The Financial Express

Muzaffer Ahmed - a tribute

Late Muzaffer Ahmed Late Muzaffer Ahmed

Muzaffar Ahmed, former president of the National Awami Party (NAP), had an extraordinary political career. Following post-graduation degree in Economics from the Dhaka University he began his career as an educationist initially at the colleges and then in the Dhaka University. But his stint in the university was short-lived. He slowly got indoctrinated with an economic system that would repudiate social injustice, income inequality and unfettered capitalism that would perpetuate exploitation of the workers and peasants. He left the university in 1953 and in the following year got elected to the East Pakistan Assembly. Muzaffar Ahmed was a vocal member in the Assembly but his ideology of egalitarian socio-economic system was deemed synonymous with Godless communism. Many of his colleagues though preferred a progressive economic system that would benefit the working-class people but would not like to be branded as communist.

In 1956, the Awami League under the charismatic leadership of Hussain Shaheed Suhrawardy came to power in the central government. Suhrawardy pursued a foreign policy orchestrated by his predecessors characterised as pro-imperialism and hostile to socialist bloc led by the Soviet Union. Maulana Bashani, the provincial chief of Awami League, convened a special session of the party in Kagmari and demanded that Pakistan should withdraw from the Central Treaty Organization (CENTO) and South Asian Treaty Organization (SEATO), the US-led military alliances. He also demanded greater provincial autonomy for the eastern wing of the country and threatened to secede if autonomy was denied. The debate took place in presence of the Prime Minister Suhrawardy, but no compromise was reached. Following three days of debate, resolutions and counter resolutions the party was split. Maulana Bashani created the National Awami Party. A group of lawmakers including Muzaffar Ahmed, Pir Habibur Rahman, Mohiuddin Ahmed, Mahmud Ali, Haji Dhanesh, Moshihur Rahman joined the newly-formed party, NAP.

The bisection of the Awami League weakened the leadership of Suhrawardy in the central government. Governor General Iskandar Mirza seized the opportunity and dismissed Suhrawardy. Ataur Rahman Kahn, the Chief Minister in the provincial government, also lost majority in the assembly and was replaced by Abu Hussain Sarkar. The dislodging of the Awami League both at the centre and in East Pakistan resulted in fragmentation of the democratic forces in the country. The military led by Field Marshal Ayub Khan capitulated the political instability and promulgated martial law in the country. The constitution was abrogated, political parties were outlawed and fundamental rights were suspended. This marked the end of civilian rule for over a decade in Pakistan.

Had Muzaffar Ahmed and his cohorts not conjured Maulana Bashani into open rebellion against the prime minister Suhrawardy, the democratic forces would have remained largely united, stability would have prevailed, and military would not have got the opportunity to seize power that ultimately led to the dismemberment of the country. Muzaffar Ahmed and his colleagues maintained that pro-western foreign policy was facilitating the growth of big businesses and reinforcing political power of the elite - agents of imperialism, who were determined to make rich richer and poor poorer. The ever-growing economic disparity between the two wings of the country and absence of peoples' participation in the governance of the country brought Pakistan to rapid disintegration.

After the military seized power in 1958, Muzaffar Ahmed went into hiding to evade a non-bailable warrant of arrest issued against him. In 1962 following the promulgation of new constitution, the warrant of arrest was removed and Muzaffar Ahmed resumed political activities in public. On the eve of the presidential election in 1965, NAP took a mysterious political position and refrained from active campaign in favour of the candidate chosen by the Combined Opposition Parties. NAP leader Maulana Bashani opted for self-imposed seclusion at his home in Panch Bibi, Bogra. The Maulana returned to public after the opposition candidate was defeated, though she scored 47 per cent votes in East Pakistan.

The ideological conflicts between Beijing and Moscow impacted the socialist movement in our region as well. Maulana's flip-flop during the presidential election further alienated the two groups within the party. In 1967, the group led by Muzaffar Ahmed, Pir Habibur Rahman and Mohiuddin Ahmed denounced Maulana's role and set up a panel of parallel leadership. Muzaffar Ahmed became the Chief of East Pakistan NAP. Pakthun leader Abdul Wali Khan became the President of NAP, Pakistan. The dissident group made inexorable efforts in the next two years and NAP-Muzaffar emerged as the second largest and disciplined political party in East Pakistan.

The Six Points Programme launched by Bangabandhu jolted the political landscape. Bashani NAP dismissed the "six points" alleging that it would bring no comfort to the working class. NAP- Muzaffar endorsed the autonomy programme but reiterated its loyalty to the integration of Pakistan. For the right wing political parties, the "six points" was a pedigree - an anathema to the existence of Pakistan.

NAP-Muzaffar actively participated in the 1969 mass upsurge. It joined the Democratic Action Committee (DAC) along with the Awami League and demanded, among others, dismissal of Agartala Conspiracy Case, release of all political prisoners and termination of the Defence of Pakistan rule, imposed during the 1965 war with India. In the "roundtable conference" convened by President Ayub, Muzaffar Ahmed made a capacious defence of the provincial autonomy as spelt out in the "six points" and "eleven points" programmes. Maulana Bashani rejected the invitation of the conference alleging that it would serve no useful purpose. The Maulana instead, launched a nation-wide agitation of "Gherao and Jhalo". The western media branded him as a "prophet of violence".

NAP-Muzaffar enthusiastically participated in the general election held in 1970 though it renounced the Legal Framework Order under which the election was conducted. NAP-Bashani abstained from participating in the election alleging that it would not bring about the emancipation of the people. After the devastating tidal bore that rattled the coastal area in November 1970 and killed about one hundred thousand people, the Maulana blasted the military junta for inefficiency and neglect. At a rally held at the Paltan Maidan, the Maulana declared "independent East Pakistan is the only option left for the Bengalese". At the same rally, he announced boycott of the general election scheduled in December.

The Awami League scored a landslide victory in the general election. NAP-Muzaffar could not withstand the "vote tsunami" generated by Awami League. Nevertheless, once the junta refused to hand over power to the elected representatives, NAP-Muzaffar worked alongside the Awami League. During the Liberation War, Muzaffar Ahmed served as an advisor of the Bangladesh government in exile. He and his party colleagues mobilised the people inside and outside the battlefields. Muzaffar Ahmed was also a member of the Bangladesh government delegation to the United Nations and played a commendable role in mobilising public opinion abroad.

After the Liberation War Muzaffar Ahmed advised Bangabandhu to form an "All Party" government to oversee the rebuilding of the country and setting the priorities of the nation. He was, of course, not seeking a position in the government in disguise of the proposal, rather he was striving to build a national consensus on all the issues that confronted the new nation. Unfortunately, his proposal did not find favour of the government.

Muzaffar Ahmed could not keep the party united for too long. In 1973, Mohiuddin Ahmed, his close associate and an orator, defected to the Awami League. Two years later, when BAKSAL was formed and one-party system was introduced, Muzaffar Ahmed embraced the new system with his colleagues. Though BAKSAL was disbanded after the assassination of Bangabandhu and political parties were revived, his colleagues did not return to NAP-Muzaffar. Instead, they remained with the Awami League possibly in search of new opportunities. NAP-Muzaffar slowly fell into inaction. It must have been painful for Muzaffar Ahmed to witness the demise of his party during his life time.

Muzaffar Ahmed was a consummate politician, remained steadfast on the principles he believed in and never compromised his ideals in exchange of power, positions and bounty. He politely declined the 2018 Independence Award offered by the government. His death will be mourned by the nation he served so dearly.

The writer is a former official of the United Nations. He writes from Falls Church, Virginia, United States.
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