Leader Of Leaders

Moulana Bhashani embraces Sheikh Mujibur Rahman after the latter sought his blessing during a visit to Santosh, Tangail in 1973. — Photo by the late Rashid Talukdar

                    "As I saw Moulana Bhashani: leader of leaders"


Moulana Abdul Hamid Khan Bhashani was a legendary name and figure during his time, famous around the world and a great leader for all times. I have so many memories with him that I don’t know where to start. Bhashani worked relentlessly and gave almost his entire life to the oppressed masses, which earned him the title Mazlum Jana Neta, meaning the leader of the oppressed.

I still remember the very first day I saw Bhashani Hujur. I was then about only eight years old. It was in 1957 during the historic Kagmari Conference where he first said ‘Assalamu alaikum’ to the Pakistani rulers, adding ‘Lakum Dinokum Oliadin’, which means - you follow your religion and let me follow mine. My father, late Moulvi Nurur Rahman Khan Eusufzai and Moulana Bhashani had very cordial relations. Bhashani Hujur used to respect my father, a former member of the Bengal Legislative Assembly in British India, as an elderly politician of Tangail. My father decided to attend Moulana’s Kagmari Conference and took me with him. Kagmari is in Sontosh Union of the district of Tangail. Kagmari is about a mile away from our house in Tangail town but during those days, there wasn’t any easy transport. We had to walk some distance and finally reached there by a rickshaw. The place was full with lakhs of people. People gathered from all over the country – some came on foot, some by boat as well as through other means. It was like a huge village fair with shops and food stalls all around. I saw some of Bhashani’s followers cooking khichri and keeping it in a dingi (boat). There were many colourful gates commemorating revered leaders of the sub-continent such as Mahatma Gandhi, Netaji Subash Bose, Moulana Abul Kalam Azad, Deshbandhu Chittaranjan Das, Moulana Showkat Ali, Moulana Muhammad Ali, Shahid Titumir and many other distinguish names. And on the dais I saw Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan, better known as the ‘Frontier Gandhi’ of West Pakistan, a beloved leader of Baluchistan, former education minister of India Humayun Kabir, Ataur Rahman Khan, the then Chief Minister of East Pakistan. If I remember correctly I also saw Hussain Shahid Suhrawardi, the then Prime Minister of Pakistan on the dais as well. It is simply impossible to describe the atmosphere.

I saw Moulana Bhashani sitting in the middle of the dais along with all those national leaders. That was my first glimpse of the great leader. I felt attracted to him like a magnet and subconsciously became his devotee and he, my Hujur and everybody’s Hujur – my leader. Soaked in his affection, in the years to come, I remained imbued in Moulana’s political ideology. I attended some of his public meetings and delivered speeches there, something I still feel proud of. During the Mass Upsurge of 1968-69 against the military dictator Ayub Khan, who was the president of Pakistan at that time, I actively organised various protest activities declared by the Moulana. At that time I was the organising secretary of the East Pakistan Student’s Union (EPSU, Menon Group) and one of the student leaders of the 11 points movement. I still remember those meetings where people roared in with slogans such as ‘Brave Bengali, take up arms and liberate Bangladesh and ‘Shadhin Janaganotantrik Purba Bangla’ etc.

On December 4, 1970, the then National Awami Party (NAP Bhashani) organised a mammoth meeting at the Paltan Maidan. I was there when Bhashani delivered his fiery speech accusing the Pakistani leaders of their neglect after visiting the cyclone-devastated areas. It was one of the best speeches I have ever heard. Many of the people attending could not hold back their tears after hearing Hujur’s vivid description of the destruction and misery of the people. I can still feel the emotions stirred by that speech for those lost ones. I remember I saw poet Shamsur Rahman standing and listening to that speech, and after that mammoth meeting he wrote the historic poem ‘Safed Panjabi’ where he gives a vivid description of Moulana Bhashani.
Actually, the story goes like this. On November 12, 1970 a devastating cyclone hit a vast area of Bangladesh, including Chittagong, Barisal, Patuakhali, Noakhali and the coastal areas. About one and half million people died, millions of houses and crops were washed out to the sea. The tragedy was that even after possessing knowledge of the impending cyclone the Pakistani junta did not inform the people of the then East Pakistan. If they had informed the people early, then millions of people’s lives could have been saved. Later, when news of the cyclone and pictures of the dead bodies were published in newspapers, it created a huge uproar in East Pakistan. At that time, Moulana Bhashani was in hospital in Dhanmondi, Dhaka. Bhashani was so sick that the doctors had almost declared him clinically dead. On November 12, 1970, the same day the cyclone hit the country at night, I went to the hospital to see Moulana. I met Aziz Bhai, (Doctor Aziz, ex Minister) and I asked him about his health and he replied ‘very critical, anything can happen any time’. I stayed there till midnight. On the morning of November 13, 1970, I rushed to the hospital and stepped into his room to discover the Moulana awoken from deep slumber, as if through a miracle. The attending nurse called the doctor. Bhashani looked at the door and asked for the newspaper, but nobody dare to give it to him. But when he asked for it repeatedly and looked at me askance, I ultimately gave him the newspaper I was carrying with me. The paper was full of pictures of dead bodies and included the whole story of how the then East Pakistan was neglected by the Pakistani military junta. After reading and seeing it, Moulana Bhashani was so furious that he shouted ‘I will go there to see how cyclone devastated the areas and what the government did.’ All the doctors attending to him said ‘you can’t go Huzur; your health condition does not permit that’. He did not listen to anybody and right away told somebody to pack up his personal belongings and then just set about to visit the cyclone-affected areas. We all are God’s creation but Moulana Bhashani was an extraordinarily blessed person who looked younger than his age and could travel great lengths even at old age. Everywhere he went he delivered fiery speeches against the military junta and provided hope and inspiration to people. All of his speeches were extraordinary. He visited all the affected areas including Barisal, Patuakhali, Sirajganj, Noakhali, Chattragram and Dhaka.

