The legacy of Begum Zohra Tajuddin

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Dr. Kamal Hossain

The legacy of Begum Zohra Tajuddin

WE deeply feel the irreparable loss of Begum Zohra Tajuddin at a time when the country faces a major political crisis. We are reminded of her positive role in being able to unite and lead us successfully to overcome certain major crises in our history.
The assassination of Bangabandhu in August 1975 and of the four national leaders in Dhaka Jail in November had devastated us politically. It is relevant to remember the diversity of responses to such devastation.  While we were shocked by the opportunist reaction of some of the leaders of the ruling party, Begum Tajuddin emerged as a leader by firmly putting her trust in people’s power. It was because she mobilised and revitalised a people’s organisation that we could face our future with confidence.
She inspired all of us who engaged in healthy politics and were involved in the liberation struggle, in particular the younger generation, to work tirelessly at the local level to reorganise the party. She travelled throughout the country and was able to unify different factional segments. Those who were privileged to work with her remember how she gained their confidence by her fairness and impartiality.   She never compromised with what was manifestly wrong in order to gain some temporary advantage.
Two approaches to gain power had begun to compete in shaping the political process. Begum Zohra Tajuddin drew upon the history of our political struggles to rely on people’s power to regain what had been lost. She worked from the bottom up to empower people. In contrast, there was an unscrupulous and self-serving political element, which compromised with those who seized power. The ruling coterie sought to consolidate its power by abusing the state’s authority and resources. Their approach was top down, to establish a centralised authoritarian structure by disempowering citizens with patronage and repression. In the period from 1975 to 1990 the top down approach gathered strength.
Begum Zohra Tajuddin was one of the outstanding leaders in the political movement against authoritarian rule, who led a united people’s movement for regaining people’s power, and rejected sick politics that was fuelled by greed for economic and political power. Instead, she inspired citizens to fight for their rights by recalling historic people’s successes in the Language Movement, in the United Front’s victory over communal politics in 1954, and ultimately in our liberation struggle. Citizens were inspired by a united movement for restoration of parliamentary democracy as its goal.
The presidential elections of 1978, 1981and 1987 showed how elections in themselves do not ensure a working democracy in the absence of healthy politics, the rule of law and functioning democratic institutions, including political parties drawing strength from a genuine mass base and committed to democratic values
It was at this juncture that Begum Zohra Tajuddin emerged as one of our respected political leaders. In the meeting of the Awami League Council in 1981, her significant contribution in re-organising the party was recognised and she emerged as the consensus candidate for the party’s presidency. It was fate combined with her magnanimity and selflessness that she proposed that Bangabandhu’s daughter be elected to that office in her stead.
The dynamics of politics over the next two decades shows how the two approaches to power were pitted against each other. The struggle to restore honest and healthy politics was confronted by the sick politics of money, muscle and manipulation of state power in which the latter could manage electoral victories in 1978, 1979 and1981. Assassination of the incumbent in 1981 and a coup were to prolong the people’s struggle in the decade of the eighties. The engineered elections of 1986, 1988 and February 1996 were rejected by the people.
A united people’s movement drew strength from political parties, professional organisations, women’s organisations, as well as organisations of workers, peasants, cultural and human rights activists who courageously resisted autocracy. Many political leaders, veterans of the liberation struggle, faced persecution. The democracy movement has a long list of martyrs, including senior parliament member Moizuddin Ahmad, labour leader Tajul,  professionals such as Dr. Milon and spirited young  fighters for democracy such as Nur Hossain, and students Salim, Dilwar, Zainul and Dipali Saha. These sacrifices by the people in their united movement for restoration of democracy succeeded in ending the autocratic regime and initiating the process for restoration of democracy.
The dreams of our martyrs were for a Bangladesh in which all citizens would live in freedom and with dignity. Citizens would be constitutionally protected against religious, ethnic or gender discrimination, and equality of opportunity would be guaranteed.
The basic goals of equality and a working democracy are still to be realised. This is because political parties fell under the control of ruling coteries, opposed to the people. These elements cynically took advantage of people’s sentiments by deceiving them through lip-service to the values of the liberation struggle. Securing the blind support of unsuspecting people, their greed for wealth and power has created a sick politics, which has resulted in gross abuse of power and rampant corruption. These anti-people coteries are destructive road-blocks obstructing the progress being achieved by the productive efforts of the overwhelming majority — the millions who tirelessly toil in our fields and factories, and as migrant workers abroad.
Nelson Mandela’s passing away brought back memories of his liberating rolein empowering the deprived South African majority  to liberate themselves from apartheid. The passing away of Begum Zohra Tajuddin, at  this juncture in our history, when  we are threatened by destructive disunity and discord generated by  sick, self-serving politics, reminds us of her selfless and principled leadership. We can derive hope from remembering with  reverence the historic role played by her after 1975 in reviving people’s faith in themselves and in building unity around the values and goals of our liberation struggle, for which our national leaders had, along with countless martyrs,  laid down their lives.

The writer is an eminent Jurist.

Published: 12:01 am Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Last modified: 9:50 pm Wednesday, December 25, 2013