"A drop of ink makes millions think." I am told by a very senior journalist as well as by a very elderly advocate that it was Justice Murshed who would say this. After all, during his lifetime, Justice Murshed was the most enlightened personality in the country and it was this enlightenment or this beacon of light that he wanted to pass on to his fellow countrymen. What late Allama lqbal was to his part of the world Murshed was to his native Bangladesh - "A friend, philosopher and guide." The late Chief Justice Syed Mahbub Murshed was arguable the most distinguished constitutional lawyer and the most eminent jurist that our South Asian sub-continent has ever seen. He was, indisputably, our nation's most articulate advocate of human rights and civil liberty. Not only did Syed Mahbub Murshed discharge his duty to the nation with outstanding competence, he also set a high standard for all professionals to emulate.
Murshed had been a votary of discipline throughout his life and this formulated not only his character but also built up his brilliant academic career which culminated in his becoming a barrister from the honourable society of Lincolm Inn at London. In reality, he was academician right to the end of his life as he grew in wisdom, knowledge and learning. He was a scholar of the highest eminence.
Despite Syed Mahbub Murshed's aristocratic background, he had his roots in the people. He always tried to organise them within the realm of the rule of law to ensure more benefits of the fundamental rights to the citizens. This was confirmed by social justice within the purview of economic order for the fair distribution of wealth. Justice Murshed did this with the depth of poetic and mystical visions and maintained a fine balance enriched by religious and moral fervour. Taking into account the prevailing situation of his times, very few were knowledgeable and had a rare distinction to reach the highest pedestal. Syed Mahbub Murshed was one such rare gem and hence, he has today become a living history.
In the later part of 1954, Syed Mahbub Murshed was elevated to the bench of the Dhaka High Court. As a judge he remained committed to his lifelong ideals of liberty, justice and excellence. His Judicial pronouncements delivered while sitting in the bench of the Dhaka High Court and the Supreme Court of Pakistan briefly as an ad-hoc judge in 1962 plus as Chief Justice reflected his ideals of judicial independence. Some of his judgments created constitutional history and won for him international acclaim.
The power of public understanding and knowledgeable oratory, kindness and sympathy plus a capacity to appreciate the other man's point of view were characteristic of Justice Murshed's personality. In many ways he was the aristocrat in the finest sense of the term. He was firmly committed to the ideals of democracy, to upholding the cause of justice even against extreme odds. He kept afloat the flag of liberty in defiance to all kinds of pressures even from the highest quarters.
I would like to mention what some jurists said about this legend. The late Justice Abu Sayed Chowhury wrote about him stating that "Justice Murshed in his judgments reached correct decisions indicating the boldness of his mind. He gained fame for his wisdom and intelligence, as well as deep respect of the public as he was fearless. It was Justice Murshed, the man, who had for many years, with courage, dauntlessly upheld the rule of law and had administered justice without fear or favour, despite severe pressure." Justice Abdur Rahman Choudhury in his tribute said, "A giant has passed away, a giant in the legal field, a giant amongst the jurists and a giant in his own right. For those of us who had the privilege of knowing Justice Murshed intimately, his death is too overwhelming for words and too deep for tears." In his writings on Justice Murshed, Justice K M Sobhan mentions, "In life and in death he was a king without the trappings of a monarch, for he built an empire in the hearts of his fellowmen." Mr H S Suhrawardy termed Murshed "as an unfailing protector of civil liberties." In his analysis Justice Mustafa Kamal stated, "Justice Murshed presented himself as the colourful personality of wisdom both inside and outside the court." Syed Ishtiaque Ahmed observed "that when true history of the 20th century is written the period from early 1955 to late 1967 might as well be called the age of Murshed."
