Fresh lists of freedom fighters and anti-liberation elements are going to be published before the upcoming Victory Day despite having many challenges.
“Making a corrected list of freedom fighters and a new list of Razakars is under way. It is a huge task to publish authentic lists by December 16,” Shajahan Khan, a presidium member of the ruling Awami League, said in an exclusive interview with the Daily Sun.
He also observed that it is not only a challenging task for the government but also a tough job for the liberation war affairs ministry to prepare lists of freedom fighters and anti-liberation elements.
“The past BNP-Jamaat government prepared a list of freedom fighters, but those included in the list are mostly fake freedom fighters. Even some wrong people were included in the list during our tenure,” he said.
A prominent labour leader, he also expressed his gratitude to Awami League President and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina for inducting him into the party’s presidium body and making him minister twice to serve the country.
There might have some mistakes in the fresh lists of freedom fighters and Razakars being prepared as 50 years have elapsed since the country’s war of independence, he said.
Shajahan Khan, chairman of parliamentary standing committee on liberation war affairs ministry, also sought apology to the nation in advance for any mistakes in the fresh lists.
Despite many challenges, the government has taken initiative to prepare a fresh list of anti-liberation elements, including Razakars, Al-badrs, Al-shams, war criminals, members of Mujahid Bahini and Peace Committee, he added.
Shajahan Khan slso said it is necessary to make a list of the lawmakers of 1970 who were loyal to then Pakistan government during the liberation war and those who were DCs, SDOs and SDPOs of districts and sub-divisions.
About making a list of the officers who were collaborators of Pakistan government, the Awami League leader said the DCs were asked to prepare the list but it was not possible only for them to do it.
“I have taken the responsibility to prepare the list as the chairman of parliamentary standing committee on liberation war affairs ministry. Sub-committees have already been formed and work of collecting information from record room of DC offices has also started,” he added.
About the preparation for the liberation war, the veteran freedom fighter recalled that they started taking training with bows and arrows at Chandbari Mosque playground near their home at Madaripur town just after the March 7 historic speech of father of the nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.
“After midnight of March 25 attack by Pakistani army in Dhaka, a vice-president of Madaripur Awami League came to my house and asked me to destroy ferries at Tekerhat so that Pakistani army could not come to attack us.”
“We could not sleep for three nights as we started taking preparation for the liberation war,” he said, adding that they managed to collect demy rifles for training.
“Within a week, Major Shawkat Ali, an accused in Agartola conspiracy case, came to Madaripur and held a meeting with us and Awami League leaders to form ‘Joybangla Bahini,” Shajahan Khan added. Shawkat Ali was the Deputy Speaker of the 9th parliament.
Reminiscing about the days during the liberation war, Shajahan Khan, a lawmaker from Madaripur-2, said he had been assigned to deliver motivational speech for the freedom fighters after completion of their training at Dehradun in India.
“After doing the job for 17 days at the training camp, we started journey for joining the liberation war along with 120 freedom fighters equipped with heavy arms,” he added.
A team of 165 people was sent to Agartola for training under Steward Mujib before Pakistani army started shelling in Madaripur on April 17 in 1971 which made us scattered.
“After some days, I went to meet Steward Mujib hearing him returning from Agartola. Later, I along with some 8-10 men led by Steward Mujib went to Agartola.”
Steward Mujib, also an accused in Agartola conspiracy case, was one of the organisers of independence war.
“Later, we were sent to Dehradun training centre and it was the first team of Mujib Bahini to receive training,” Shajahan Khan, a seven-time lawmaker from Madaripur-2 constituency, said.
Recalling memories during the War of Independence, the veteran Awami League leader said they had a fight with Pakistani army at Rajoir thana in Madaripur sub-division on Eid day.
“As an only expert in the Mujib Bahani team, I installed mines on the road risking my life so that Pakistani army could not attack us by using the road,” he added.
During a fight at Samaddar, Khalil Bahini attacked Pakistani army laying in ambush. The battle continued for three days that left many Pakistani soldiers dead and injured while 37 surrendered to them, he said.
