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S.M. Murshed : The man as he was

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11th-Jan-2017       
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Syed Badrul Ahsan :
I have often asked myself why Justice SM Murshed went into a state of silence in the Seventies. And have not yet been able to come up with an adequate response to that inquiry. But why do I raise the question in the first place? That is again something, which takes me back to a particular stage in all our lives, a moment in history which brought out some of the more glorious attributes in all of us. It was a time when the dictatorship of Field Marshal Ayub Khan was beginning to come apart at the seams. All the symptoms of decline were there: the regime was trapped in its insidious move to trap Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in a kangaroo court, it was embarrassing itself through trying to humiliate Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in custody. All the signs were of things portentous, for the military and their friends. Even so, the cable was not quire ready to give up. They know not that there is about politics and stagecraft a certain degree of the aesthetic. At the end of 1968, whatever was aesthetic in the life of the people of Pakistan had got lost deep in the confines of authoritarian ignorance and yet the man who had not flinched in the job of occupying his own country ten years earlier was busy convincing himself that it was perfectly all right to carouse. He made Pakistanis believe that his decade in power was really a millennium. At least his mends thought it was. And then came the crash. The street began, inexorably, to take upon themselves a look of meanness. That only led to more of the uncouth from the regime.
And this is where S M Murshed came in. He walked into politics, as if to inform anyone who would listen that the one unequivocal manner in which a man can serve his country is to take the plunge into politics.
But. and here is a thought, would Murshed have come into politics had things been different? It is never a good idea trying to answer questions about what might have been. But what appears to have been the truth way back in ]968 was that men like Murshed and Asghar Khan were conscious of the vacuum setting in with the absence of the country's primer politicians.
They were in incarceration, weren't they? And there was too the fear in Murshed that the course politics was taking in Pakistan was rather ominous. The regime had made it difficult for opposition to it to be conducted constitutionally. But that, to Murshed, was no justification for a people struggling for a reasserting of democracy to slide consciously into conditions of anarchy. Murshed's moral links with constitutionals with the concept of rule of law, came into his approach to active politics. I would like to think it was this comprehension of objective reality, which made him tell the country in the twilight of 1968 that he was there to contribute to the "job of a restoration of the democratic ethos. The credibility of the man was beyond question in both East and West Pakistan.
And that was surely a reason why in the early part of 1969, as the Ayub government began to crack on the streets of Dhaka and Karachi and everywhere men of serious intent toyed with the thought of Justice Murshed taking over from the beleaguered dictator. The idea did not have time enough to be put into tangibility, for events quite overwhelmed everyone. What if Murshed had indeed succeeded Ayub Khan to the presidency of Pakistan?
True, he would be a transitional figure. But it would be a momentous transition, and President Murshed would certainly have brought a degree of flair in the task of healing the wounds and the divisions in the Pakistani body politics. He would not have messed up things the way a second generation of generals with its political accomplices in West Pakistan. was to do in 1971.
Yes, these are all thoughts pretty improbable thoughts. But if Murshed can not. must of be glorified, he should certainly be remembered for the kind of being he was. Aware throughout the course of his life of the necessity of culture, he gave short shrift to men with little minds. In 1961, he reminded Bengalis on this side of the political divide that Rabindranath Tagore went heyond the narrow confines of communal politics. Which was one great reason why he went all the way to ensure without the force of his moral and physical presence, an undisturbed observance of the poet's centenary of birth. It was a moment of renewal for the Bengali, and Murshed could not stay away from it. And in the perspective of history that even - bringing as it were Bengalis of all secular persuasions together: was to serve as a springboard to freedom a decade later. In 1961, then SM Murshed was reminding himself as well as Bengalis that courage was all.
Men of Murshed's mold and of his times laid create store by the morality inherent in the shaping of personality. They questioned a good deal. Murshed knew when to question, and how.
In 1942, he told Muhammad Ali Jinnah that, his politics was flawed. Quo Vadis Quaid-e-Azam was an act of bravery. More than that, it was an answer to an inner question, way back in 1942. Was the Muslim League equipped to provide intellectual leadership to those it presumed to speak for? Murshed had his suspicion, which is perhaps the basis for his unwillingness to identify with the men who led the movement for Pakistan. Murshed could have chosen not to come to the new country. But he is, once he understood the predicament Pakistan was in with the passing of Liaquat Ali Khan. He made the odyssey to the land of the pure. The rest is history, in that conventional manner of speaking. Within the ambiance of that history comes the rather solitary struggle of SM Murshed.
The struggle slowed down as the Pakistan military went on a genocide spree in a street of the country whose people had voted only months earlier, for democracy. In free Bangladesh, Murshed seemed to opt for silence. He emerged from that state, in early 1975, to warn Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman that Baksal was an invitation to disaster.
He returned to silence, perhaps distressed at the decline of politics in the country all through the seventies. Ayub Khan's disciples were running the show. Murshed's twilight came as all beauteous things in the land of Bengal went into retreat in that season of unmitigated sadness.

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