A little over five decades ago, when our country was under alien rule, when those who governed our country from more than a thousand miles away were determined to impose their culture upon us and erase our cultural heritage, it was Murshed from the Bengali intellectuals who stood up to fight for the age-old traditions and cultural identity of Bangladesh. It will always be remembered that he organised in 1961 the "Tagore Centennial celebrations" at Dhaka and other parts of the country which is now our free Bangladesh and this was in defiance of the opposition of the then Pakistani rulers. When the great tide of nationalism swept the country in the nineteen-seventies, originating from ripples that were noticeable in the fifties and sixties, the distinguished person who figured most prominently in this process was Syed Mahbub Murshed. The fight for a separate identify became, through a process of metamorphosis, a battle for nationalism. The stirrings of a nation in the making in the late nineteen-fifties and sixties found eloquent expression and these were reflected in the manifold speeches, judgments, and writings of Justice Murshed. In this sphere, he became the most articulate spokesman of Bengali nationalism.
In his earlier professional life as a lawyer, despite preoccupations, Murshed found time to write and publicly speak with brilliance and also to participate in political, social and humanitarian activities. In his article Quo Vadis Quaid-e-Azam, he criticised the policies of Mohammed Ali Jinnah in defence of his uncle Fazlul Haque. The article appeared in the 'Statesman' at Calcutta and the 'Telegraph' at London in 1942 and created a thought-provoking stir. During the famine in 1943 and later the communal riots in 1946, Murshed worked actively with the 'Anjuman Mofidul Islam.' A humanist that he was, he was the President of the Red Cross in the late fifties and early sixties of the last century. Deep down, Murshed was a Sufi and a liberal Muslim and spoke of tolerance which was against any form of communalism. Further, during the communal violence that shook the sub-continent in the partition year, he was one of those men who were primarily responsible for setting into motion the process that culminated in the Liaquat-Nehru pact. Murshed was also drawn to the vortex of the language movement in the early fifties.
In addition to his monumental work another significant contribution by then Chief Justice Murshed was that he gave the final touch to the drafting of the historic Six-Points in 1966 for provincial autonomy which was the demand of Bengali intelligentsia. This was what Sheikh Mujib fought for and was jailed. In early 1954 while he was still a practising lawyer, he was among those who drafted the 21-Point Manifesto of the Jukta-Front government and this was summarised by Murshed into the famous Six-Points. Later in 1966, Mazaharul Haq Baki, the then President of the Chatra League, said that no one except Chief Justice Murshed dared to accept being the chief guest at their annual conference. This is where Murshed, like Sheikh Mujib, made the clarion call for provincial autonomy of then East Pakistan.
At a critical time in our history while the country was sensing a victory for autocracy with President Field Marshal Ayub Khan about to celebrate his so-called decade of development and the Agartala conspiracy case was being framed, Murshed resigned from the post of Chief Justice to join the masses for the fight for democracy. Among the first things that he did was to help organise the defence of the so-called Agartala Conspiracy Case and subsequent to this, he entered politics directly, which was provided a major momentum to the anti-Ayub movement. It was because of Murshed, who was leading the charge during the mass upsurge while others were goaled that Sheikh Mujib was not released on parole. It was on account of Murshed's constant public demand that not only Sheikh Mujib but also all the co-accused in the Agartala Conspiracy Case were unconditionally released and exonerated.
Perhaps what is most significant was that during the round-table conference while Ayub was virtually on his knees and One Unit in West Pakistan was dissolved, Justice Murshed demanded 'one man one vote'. Prior to this, in the then Pakistan National Assembly, there was parity of 150 seats each for East and West Pakistan. As Murshed's 'one man one vote' proposal was accepted, 169 seats out of 300 came to the then East Pakistan for the next national election. Therefore, in reality it was clearly Justice Murshed who paved the way as to whoever would be the majority in East Pakistan could form the National Government.
It was Murshed's protest resignation as Chief Justice that made the intelligentsia in the country to find him as the only acceptable presidential candidate against Ayub. During our war of liberation, he refused to collaborate with the ruling military junta. He was a keeper of our national conscience.
Barrister M Tamijuddin is a practising lawyer with Chambers at London and a researcher of the life and times of Justice Murshed.