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Salahuddin Quader Chowdhury: Remembering A Fascinating Bangladesh Political Personality After Five Years Of His Execution- OpEd

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“Salahuddin Quader Chowdhury [born March 13, 1949] was hanged in 2015 after being convicted of crimes committed in 1971 during Bangladesh’s war of independence with Pakistan. The tribunal that convicted him was established by Hasina […] Thousands of opposition activists have been arrested under the rule of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who has tightened her grip on power since being re-elected in December.” — Asia Times

Judicially murdered on November 22, 2015, Salahuddin Quader Chowdhury (SQC) was one of the wittiest parliamentarians and one of the most sharp-tongued BNP-led government ministers that one can ever recollect. He deserves many befitting tributes. This one, five years after the nation saw him executed, is just a humble attempt at such a tribute. One of those infamously hanged by the fascist Sheikh Hasina’s controversial International Crimes Tribunal (ICT), SQC was a memorably interesting political figure of his own kind, in his own worth and standing. The vindictive execution that he faced with calm and courage made him more lasting and unforgettable in the public mind than he would otherwise have been. 

Of well-known political background, his father, Fazlul Quader Chowdhury (FQC, 1919-1973), was the illustrious son of the southern district of Chittagong, who graduated from Calcutta Presidency College and Calcutta University.  A Convention Muslim League leader, FQC was the (5th) Speaker of Pakistan National Assembly from November 1963 to June 1965, in addition to having served a number of ministries under President Ayub Khan. He was also “Acting President of Pakistan from time to time before the independence of Bangladesh” when Ayub Khan used to leave the country on foreign visits.1 

It is said that whenever FQC became the acting president in absence of Ayub Khan, he would invariably visit East Pakistan and his hometown Chittagong. That speaks of his love for his origin. Apart from his key role in the construction of Kaptai Hydroelectric Dam in Chittagong Hill Tracts, FQC’s numerous contributions in the educational sector of the city of Chittagong were historic and unprecedented. According to Wikipedia, FQC “facilitated the foundation of the University of Chittagong, Chittagong University of Engineering & Technology, Chittagong Medical College, Chittagong Marine Academy, Chittagong Marine Fisheries and Chittagong Polytechnic Institute.” Ironically, there is no mention of this great man when the Awami people talk about these institutions or the history of Chittagong. 

It is, therefore, a crystal-clear and established fact that FQC was a great Bengali Pakistani Muslim politician. His elder brother Fazlul Kabir Chowdhury was the leader of the opposition in East Pakistan assembly. Not only the people of Chittagong in particular but also those of Bangladesh in general should remain grateful to FQC—as grateful as they also should to Nawab Sir Salimullah Bahadur of Muslim League and the other members of the extended Nawab family for their historic contributions in the interest of the people of East Bengal (now Bangladesh) in the 1920s and onwards. Ironically, nobody talks of Sir Salimullah who had the greatest contribution in setting up the University of Dhaka that became the earliest center of higher learning for the neglected Muslim majority of East Bengal. It is also ironic that both Sir Salimullah and FQC died early deaths, shrouded in mystery, the former in his forties and the latter in his fifties (while he was in jail in the early 1970s under Hasina’s father Sheikh Mujib) with different conspiracy theories still swirling and circulating. 

Both FQC and Sheikh Mujib were together in then district or national level Muslim League politics in the1940s with the former (FQC) treated as an ideal leader by the latter (Mujib). From 1962-1970, both Mujib and Shah Azizur Rahman belonged to the same Awami Muslim politics. Earlier, Shah Aziz played an important role in helping out Mujib politically and financially in Kolkata when he was in need of money with the former (Shah Aziz) as president of Awami Muslim Student Front at Islamia College and Shamsul Huda as General Secretary recommending the latter (Mujib) for the job of Hussein Shaheed Suhrawardy’s bodyguard. It was Sheikh Mujib who freed the talented Shah Aziz in 1972 along with another 7000 people. President Zia picked the brilliant Shah Aziz to be in politics with him to heal the old wounds and take the nation forward in a presidential or statesmanlike way. 

