A relentless warrior of the word

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Category : Shelley

Dr Mizanur Rahman Shelley
No idol worshipper, he could take on mighty leaders when they made mistakes and displayed autocratic tendencies that created disaster for democracy and national development. In this he easily crossed the lines that divide partisans. He wrote as forcefully against monolithic one-party rule in the ’70s as he did against ‘rotten queendoms’ in the mid ’90s. There was in his critical assessment of regimes an abiding evenness which is the hallmark of non-partisan journalism

THE azure sky was awash with silvery rays of an autumn sun. The year was 1966, the day was Saturday. The rickety compact car that Enayetullah Khan drove screeched as it proceeded along sparsely-peopled Dhaka streets of the mid sixties. I was beside Enayetullah Khan on the front seat. We were bound for the press club from Kakrail. Mintu bhai, as we called Enayetullah Khan, suddenly changed direction. ‘We have to go to Baily Road,’ he said in his usual excited manner and added, ‘I forgot that paper has to be bought for the Holiday. It has to be published tomorrow and there is no money.’ During those days Sunday was the weekly Holiday and the paper came out on that day. We went to the place of a resourceful person who regretted his inability to help immediately. I could see trace of disappointment in Mintu Bhai’s soft simile. But he was dauntless. He put me down at the press club and drove on to another destination in search of resources that would help bring out another issue of the one-year old weekly. The magazine had already created positive stir among its youthful subscribers and readers. It would be tragic if want of funding caused its untimely end. I did not know nor cared to find out how and where Enayetullah Khan got the money that day. That he succeeded in his mission was manifest in the Holiday published on schedule the next day.

In many ways the event symbolised the quintessential Enayetullah Khan, journalist and media-entrepreneur who believed that insufficiency of material resources could not stand on the way of realisation of a good objective.

Soon after obtaining the Master of Arts degree from the Dhaka University he began his career in journalism during the early 1960s. Our paths crossed in the university. He was a few years our senior and popular as a leading personality in student politics and cultural activities. He was elected vice-president of the Dhaka Hall students’ union in 1959-60. A leading member of the leftist erstwhile East Pakistan Students’ Union he became close to us in course of students political activities. ‘Students Force’, the middle of the road students’ political organisation to which I belonged, worked in cooperation with the EPSU and the Students’ League to fight against the pro-establishment National Students’ Federation. During late 50s and early 60s when the Dhaka University-centric movements against the martial law regime of Field Marshal Ayub Khan began and grew in strength, our ties were further cemented. As the movement grew in extent and intensity even the NSF joined hands with us in resisting the autocratic system of Field Marshal Ayub Khan.

Mintu Bhai even after leaving the university and joining the then Pakistan Observer as a reputed young staff reporter maintained close link with us. During early 1962 in the gathering dusk of a January evening he told me and my friend late Mia Mohammed Nuruzzaman of the Student’s Force, in whispers, ‘in the existing situation the eventual way out lies in “cessation”.’ He was speaking of assertion of Bengali rights in Pakistan of mid ’60s when it had become evident that East Pakistan was a virtual internal colony of the West Pakistani rulers.

He also organised our informal meeting with the widely respected editor of the Observer, Mr. Abdus Salam. His aim was to ensure a link between the media and the student activists waging movement against the undemocratic government. This was typical of Enayetullah Khan. No politician, he was permeated by politics which he equated with the quest for the redemption of the masses from deprivation and injustice. Basically, he was a master communicator, a committed media person. Nevertheless, he saw the media as an effective vehicle of people’s welfare.

His urge to play a significant role in the establishment of a just society sometimes made him step into other domains. Thus, during the late 1970s, he became an adviser and then minister in the government of the late President Ziaur Rahman. He, however, stopped short of joining Zia’s newly-founded Bangladesh Nationalist Party and remained outside the orbit of party politics.

Again during the latter half of ’80s he became an ambassador of Bangladesh, first to China and then to Myanmar under the government of another military-leader-turned-politician president Hossain Mohammad Ershad.

His critiques, and there were many, found these actions incongruous with his avowed positions of journalistic neutrality and objectivity. Nevertheless, even his staunchest critiques could not portray him as a victim of lure of political might and money. The characteristic Enayetullah Khan never succumbed to the chance of material gain and enchantment of political might. He returned to his profession with the tenacity of the homing pigeon. He was, indeed, a journalist with a difference, an owner-editor who was a professional journalist throughout his career as a media man. He remained true to the compelling principles of objectivity and fairness in journalism. He had strong likes and dislikes. As he himself often asserted, ‘in order to have an impact for the good you must love and hate passionately.’ An impulsive person, he tried to be true to his preachings. He was, however, informed by a natural generosity, which knew how to distinguish sins from the sinners and crime from the criminals.

No idol worshipper, he could take on mighty leaders when they made mistakes and displayed autocratic tendencies that created disaster for democracy and national development. In this he easily crossed the lines that divide partisans. He wrote as forcefully against monolithic one-party rule in the ’70s as he did against ‘rotten queendoms’ in the mid ’90s. There was in his critical assessment of regimes an abiding evenness which is the hallmark of non-partisan journalism.

He did not plough a lonely furrow. In the Holiday and later in New Age he got bold and spirited journalists and writers to write freely against oppression and injustice, autocracy and infringement of human rights and democracy. The pool of brave writers that Enayetullah Khan got together remains his lasting contribution to the cause of freedom and national independence in Bangladesh.

Until the very end he served the media world with relentless commitment and dedication. The Holiday continues as his unique memorial. He also succeeded during his penultimate years, in realising the dream of all working journalists: to found and lead a daily. The daily New Age of which he was the founder editor bears the impress of a tireless warrior of the word.

Dr Mizanur Rahman Shelley, a contributor to Holiday since its inception, is founder chairman of the Centre for Development Research, Bangladesh (CDRB) and editor of the quarterly ‘ASIAN AFFAIRS’ and chairman of the non- government Bangladesh Media Commission. He was a former teacher of Dhaka University and former member of the erstwhile civil service of Pakistan and former non-partisan technocrat cabinet minister.

new age

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