After his last visit to Pakistan he returned to East Pakistan and arrived at the Kurmitola Airport, Tejgaon, Dhaka. From there he moved to Shantosh, Tangail. I was in the jeep carrying Bhashani from Tejgaon Airport to Tangail directly. Mohammad Ali, one of the NAP leaders of Tangail, was also with me. He noticed me only after we arrived in Tangail, and asked me when I had come. I told him, ‘Huzur, I was in the same jeep, but you were sitting at the front and did not see me at the back.’ He asked me about Abdul Haque, Mohammad Toah, Alauddin Abdul Matin, Deben Shikdar, Abul Bashar, Kazi Zafar Ahmed, Haider Akbar Khan Rono and Rashed Khan Menon. Then he told me, ‘Go and tell them to be in the path of Allah. If Allah is monopolized by the Jamaats then there is no escape from a terrible fate.’

History has proven that Moulana’s words were absolutely true. Jamaat-e-Islami collaborated with the Pakistani Army during our liberation and independence war in 1971. He was very furious with Jamaat-e-Islami because in the year 1969 during his last visit to West Pakistan, pro-Moududi Jamaatis had attacked his meeting at Shahiwal. The people there resisted that attack and Moulana Bhashani address the meeting successfully.

Unfortunately, some of the left politicians did not understand Jamaat’s threat and failed to act on the Moulana’s advice. Instead, they misunderstood him and abandoned him at a time when he prepared for the most opportune moment to turn the history of the country and establish an exploitation-free society, which the Moulana dreamed about all his life.

Moulana Bhashani was a leader of leaders, one who made a leader out of many, and some of them have gone on to power and have nothing for his memory. Rather, some of them have betrayed his cause. But I saw many of them still come to him and I asked ask Moulana about that once: ‘Huzur, why do you allow them to come?’ Bhashani replied with smile, ‘listen, you do your job and let them do their job. Remember one thing, try to do the good thing, help the needy people and listen. If anybody is coming to me on their own to be changed how can I say no?’

He was all in one. He was not only a political leader, he was also a religious and spiritual leader too. I saw with my own eyes him giving ‘Dua and Jhar Fook’ to people suffering for diseases, and at the same time, giving money to them and telling them to go to see doctors to get the right prescriptions and medicines to be cured. I asked him ‘Huzur, do you believe in that?’ He answered with a smile, ‘I believe in Allah, but I don’t tell them to come to me to be cured. But I cannot hurt them, I tell them to pray to Allah and go to the doctors to be cured.’

In 1974 when the whole country was in the grips of poverty and famine, Moulana Bhashani raised his voice against the government to help the people and finally went on a hunger strike at the then National Awami Party Office in Motijheel, Dhaka. He was then 94 years old, asking the government to open the ‘Langor Khana’ (food shelter) and give them food immediately and asked Sheikh Mujib to come forward to save the people. It went on for about a week, his health condition deteriorating everyday, doctors worried about him. The people from all over the country came to see him almost everyday, people were mobilised in front of NAP office all day and night and he gave fiery speeches every time a crowd gathered, which made the place look like Hyde Park of London or Mukto Mancha in Dhaka. Lakhs were on the street shouting ‘Bhashanir Dabi Mante Hobe- Noile Gadi Charte Hobe.’ Ultimately, the then prime minister, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman came to the NAP office to see Moulana Bhashani and said yes to his demands for the people.