FQC’s son SQC had studied law at the University of Punjab in Pakistan. He was himself a great Muslim politician by virtue of his having been a long-time parliament member in Bangladesh and adviser of parliamentary affairs to Prime Minister Begum Khaleda Zia from 2001 to 2006. He was once a great candidate for the OIC Secretary General position. Despite his having been a controversial character in some ways or another (who is not in Bangladesh, from top to bottom, starting with Sheikh Mujib and his daughter Sheikh Hasina), SQC had an entertaining charm and likeable bluntness of his own. Always polite, fluent and courteous (by the personal testimony of those of the highly educated who came in contact with him), his happy and humorous but sometimes somewhat (pleasantly) crude comments were far saner, wiser, and more civilized than the vulgar, fatuous, offensive, inane, obnoxious, dull and dry comments of many others belonging to the Awami court and BAKSALI corridors. It is to be lamented that he was inhumanly tortured by Hasina’s Gopal and Gestapo police to the extent that his toenails and fingernails came off. The unbearable suffering was such that he was not even able to stand on his own feet, blood dripping from his ears, as charged by his weeping daughter Farjeet Quader Chowdhury, who was full of tears (on the media), as any daughter would be.

Why is it that the international witnesses in SQC’s ICT case were barred from entering the country and providing testimony in what was described as an unfair and questionable trial not only by his family but also Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the US Congress, and many other international organizations and global war crime experts of repute? Why is it that only four witnesses were allowed for the defendant/accused (SQC) whereas as many as forty-four witnesses allowed for the government prosecution? “Commenting on the trial, the former United States Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes Issues, Stephen Rapp, said that it was ‘disturbing’ that limitations were placed on defense testimony. Affidavits stating that Chowdhury was in Pakistan and studying law at the University of Punjab at the time of the crimes were not considered. Defense testimony from a former Prime Minister of Pakistan and a former American Ambassador was not allowed by the court.”

According to the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission report of December 1 of 2015, “Two political opposition leaders were executed in recent days, following death sentences by a controversial war crimes tribunal criticized for lack of due process.” It is precisely the same argument that Joseph Grieboski, once a nominee for the Nobel in Peace, and the UK-based Guardian Editorial made in articles, “Bangladesh Democracy Under Attack” and “Bangladesh history debate: distorted by politics,” respectively, both containing blistering criticism of the ICT. It is the same contention about the “trial standards” of the ICT being objected to at least as procedurally unfair, the weaknesses and controversies in the trial process concerning the capital punishment of many accused, and the authenticity of the statements made by the prosecution witnesses against the accused that journalist David Bergman so cogently and convincingly raises. These are fair concerns about the much trumpeted “fair trials” at Hasina’s ICT, just as there are fair concerns about the deeply troubling series of Hasina’s massively rigged and stolen elections.

If the Hasina-led Awami League could bring in international witnesses (such as the American FBI agent Debra LaPrevotte and American journalist Lawrence Lifschultz) to support its politically motivated allegations against some of the opposition BNP leaders, why is it that there was a double and different standard against SQC? Is it that, like the increasingly international coalition against the ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria), which the coalition prevented from being internationalized and from getting international help, the Awami League’s ICT approach to getting internationalized and using international help was only scandalously selective and one-sided, on the consideration of when it favors the Awamis only, not others, as demonstrated by the instances of LaPrevotte and Lifschultz? The focus here is that a person was hanged to death on doubtful grounds. It is death by hanging, nothing less. That is the main question. The whole Bangladesh should remain grateful to the FQC/SQC family for what this family did for the country. Many people think SQC was innocent enough not to have deserved to have been hanged.

