10 July 2022, the 21st death anniversary of Mr Humayun Rasheed Choudhury, a world renowned diplomat, humanist and a very successful former speaker of Bangladesh Parliament. On this day in 2001 Mr. Humayun Rasheed Choudhury died of a massive heart attack while still in the office. The news of his sudden death had stunned the entire nation with grief. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina rushed to his Dhanmondi residence to pay her last respects to the Honourable Speaker and one of the personalities she respected the most due to the historic role HRC played in providing safe shelter to her and her sister Sheikh Rehana in the backdrop of the tragic killing of the Father of the Nation and his family on 15 August 1975.
Like previous years, Humayun Rasheed Choudhury Memorial Council (HRCMC) will observe the day by offering fateha at the graveyard of HRC in Sylhet and arranging a doa mehfil.
Humayun Rasheed Choudhury, known as HRC among his colleagues in the Bangladesh Foreign Office and international diplomatic circles, was a larger than life character. He was born in a very politically conscious family in Sylhet. His father late Abdur Rasheed Choudhury was a member of Lok Sabha in undivided India before the partition in 1947 while his mother Begum Sirajunnessa Choudhury was a member of Pakistan's Central Legislative Assembly. His family gave him the lessons that would help him in later part of his life both as a diplomat at the world stage and also as an elected political figure from Sylhet-1 constituency which has achieved a symbolic status enabling formation of government by its winning party ever since 1935.
At one stage, his family disciplined him since he wanted to be an actor like Dilip Kumar and without telling anyone he went to Kolkata during his student life to pursue an acting career. He was quickly brought back home. Actor Dilip Kumar was always a fascination for him and so was the living legend Amitabh Bachchan. He met Dilip Kumar on various occasions and always admired his superb acting styles. He was very fond of the Amitabh Bachchan show Kaun Banega Crorepati (who wants to be a millionaire) and he would watch the show regularly. As his private secretary, I had the opportunity to join him and enjoy the show as well as his witty remarks. One day he announced that he would grow a beard like Amitabh Bachchan and over the weekend he refrained from shaving. Initially we thought this was one of his tricks to irritate Begum Mehjabeen Choudhury, his dear wife with whom he was happily married for over forty five years, as he used to look for opportunities to tease her. But soon we realised that he was very serious and we had to launch a concerted effort to make him change his mind.
Humayun Rasheed Choudhury can be introduced to the new generation from several perspectives: his student life, foreign service career in Pakistan, role in the War of Liberation, foreign service career in Bangladesh, his humanism shown after the 15 August tragedy, his role as an elected public representative from Sylhet-1 constituency, his election as the President of the 41st UNGA session and his achievements as a successful Speaker of Bangladesh Parliament.
His student life was remarkably eventful. He studied at St Edmund School and College in Shillong, Meghalaya and then he went to Aligarh Muslim University to pursue his undergraduate and post-graduate studies. He then went to London to pursue his studies in law where he got engaged in student politics and became the President of all Pakistan Muslim Students Union defeating Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. He recollected and narrated to us that Bhutto was defeated diplomatically in a hugely contested election. During the election debate HRC exhibited his Pakistan passport and persuaded the students to ask for Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto's passport. In return, Bhutto showed his Indian passport which he was still carrying. The Pakistani student community got angry and voted against ZA Bhutto, enabling Humayun Rasheed Choudhury to be elected as the President of Pakistan Students Union in the UK.
HRC joined the Pakistan Foreign Service in 1953 and pursued a very colourful and distinguished diplomatic career. During his tenure in Italy as a junior ranking foreign service officer he had the opportunity to meet both Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and Hussain Shahid Suhrawardy. Both of them had lasting influence on him and this was subsequently evident in the later years as he upheld the interests of East Pakistan while serving in the Pakistan Embassy or Pakistan Foreign Ministry.