I remember the day when Moulana returned to Bangladesh after liberation. It was sometime in late January or early February in 1972 and he came directly to Tangail via Haluaghat and Mymensingh, after being released from house arrest in India. I was fortunate enough to be in Tangail at the time. Although his arrival was not pre-announced, somehow we knew that he was returning, and it was amazing that the whole town was filled with people to receive him. He stood in front of the office of the Awami League, which was just in front of his NAP office. On one side of Moulana was Kader Siddique with a microphone in his hand and on another side was his brother, the then MP from Tangail, Abdul Latif Siddique. It was Moulana’s first appearance in public in independent Bangladesh. At one point in his speech, he addressed Kader Siddique, ‘Kaderi, I heard your men are oppressing ordinary people’. Of course Kader Siddique politely denied it.

I heard of another memorable incident when Sheikh Mujib went to Tangail on the occasion of turning Moulana Muhammad Ali College, established by Bhashani, into a public institution. At the meeting, Moulana was outspoken about the failures of the government. As he was criticising the government, the Awami League minister from Tangail, Abdul Mannan, ex-home and health minister, was feeling embarrassed and wanted to stop Moulana. But Sheikh Mujibur Rahman told Mannan bhai, ‘Let Hujur speak his mind; don’t stop him.’ It seems there was always a special relation between Moulana Bhashani and Sheikh Mujib. On August 15, 1975, the day Sheikh Mujib and his family were killed, I was in Tangail. My elder brother woke me up very early in the morning with the news, which I could not believe. Both of us listened to the radio again and again. I decided to go to Santosh to convey the news to Hujur. When I reached Santosh dawn was just breaking but Hujur was not in his hut, made of bamboo and straw, but in the mosque for his morning prayers. I ran to the mosque and saw him coming out. As soon as he noticed me, he asked me why I was there so early in the morning. He could not believe what I told him, and asked someone to bring a radio. After hearing the radio he went inside the mosque again and came out after about an hour his eyes full of tears. ‘Everything is finished. He did not listen to me. I don’t know who advised him to form BAKSAL, to become President. He was with me for a long twenty years as worker and then as secretary of the party. I never had such a good organiser.’ He kept talking to himself as he rapidly rolled his prayer beads (rosary). All the while tears kept rolling down his beard.

A few months before his final days he quit Bhashani NAP and told his closest followers ‘I told you before, don’t waste your time in NAP Bhashani, but you didn’t listen to me, and now I’m telling you again to do your own Party’. He engaged himself to Rabbubiyat - in religious activities for the good of the people.

Ever-dedicated, selfless and ever fighting, Moulana was the dreamer of Bangladesh’s independence. As a man, he was above all worldly comfort and attraction. He never desired for power or kingdom. But he was the undisputed and much-loved leader of the toiling masses; truly the king without a crown, and thus, his reputation can never be snatched away. Everybody now realises why he boycotted the elections in 1970. It is clear that the boycott helped to achieve our goals and gain our independence early. I myself asked him the question, ‘Huzur, why did you boycott the election?’ He replied ‘This is not the time for any division. This is the time for unity!’ If Bhashani NAP participated in that election they would have probably won a few seats and the whole equation would have been totally different. Moulana Bhashani was indeed a far-sighted man. Many believed he had to power to predict a lot of things. In his commanding voice his ‘Khamosh’ could stop any noise.

Moulana Bhashani’s life-long teaching was to love people. His life-long desire was to establish a society free from all forms of exploitation and oppression where common working people would live peacefully with dignity. There was criticism about him - some people say that Moulana Bhashani could not go to power because he knew his limitations, because he was inconsistent, because he never stuck with one organisation, he had no degree or qualification and capability to run ‘state craft’. All these allegations and criticisms are dead wrong. Why? Because he had a vision and mission, he consistently did his job and tried his best for the oppressed people, founded so many educational institutions here in Bangladesh and in Assam, India, including Moulana Mohammad Ali College at Kagmari and Islamic University at Santosh, Tangail and Hazi Mohsin College at Mohipur, Panchbibi, Bogra. He never ran after for any loaf or bread like some other leaders. He is a man who stuck to one principal and raised his voice for the people even when other leaders deviated from the path. He struggled against British rule, he fought for the peasants at Bhashan Char, Dhubri in Assam, India and then here in East Bengal, now Bangladesh against the Zamindars and their ‘lathials’. More importantly, it was his desire and political decision not to go to power and instead raise his voice against all kinds of injustices and oppression.

If we go through the track records of the leaders we know, then the very name of Moulana Bhashani will be on the top of the line, paying all due respect to other leaders. His name will remain in the heart of the people of Bangladesh forever, and denying his contribution would be like denying historical truths. Moulana Bhashani was one of the few leaders who could unite the whole nation against oppression for the betterment of the country.

Moulana Bhashani has passed away but he will always be remembered for what he did for the people and what he did to establish democracy in the country. He passed away on November 17, 1976 and I was fortunate enough to be there when he was buried at Santosh, Tangail.

BY : Atiqur Rahman Salu.