People did not, however, forget how SQC, long ago, belittled his party leader Khaleda, who, he thought, was acting under the influence of her young son Tarique Rahman. He drew an unpalatable analogy of whether it was the dog that wagged its tail or it was the tail that wagged the dog. On the other hand, compared with the frequently used rough and rustic and uncouth verbal and body language of Hasina and her cronies, the verbal and body language of an interesting personality no less than SQC was more well-intentioned and satirically constructive with a moral standard upheld, instead of being foolishly and idiotically coarse and coercive. He was, after all, a senior leader, of the highest echelon of his party, the BNP, and his light-hearted offensive was later ignored and laughed away, especially in light of the fact that there was no last word in politics. 

Hasina forgot Motia’s abusive ডুগডুগি/dugdugi thing and Inu’s humiliating চামড়া/skin stuff, both sneers hurled by them in bitter vilification and vituperation of Sheikh Mujib while he was still alive, not to speak of what they said later in celebration of his assassination. Hasina forgot those nails penetrating into her father because both Motia and Inu, like Khaleque Biswas of Neamat Imam’s realistic political fiction, The Black Coat, turned from being harsh critics of Mujib to blind followers of her. 

Khaleda also forgot SQC’s wag attack. After all, unlike Motia and Inu, SQC never became a full and complete Khaleque Biswas due to his distinct, distinguishing and discriminating personality. He was never like Inu, who, far below in terms of national stature and ideological standing, is (according to the BNP leader Gayeswar Chandra Roy) a জাতীয় বেয়াদব/national thug, a Gano-Bahini জঙ্গী/terrorist, and a paid agent of a foreign intelligence (RAW, who else?).

One may again bring up here the instance of SQC. He had a distinctively funny and witty style of his own–a unique body language that might have been born of his personal pride, high-end upbringing, and deep convictions. Some may or may not have liked that, but it was his natural body language—irreverent, yet unforgettably colorful, exciting and attention grabbing. It was what and who he was, influenced or affected by his rich political and family stock of long standing. Why to be so critical of his saucy demeanor, which was not without verve and humor? His sharp retorts and repartees were part of a pungent, yet civilized and informed political dialogue, far better than the cheap and low invectives of many Awami leaders. Don’t Hasina and her men and women have their crap and crack body language with uncouth and objectionable expressions against the historic political luminaries such as President Zia, Khaleda Zia and others? 

One reserves the right to protest against the awkward statements made by those in reference to SQC’s colorful body language and his charming and entertaining verbal assaults on others that actually added a needed variety to complete the diversity of a democratic political class of the country. His foes may think he was, as it were, a psychopath. He simply was not. With him on board, a political party can only be fuller, more complete and necessarily diverse. He knew himself well and he had confidence in himself. On a Channel I TM program, he brilliantly made light of the negative media reports against him as if they were waters spilt over a duck, which, although it loves to swim in water, keeps itself clean and dry moving past what it may consider unwanted drops of water that may fall on its wings. 

Similarly, SQC denied his involvement in any goods illegally coming through the shipping lines he owned just as, he argued, Biman Bangladesh Airlines Managing Director might not be responsible for tons of gold smuggled into Bangladesh through the daily international Biman flights. It was very smart of SQC to attack the allegedly atheist Prof Anisuzzaman whose childish and frivolous hearsay testimony (he heard from one Hindu student who told him SQC killed another local Hindu) at the Regime’s Kangaroo court led to nothing less than his (SQC’s) tragic loss of life in the gallows. আদালতেই দাঁড়িয়ে মিথ্যা স্বাক্ষী দিতে আসা আনিসুজ্জামানকে সাকা চৌধুরী বলেছিলেন “উনি এক জনমে দুইবার শরণার্থী”, referring to Anisuzzaman’s claim of two places as his place of birth—Kolkata and Khulna—using them conveniently and reaping the rewards from both countries. 

