I’ve never talked to him. I’ve never met him in person but I knew his charismatic presence by reputation.
I am talking about ABM Mohiuddin Chowdhury who died on December 15 bringing the curtain down on a glittering political career spanning over five decades. Mohiuddin Chowdhury was a Bangladesh Awami League politician. After serving 24 long years as the general secretary, in June 2006 Mohiuddin was made president of Chittagong city unit of the Awami League, a position he held until his death. He served as the mayor of Chittagong, the second-largest city in Bangladesh. He had held the office for three consecutive terms. He was a popular, experienced and charismatic politician.
Mohiuddin Chowdhury joined different movements under the leadership of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman before the country’s Liberation War. He was arrested several times by the then Pakistani rulers. Mohiuddin had played important roles from the front in all the democratic movements since the Liberation War in 1971. He served jail and faced repression on various occasions in his life. In 1971, he formed a group ‘Joy Bangla’ and was arrested by the Pakistani forces. Four months later he fled to India from the jail. After receiving training there, Mohiuddin Chowdhury joined the Liberation War under the Mountain Division of Indo-Bangla joint force.
Mohiuddin was a diehard follower of Bangabandhu. In 1975 he formed ‘Mujib Bahini’ to avenge the tragic assassination of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the father of the nation. ABM Mohiuddin Chowdhury had been organising ‘Chittagonian traditional Mezban’ at Tungipara of Gopalgonj district in observation of the martyrdom of Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman on August 15 for 16 years.
During the anti-Ershad movement, he was arrested as he declared the former military ruler as persona non-grata in Chittagong. In 2007, after the army-backed government assumed power in Bangladesh, Mohiuddin was arrested. He was incarcerated in various prisons in the country. When first arrested, unlike other arrested leaders he was taken to a remote jail in Bandarban. Whilst in prison, his daughter was diagnosed with blood cancer in Thailand. He was detained without trial for 21 months. The government did not release him from prison to see his dying daughter. He was finally released from prison on 8th October 2008 following a High Court order. Despite his release, the army-backed government retained his passport and did not allow him to fly to Thailand in time to see his daughter. The government finally allowed him to fly abroad on October 17, but just minutes after he boarded the plane, his daughter passed away.
Mohiuddin’s son recently said ABM Mohiuddin Chowdhury refused an offer of release from jail to see his daughter, who was undergoing treatment for cancer abroad during the military-controlled caretaker government’s regime. Mohiuddin thought his release would harm Sheikh Hasina.
Mohiuddin Chowdhury is a symbol of development of Chittagong who always thinks of developing Chittagong. He had always been vocal and dauntless against any kind of anti-Chittagonian decision by any government even by his party. In 1996, he led a movement to protect Chittagong port when his government (led by the Awami League) decided to involve an American company in the operations of Chittagong port. He recently led a movement against the hike in the holding tax by the Chittagong City Corporation (CCC). Though the CCC mayor is the secretary of the city unit AL, he organised a rally at Laldighi Maidan with other AL leaders against the CCC’s decision to hike holding tax. He did not hesitate to speak the truth when any harmful decision about Chittagong was taken. The past BNP-led four-party alliance government tried to give the Chittagong Airport lease to a Japanese company but was compelled to stop the move due to the strong movement of Mohiuddin Chowdhury. He even refused Sheikh Hasina’s offer to become a presidium member of the party and a minister of her government because of his affection for Chittagong.
During Chowdhury’s term he established five maternity clinics. The hospital has specialized neonatal care and advanced gynaecological surgery facilities. The hospital is overseen by two consultant gynaecologists and a team of doctors. Mohiuddin Chowdhury was the first mayor in Bangladesh to establish a private university – Premier University, Chittagong, sponsored by the CCC. None of the other city corporation authorities in the country could provide such extensive educational services, which basically started after Mohiuddin was first elected mayor of the port city.
After he took office, the corporation established nine postsecondary colleges, computer-training centres, a midwife training centre, a healthcare-technology training centre (the first in Bangladesh to train in the operation of health care technology including radiology and radiography) and eight night colleges to expand adult literacy. Mohiuddin built a network of public health facilities - Urban Primary Health Centres, which enabled lower and lower-middle class people to receive basic healthcare before seeing a consultant doctor at government or private hospitals. The Chittagong city authority also manages eight Hindu religious education centres (known as Sanskrit Toll) to provide religious education in Sanskrit to minority students.
Mohiuddin Chowdhury was acceptable to leaders and activists of all the parties. He was everyone’s leader who stood by the residents of Chittagong in trying times. His love for people made Mohiuddin ‘a leader of the masses’. Hundreds of thousands of people, many in tears, gathered at his funeral prayers at Laldighi Maidan to bid him the final farewell and pay their last respects. The crowd there stretched from the Laldighi ground to Anderkilla to Cinema Palace to Kotwali intersection, covering about one kilometre radius. Not only the people of Chittagong but also the people of other parts of Bangladesh will never forget his immense sacrifice and contributions in the arena of politics and development.
(The author acknowledges with gratitude the different sources of information.)
The writer is an Assistant Professor, Department of Public Administration, Jagannath University, Dhaka