Two deaths in this month of March, of men who outwardly at least positioned themselves firmly on opposing ends of the political spectrum, occasion a reflection on the nature of service to one’s nation, through the mark they left on shaping its destiny.
The first was of the venerable bureaucrat and administrator extraordinaire, HT Imam, who till the very end remained active in the corridors of power as the prime minister’s adviser on political affairs. It is rare for bureaucrats to become household names in Bangladesh, usually unless it is for some extraordinary oversight or transgression in the course of carrying out their duties. The best ones serve quietly, in the state’s engine room that is the administration cadre, and they go away quietly too, into retirement or writing books. Although Mr Imam’s career in the bureaucracy fit that description perfectly, it was really his appointment to Sheikh Hasina’s advisory council that brought him into his own as a latter-day Chanakya. Till his last days, he was using his vast, encyclopaedic knowledge of the administration’s functioning to unlock its far-too-often hemmed in potential towards serving the government’s vision, while moulding it in the party’s image. Is there anyone today who could say he has not succeeded? Yet that image of a man carrying a mental image of the organogram of the entire civil service with him at all times is at odds with the personal memories I shall cherish, of deep affection for anyone doing something that could bear fruits for Bangladesh.
At the other end, the more recent departure of Barrister Moudud Ahmed deprives us of a man with very different qualities. Anyone who knew him would agree it is almost impossible to imagine him as a part of the bureaucracy. He wasn’t one for the engine room, rather his natural inclination was to lead from the front. He was the personification of man as a political animal. Yet he shifted seamlessly between different identities, writing a number of important historical treatises that will stand the test of time as important documents we shall keep returning to, if we are to fully understand the emergence of Bangladesh. He was a skilled lawyer with a penchant for crafting flawless legal drafts in Bangla or English. Although he ended his days as a high-ranking member of the party he helped found, the period in between will always suggest he never really found his home in politics. The partisans in each faction will always regard him as a chameleon, but what is closer to the truth is that his high calibre meant those in power were always willing to open their doors for him. For they knew Moudud Ahmed could always add something.
One led from the back, the other belonged at the forefront. And it is on the shoulders of such men, that the history of a nation is built.