About the discriminatory treatment of Muslims in India and the preferential treatment of the minority Hindus in the Muslim majority Bangladesh under the RAW-guided and blindly pro-Indian Sheikh Hasina, SQC was of the view that while the Muslims were being continuously discriminated against, members of the Hindu minority were being privileged to raise a big hue and cry to be favorably dealt with the so-called “justice” even if they fell on the slippery banana peel lying on the street. It is the fascist Awami League, especially under Hasina, that has taken the country down the pro-Hindu corrupt partisan drain. It is they who have turned the Muslim majority Bangladesh, so to speak, into a Hindu dominated “Indian state” at the instigation of the Muslim killer Narendra Modi and his Hindu fundamentalist India. Muslims have in effect been reduced to a minority in their own country.

Even many Awami Leaguers are raising concerns about Bangladesh sinking under the heavy weight of its massive fascist oppression and repression for more than twelve years now without, however, pointing finger at the horrendously horrible Hasina. It is as if they would struggle to be critical of fascism in Germany in 1930-1945 without mentioning the name of Hitler! As if they would speak of Hamlet’s rotting Denmark without mentioning his uncle, the evil King Claudius. While they would be biased to talk about the change of hands making no sense when the horribly ruling Hasina is in power in the name of more of the same to follow, they would not hesitate to start a crusade about the need of the change of power when the BNP was or would be in power for the party of their choice to return to power by any means in no time. This is a squint-eyed short-sightedness.  

Anyway, coming back to SQC, I heard from a number of highly educated Bangladeshi-American professionals attesting to his civilized sense of humor, dignity and courtesy. Since he came from a highly respectable and influential Muslim family with historic contribution to the port city of Chittagong (and thereby the nation of Bangladesh) which championed the cause of Islam and the Muslim community, locally and internationally, many Awami secularist-atheists are/were jealous, inimical and antagonistic of the family. They are/were against the SQC family for politically motivated reasons, some of them even testifying in the court against SQC himself. The same Hinduized Awami supporters used to be against the local Chittagonians being employed as faculty members at Chittagong University, even though they were qualified. As mentioned above, Chittagong University and many other landmark institutions (Chittagong Engineering College, Chittagong Marine Academy, Chittagong Medical College, Chittagong Marine Fisheries, and Chittagong Polytechnic Institute) would not have come into existence without the help of SQC’s great father FQC, who facilitated the foundation of those great institutions. 

Critics and commentators raise a number of valid questions about the hundreds and thousands of Awami-created crimes between 1972-1975 and since 2009, including the questionable Hindu nationalist India-instigated and Hasina created ICT hanging many eminent citizens of the country on the false testimony of witnesses who were far from being credible. No wrongdoers should go unpunished and I have total sympathy for their victims. However, as the compelling argument goes, ten wrongdoers should go unpunished, if necessary, instead of one innocent person punished on false testimony. I would also like to add that there are many different versions being heard about SQC, some versions absolving him of any wrongdoing whatsoever. One thing to be mentioned here is that there are some controversial land grabbing stories that are complicated by the fact that the original Hindu owners had sold their lands to several buyers for more and more money before they left for the horrendously extremist Hindutva India. It is, therefore, the original Hindu owners who are to blame if there were more than one owner claiming the same land after they had left Bangladesh, a country of communal peace and harmony.

At present, as it was in 1972-1975, Bangladesh has become a one-party police and prison state. It is deeply divided mainly because of Awami fascism, hooliganism and gangsterism, which have made villains of heroes and the vice versa. The nation is deeply fractious over the issues of both Sheikh Mujib and his daughter Sheikh Hasina who committed numberless post-independence bad and evil deeds and then since 2008. It should be united, establish the rule of law and social justice and be grateful to all its illustrious sons for their contributions, such as Sher-e-Bangla A K Fazlul Haq, Nawab Sir Salimullah, Fazlul Quader Chowdhury (FQC), Maulana Abdul Hamid Khan Bhasani, and especially President Ziaur Rahman. By the time Zia came to power, the country had lost virtually everything it fought for in 1971 and even since 1954: independence, sovereignty, democracy, rule of law, freedom of speech, exploitation-free society, free and fair elections, peaceful transition of power and a harmonious development.

