealed, about the police firing until he has dealt with some personal issues:
One learns from the diary entry that the police surrounded the Joginagar home at 3 am and went into a search of the Jubo League office located on the premises. As Tajuddin notes, ‘they could not find anything dangerous or illegal.’ And then he informs his reader: ‘My bedroom is attached to the Jubo League office. And because I slipped out of the room when they came they were unable to detect my presence.’
It was an early sign of the fraught state of politics Tajuddin was getting drawn to. The state of Pakistan was intent on curbing any opposition and its rulers had inaugurated the process with the shootings of 21 February.
Tajuddin’s style of language in the diaries is more conversational than a deliberate attempt to impress. He sees things as they are and notes them down. At a particular point, he is a teacher, as the following lines show:
Tajuddin Ahmad : Deeper into Politics
Politics was making deeper inroads into his life, which was only natural given his expanding worldview. On Wednesday, 18 January 1950, he jots down the following:
It is the networking Tajuddin does in those early days that is important. He has no comments or analyses to make of the individuals or groups which move in and out of his life, but one tends to think, and rightly too, that Tajuddin values his connections with people and with every passing day broadens his social as well as political circuit.
On this same day, he does not ignore his personal work. He notes:
On Monday, 27 February 1950, he seems free and yet is not keen on the idea of being free. As he says, ‘Woke up at 7.30 in the morning. Haven’t been studying.’
And then he gives the reason: ‘Because of sports at F.H.M. Hall no classes took place.’
On Thursday, 16 November 1950, he wakes up at 5 in the morning, which is quite early but not, it seems, for him. The day promises a good dose of politics. He reports, ‘Students’ strike. A protest against the report of the Basic Principles Committee.’
At 5.30, a visitor named Hakim arrives, with whom he leaves for Bangshal at 6. He is obviously preoccupied with issues of a legal nature. In Bangshal so early in the morning, he finds Shahad Ali Sarkar, Osman, Asmat, Rustom Ali Khan, Falu, Sobhan and Aziz:
‘At 8.30 I took Shahad Ali Sarkar, Saleh Ahmed Morol, Hakim and others to Kamruddin Sahib. The fee for the defence lawyer is fixed at three hundred rupees.’
Once these priorities are taken care of, he goes back to his hall at 10 am. For now, he has had a shave, followed by a meal. He states sadly, though, that he has not had his bath.
The politically crucial issue of language comes up in the entry for Monday, 15 March 1948:
On 20 March 1948, he goes to Kamruddin’s residence at 3 in the afternoon. A short while later, Oli Ahad, Naimuddin and Kalu join them. Till 6 pm their conversation covers Kamruddin’s tour of North Bengal and the language movement.
The next day, on 21 March, Tajuddin Ahmad troops down to the Race Course. In his words:
Tajuddin is disappointed with Mohammad Ali Jinnah. He records Jinnah’s angry tones. ‘He served warning on the students and almost labeled them as enemies of the state,’ he notes.
In a postscript, Tajuddin writes:
Gandhi’s death on Friday, 30 January 1948, hits him hard. Tajuddin wakes up at 7 am and loses himself in studies till 10. At 1 pm he gets a slip from Mr. Naimuddin, who has asked for twenty rupees. Tajuddin signs a cheque for twenty rupees and sends it off to Naimuddin. He continues:
At 7.45 pm he goes to see Kamruddin at Captain Shahjahan’s residence. There he comes across Jalil. And it is there that he gets news of Gandhi’s assassination in Delhi:
‘Precisely at 8 o’clock Jalil told me: “Gandhiji has been shot dead.” I could not believe him. But Shahjahan Sahib too said the news was true. I was at a loss for words.’
Tajuddin notes that a scream welled up within him and gave itself voice. At 8.20 Kamruddin comes down, looking despondent.
The next day, 31 January, Tajuddin goes to a condolence meeting on Gandhi at the university. His notes speak of the proceedings:
‘The meeting began at 12.30 with Dr. M. Hasan in the chair. It ended at 2 pm. Among those who spoke at the meeting were Dr. M. Hossain, Dr. S.M. Hossain, Kazi Motahar Hossain, Professor Muzaffar Ahmed Chowdhury and B.A. Siddiky.’
Tajuddin could engage in self-deprecating humour. In an entry for 31 December 1952, in relation to a journey towards Gazipur, he writes:
That there was the natural about Tajuddin Ahmad comes through these entries in the diaries. They reveal a work in progress, a personality rounding itself out, which image would come to fruition two decades or so later during the War of Liberation. But there is little question that even in those early stages of Tajuddin Ahmad’s evolution as a politician, maturity and powers of observation underlined his grasp of events. He cultivated men like Kamruddin and Dr. Karim and additionally had ample time for simple people, those with whom he had grown up in his village and with whom he was in touch, especially teachers in local schools around his native Gazipur.
The diaries speak of a man of the soil. That was what Tajuddin would be for the entirety of his life.
(Tajuddin Ahmad, Bangladesh’s wartime prime minister, was born on 23 July 1925 and assassinated on 3 November 1975 in Dhaka central jail)
About the Author
Syed Badrul Ahsan is the Chief Editorial Adviser of The Confluence; a journalist and author. He previously served as the Press Minister at the High Commission of Bangladesh, London and authored a biography on the Founder of Bangladesh, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman entitled From Rebel to Founding Father: Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.