Khalil Bahini, a group of local freedom fighters, was formed to carry out attack on Pakistan occupation forces.
“My father Moulvi Asmat Ali Khan, who was then Madaripur Awami League president and member of the constituent assembly, was made civil administrator of Madaripur sub-division after the liberation war,” Shajahan Khan added.
After the country’s independence, I got involved with Sramik League politics in 1972 by taking charge of the president of Madaripur Sarak Paribahan Sramik Union.
“I did not know what labour poitics is. ‘I was made president of the district transport workers union at the age of 22,” said Shajahan Khan, the incumbent executive president of Bangladesh Road Transport Workers’ Federation.
“In the same year, I was selected as organising secretary of Road Transport Workers’ Federation through a council as I was good at delivering speech at public meeting.”
Mentioning his 49-year long labour politics, Shajahan Khan said he carried out many labour-friendly activities in the country and became top leader of Sramik League.
“I was arrested in 1973 as I got involved in Jatiya Samajtantrik Dal (JSD) politics due to political circumstances. Some local Awami League leaders tried to throw me out of politics. Even, conspiracies were hatched to kill me,” he said.
“I had to choose alternative way to stay in politics. I had been involved with JSD politics for 20 years.”
The former minister recalled that he returned to Awami League when party president Sheikh Hasina paid a courtesy call on my father at my younger brother’s house at Nakhalpara in the capital in 1986.
Later, Sheikh Hasina gave me some responsibilities to strengthen Awami League in Gopalganj and nearby areas due to my popularity, courage and organisational capacity, he said.
“Though I was doing JSD politics, she (then opposition leader Sheikh Hasina) entrusted me with the task to strengthen Awami League in these areas,” Shajahan Khan said.
Before the liberation war, Shajahan Khan was the president of Madaripur subdivision unit of Bangladesh Chhatra League (BCL), student wing of Awami League. He was also the elected vice-president (VP) and assistant general secretary of then Madaripur Nazimuddin College Students Union.
Mentioning his return to Awami League in 1991, he said, “It was not my joining the Awami League rather I returned to the party. I was made agriculture secretary of Madaripur Awami League in 1972.”
In the same year, by-elections to 11 constituencies, including Madaripur 1 and 2, were held and BNP forcibly won most of the seats in the elections, Shahjahan Khan said.
“BNP failed to snatch two seats in Madaripur 1 and 2 due to my strong stance,” he added.
“I participated in Madaripur-2 by-polls with Awami League ticket despite having risks and obstacles. I made promise to Sheikh Hasina that I will be elected if I got party nomination,” he said, adding that the Awami League president favoured me for his dedication and courage.
After becoming an Awami League lawmaker, the party president made me a member of Sramik League and later vice-president of the Awami League’s labour wing for several times.
“In December, 2019 I became a presidium member of the Awami League,” the former minister said.
“I was given the responsibility in 2013 to contain labour unrest in the garment sector. I formed an organisation ‘garment sramik samannay parishad’ by uniting 52 garment sramik federations and brought normalcy in the garment sector by increasing salaries for RMG workers and initiating trade union in garments factories,” he said.
Mentioning his ministerial responsibilities during 2013, Shajahan Khan said a section of freedom fighters mainly from the BNP demanded holding of talks between Sheikh Hasina and Khaleda Zia. “I tried to unite freedom fighters against such talks.”
Referring to the mayhem in 2013, he said a vested quarter hurled patrol bombs and burned many people to death. ‘I was involved in preventing such mayhem in collaboration with the freedom fighters and people from all walks of life.”
Shajahan Khan said he played a key role in continuing road and waterway transports during the arson attacks and indefinite strike enforced by BNP chairperson Khaleda Zia,
“As shipping minister, I played a vital role in running waterway transport. I also played a major role in continuing road transport service as a top labour leader of the transport sector,” he said.
“Bombs were hurled at our procession while we were going to lay sieze to Khaleda Zia’s office,” he said adding that they were attacked by a vested quarter for several times in Gulshan, Press Club, Mailbagh and Motijheel areas.