Perhaps it is the act of political expediency or the vision of bridging and healing a divided society that President Zia made Shah Azizur Rahman his Prime Minister, despite the latter’s some controversial role in 1971. Nelson Mandela did the same by drawing some apartheid white leaders into his cabinet. But there is not a single instance when those rehabilitated political leaders, when in Bangladesh administration, worked against the interest of the country or for the interest of a foreign country. Ziaur Rahman did not go to Lahore, as Sheikh Mujib did, to gleefully embrace Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, the mastermind of the 1971 massacre, and warmly shake hands, as Sheikh Mujib did, with butcher Tikka Khan. Nor did Zia give, as Sheikh Mujib did, a red-carpet welcome to Zulfi Bhutto when he came to Bangladesh in June 1974. To the contrary, it was the Bangladeshi Awami-JP leaders who are/were sold out to Indian hegemony holding the India-forced farcical elections in Bangladesh and with over a hundred agreements signed to the sole favor of India.

SQC, along with others, met with a tragic end for crimes he always denied and disputed at a quasi-judicial court that he considered partial, blind, biased and prejudicial. May he and others be all forgiven of their sins, if any, and may they be given an award-winning permanent resident status in a divinely endowed floral and riverine hillside abode of eternally undisturbed peace and repose in the hereafter! Regarding this temporal and terrestrial world, the fact is that Hasina was supposed to get married to SQC, but for some reason the knot was not tied. Once when she was making a gesture–rough and rude as usual–at SQC (in the parliament), the latter shot back saying, “Please do not show me your hand that was supposed to wear a wedding ring from me.” Had they gotten married, perhaps it would have been a very happy “fairytale” marriage for both of them, especially Hasina, and they would have been a happy couple breathing warm human passion and living happily ever! Now that one got the other (SQC) killed, who knows what’s going to happen to the prosecuting “unfair” other?

Notes: 

  1. (According to Wikipedia), In 1941 FQC was elected general secretary of All India Muslim Student Federation. He joined the Muslim League and was elected the secretary of Chittagong district unit of the party in 1943. In 1947, he supported the United Bengal pact of Sarat Bose and Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy, but when Suhrawardy agreed to form Pakistan, he failed from presenting the matter to Muhammad Ali Jinnah. FQC was elected member of the Pakistan National Assembly in 1962. In Ayub Khan’s cabinet he served in the Ministry of Agriculture and Works, the Ministry of Education and Information and the Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare. He played an important role in floating the Convention Muslim League (1962) and was elected a member of the central committee of the party.

*In addition to numerous other publications on literature and culture, Q M Jalal Khan is author of Bangladesh: Political and Literary Reflections on a Divided Country (Peter Lang, 2018) and Bangladesh Divided: Political and Literary Reflections on a Corrupt Police and Prison State (Peter Lang, 2019). After disengaging from many years of full-time teaching abroad, American-educated Dr Khan is currently on the adjunct faculty at an institution of higher learning in North America. His recent work, “Sheikh Hasina’s Brutal BNP-Phobia and Her Scandalous “Midnight” Power Grab Through Vampire Vote Dacoity and Villainous “S/Election” Rigging With an All-Time High Record of Humongous White-Collar Corruption” has appeared in Sabria Chowdhury Balland (ed), Bangladesh: A Suffering People Under State Terrorism (Peter Lang, 2020).

 (The above is a revised version of what has been said in my book, Bangladesh: Political and Literary Reflections on a Divided Country [Peter Lang, January 2018, www.amazon.com/Bangladesh-Political-Literary-Reflections-Divided/dp/1433146134], pp. 260, 286-287).

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