by Taj Hashmi 6 June 2020
Dear Dr. Momen:
I write this to draw your attention to your recent interview with an Indian weekly The Week , published on May 31, 2020, which all of our common friends and other Bangladeshis at home and abroad have found very gratuitous, objectionable, as it grossly undermines truth, and tarnishes the image of Bangladesh, which you represent as the diplomat-in-chief or Foreign Minister. Hence this open letter!
I have no problem with the interview per se, but with your answer to the last question by the interviewer Rabi Banerjee. Responding to his question, “How was your experience working with Mujibur Rahman?” you said:
“I travelled with him to West Pakistan [in 1970] for the round-table conference [after which he was arrested]. I used to look after his day-to-day paperwork. After independence, I served him in different ministries as a senior bureaucrat. I found him to be extremely committed.”
I know you since late 1960s. As a fellow-member and office holder of the National Student Federation (NSF) at Dhaka University, I know you were the President of the S.M Hall Unit of Dhaka University of the pro-Ayub Khan student organization (NSF) prior to your departure for Islamabad in 1968. I also know Sheikh Mujib had no reason to even know you let alone taking you as his travel companion while he was attending the Round Table Conference (RTC), convened by President Ayub Khan to meet the politicians from the two wings of Pakistan to resolve the political crisis in the country. Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, among others, attended the RTC.
By the way, the RTC took place on 10th through 13th March 1969. And, you have given the wrong year to your interviewer Rabi Banerjee, instead of 1969 you have mentioned 1970 as the year of the RTC! Since you never travelled with Bangabandhu, let alone “looked after his day-to-day paperwork” – as you have inaccurately claimed to your interviewer – you possibly don’t even remember the correct year of the RTC! By the way, Mujib was NOT arrested after the RTC but was arrested for the last time in his life, on 25th/26th March 1971, before the Pakistani military crackdown in East Pakistan.
Please give me just one reason why would Bangabandhu let you do his “paperwork” during the conference while he had senior and experienced aides like Dr. Kamal Hossain and Barrister Moudud Ahmed to handle those things and advise him accordingly? You were just an MA Final-Year student at Islamabad at that time. And, you never belonged to the pro-Awami League Student League either, rather you were an active member of the anti-Awami League and pro-Ayub Khan NSF ? I don’t blame you for your association with the NSF, as Your Truly was also the President of the Jinnah Hall (Surjya Sen Hall) unit of the NSF at Dhaka University in 1969. People in their late teens and early twenties do things and associate themselves with groups which many of them later dissociate with completely. Examples abound! By the way, Bangabandhu had no reason to tag you or any student leaders to the RTC in Islamabad.
You have another piece of misinformation in the Interview, which could well be misconstrued as an example of one’s compulsive mendacious behaviour! You told your interviewer: “After
independence, I served him [Sheikh Mujib] in different ministries as a senior bureaucrat. I found him to be extremely committed”. I find your comment about Bangabandhu’s commitment to his cause condescendingly gratuitous, if not insulting!
However, the way you have given a totally baseless piece of information, which was nothing but a piece of misinformation or untruth, is beyond me! To put it in other words, as you have said that after independence you served Bangabandhu “in different ministries as a senior bureaucrat” (emphasis added) is anything butfarthest from the reality. First of all, you did NOT serve Bangabandhu but Bangladesh in several or just one ministry, and that too, not as a “senior bureaucrat” as you have deliberately claimed, but as one of the junior most bureaucrats, holding the rank of a section officer as the personal secretary to Dewan Farid Gazi, a state-minister in the Government of Bangladesh in 1973-1975.
You know that those of us who grew up together with you as students of Dhaka University in late 1960s and early 1970s, also remember you were never a CSP (Civil Service of Pakistan) or PFS (Pakistan Foreign Service) officer but were from the not-so-lucrative Central Secretariat Service (CSS) of the Government of Pakistan. Thus, your pretentious claim of holding a senior administrative position in early 1970s doesn’t hold any water.
Your interview, in sum stands out as a collection of preposterous and mendacious assertions. I’m afraid, they somehow also reflect one’s narcissistic and quixotic imagination, if not insecurity! I’m sorry to write this Mr. Momen, but as a stickler for accuracy, truth, and true history, I write this to you so that you apologise to the nation and to your Prime Minister for what could be your inadvertence. It’s necessary for the sake of truth. At the end of the day, truth matters most, while everything else is useless.
I believe for glorifying the Bangabandhu, one doesn’t need to resort to doctoring the truth, because it’s counterproductive. And, one doesn’t need to glorify one’s hero and oneself simultaneously. One should refrain from self-glorification, even if it’s true. Most definitely, one shouldn’t do so if one doesn’t have the evidence in support of such assertions. You must be knowing that so many of your friends and contemporaries are still around and most importantly, they are in touch with media, especially social media, in the post-IT Revolution. I just give you this unsolicited advice as an old friend: please don’t say or do things that undermine your position as the diplomat-in-chief of Bangladesh, as that also tarnish the image of the Government you represent, and the country you serve.
I cite some of your recent not-so-palatable and least diplomatic comments as examples of your inadvertence, if not deliberate attempt to distort things to the extreme. I paraphrase you to cite the examples:
a) “Bangladeshi expatriates behaves like lords and nawabs at home”. You said so about Bangladeshi expatriate workers after some of them had complained about the gross mismanagement of authorities in providing them adequate quarantine facilities in Dhaka. They returned to Bangladesh from Italy after the outbreak of the Corona Virus in that country and were treated very unprofessionally, in the most undignified manner.
b) “In the event of mass return of Bangladeshi expatriates to their homeland, there would be substantial rise in the incidents of theft and pilferage in the country”. This was another insensitive and unwarranted statement from someone of your stature.
c) “India-Bangladesh relationship is like that between a husband and a wife”. This was possibly one of the two most irresponsible and silly public assertions made by you in the recent past! You know more than many of us as to how and why India has been maltreating Bangladesh, in so many ways that require multiple articles even to highlight them!
d) The other most irresponsible comment of yours was: “There’s nothing to worry about Covid-19 pandemic, it’s like normal flu”. You knew you were wrong in saying so as we all know you were absolutely wrong in appraising Covid-19 pandemic mere as flu, which is afflicting the world for the last six months or so.
Last but not least, as a well wisher of yours I remind you the line between truth and falsehood, decency and indecency, reality and illusion are thin but distinctly visible. It’s as distinct as the difference between one’s real hair and the most expensive wig one sports to hide the reality!