“They (vested quarter) also hurled bombs at my official house and car. Even, they gave threat to my wife and sons. I had to stop my son, a class three student, from going to school for four months. My elder son who was in London got life threat too,” he said.
“I think Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina rewarded me for playing a key role in handling the situation during tough times,” the popular labour leader told the Daily Sun.
Mentioning that doing politics is challenging task in the case of both labour or national politics, the Awami League leader said now their politics is to tackle the opposition parties.
“People will not pay heed to the opposition’s call for waging movement as they have witnessed brutality in the name of movement during 2013, 2014 and 2015.”
“Labours and workers are now united to resist BNP’s any attempt to create unrest in the country again,” he said.
Referring to the declaration of March 25 as International Genocide Day, Shajahan Khan said they had long involved in movement for realisation of the demand.
Talking about his ministerial job for the two consecutive terms, he said he took charge of the shipping ministry when people hardly witnessed work of the ministry but now the ministry is spreading fragrance due to massive development work.
“I’m thankful to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina as she relied on me for two terms and I have successfully carried out my ministerial duties with utmost sincerity,” he added.
Listing different development works during his two terms as shipping minister, he said 14 dredgers were procured during his first term. Earlier, the country had only seven dredgers procured by Bangabandhu government.
“I have bought 20 dredgers during my second term and also allocated money for procuring 35 more dredges so that river dredging work can run smoothly.”
“Even, I have helped private firms procure a total of 100 dredgers to make 1500km river routes of the country functional,” the former minister said.
“Only 20 ferries were procured by the post-1975 governments in 28 years, but I managed to procure 17 ferries during my first term and 12 ferries during the second term and that’s why there is no crisis of ferries,” he added.
Mentioning that only two land ports—Benpole and Satmosjid — were functioning in the country, Shajahan Khan said he had taken initiative to mordernise the two land ports and construct 10 new ones.
“Construction work of six ports was going on when I left the ministerial job,” he added.
Shajahan Khan also said he has collected six ships for Bangladesh Shipping Corporation and that procurement process for six more ships was underway.
“I have increased the number of trainee mariners from 50 to 300,” he said adding, he managed to recruit female mariners for the first time in the country’s history,” he added.
“Now the country has four marine academies which is the result of my plan,” he said.
Talking about his 111-point recommendation for curbing road crashes and bringing discipline to the transport sector, he said these recommendations is far better than the previous recommendations made in 1983 and 2012.
“Efficiency of drivers and transport workers alongside BRTA staffers should be enhanced,” he said adding that BRTA cannot issue licences in time due to lack of manpower and so this state-run agency should increase its man power.
“Drivers will not take liabilities of flaws in road designs,” he said, adding that engineering faults of the roads should be corrected as a measure to reduce road accidents.
Talking about the drivers’ training, Shajahan Khan said the government should take initiatives to impart training to drivers by providing them with compensation.
“Drivers should be given compensation for their training like doctors and engineers as they are involved with an important sector of the country,” he added.
About the road safety movement, the former minister said those, who are involved in this movement, are responsible for provoking people’s wrath against drivers.
“These people are also involved in staging protests against drivers and creating anger among people for beating drivers to death,” the popular labour leader said.
Shajahan Khan also called upon the activists of road safety movement to carry out awareness programme instead of creating public wrath against drivers.
“Do not embezzle foreign fund in the name of road safety movement rather do something for creating skilled drivers and carry out awareness programmes,” he said.
Shajahan Khan, who earned huge fame as a political leader, leads a very simple life. He pays heed to the problems of the people of his constituency and tries to resolve them. He regularly sits with the local people and visitors at his office at Sangsad Bhaban or his residence.
He was born to an illustrated political family who are known for making a lot of sacrifices for the people of the country. His father Moulvi Asmat Ali Khan was elected lawmaker three times. He was also an organiser of the country’s Liberation War and a close associate of Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.
A prominent lawyer, Asmat Ali Khan was the founding president of Madaripur district Awami League and led the party for a long 37 years. He rejected “Khan Bahadur” title conferred on him by then British government for his outstanding social work. He returned the title protesting persecution of people of the sub-continent during British colonial rule.