People working then in the Pakistan Foreign Ministry used to share different stories about HRC. While he was serving as the Director (Personnel) in the Pakistan Foreign Ministry, he used to look for Bengali people willing to join the ministry. He would invite them to the Foreign Ministry and handover appointment letters to them. In this manner, he appointed a good number of Bengali people. The then Foreign Secretary summoned him one day and asked whether he was recruiting Bengalis in the Foreign Ministry. HRC responded in the affirmative and went on to explain that he was trying to ensure parity between the two units of Pakistan in line with the much orchestrated policy of the government. The Foreign Secretary was taken aback and did not ask further questions.
In 1971 HRC was transferred from Indonesia to India and in the Pakistan Embassy in India he became the senior most Bengali diplomat.
During the war of liberation in 1971 he defected from the Pakistan Embassy and showed allegiance to the Bangladesh government in exile. In the later months he acted as a bridge between the Indira Gandhi government and the Bangladesh government in exile.
It was HRC who detected in 1971 the conspiracy hatched by Khandker Mushtaq and Foreign Secretary Mahboob Alam Chashi to defeat the spirit of Independence war by proposing to make a confederation between East Pakistan and West Pakistan. He then disclosed it to Prime Minister Tajuddin Ahmed who took prompt action in removing both Mushtaq and Secretary Chashi from their positions.
HRC used to visit the war fronts across the border and encourage the freedom fighters, indicating to them that the war is also being fought on the diplomatic front. As the Pakistani Army surrendered on 16 December, HRC was invited to address the joint session of Indian Parliament where he declared "Bangladesh is now free, the people of Bangladesh are now free." During the war of liberation especially in the run up to our independence and following independence, he negotiated with the heads of missions of more than 34 foreign countries and secured their recognition for the independent Bangladesh.
HRC was also privileged as the Head of Bangladesh Mission in India to welcome our Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman on 10 January 1972 while he was transiting through Delhi during his homecoming journey after being released from the jail in Pakistan and brief sojourn in London.
In 1972 the Father of the Nation appointed him as Bangladesh Ambassador to West Germany with instructions to secure economic and technical assistance from Germany. During his tour of duty in Bonn HRC came in close touch with Chancellor Willy Brandt and as per the chancellor's advice he also built a special relationship with the Finance Minister Helmut Kohl who himself became a chancellor in later years. Through his intensive efforts HRC finalised the agreement on economic and technical cooperation between Bangladesh and Germany. Under this agreement Germany provided 70 million US dollars to support the reconstruction of war ravaged Bangladesh.
During his tour of duty in Germany, Dr MA Wazed Mia, son-in-law of the Father of the Nation was doing advanced research in Karlsruhe University. In July 1975 Bangabandhu telephoned HRC and informed that his two daughters Sheikh Hasina and Sheikh Rehana would be visiting Germany and he requested HRC to play the host. Accordingly both the daughters of the Father of the Nation reached Germany on 10 August 1975 and stayed at the ambassador's official residence. Bangabandhu spoke to them over telephone on 12 August 1975.
Immediately after their arrival at Bonn the Bangladesh Ambassadors in neighbouring countries of Belgium and France repeatedly requested HRC to send the daughters of the Father of the Nation to Brussels and Paris. Both the daughters also decided to visit Brussels and Paris. On 14 August 1975 they were given a hearty welcome at Brussels by Ambassador Sanaul Haq who also organised a candlelight dinner for them. But the following day , on the fateful day of 15 August 1975, ambassador Sanaul Haque completely changed his attitude knowing the political developments in Dhaka. He telephoned HRC and requested him to take the two daughters back to Germany immediately. The Bangladesh Ambassador in France also telephoned him and advised not to send two daughters to Paris. Sensing the hostile atmosphere in Brussels, HRC moved quickly to bring the two daughters back to Bonn and painfully disclosed to them the news of the coup in Dhaka and brutal killing of the Father of the Nation along with other family members. HRC and his wife Begum Mehjabeen Choudhury also took serious risk in providing safe shelter to the two daughters in the Embassy residence. He also contacted Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and arranged political asylum for Sheikh Hasina, Sheikh Rehana and Dr MA Wazed Mia including two minor children.
In the documentary film "Sheikh Hasina: a daughter's tale", Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina provided a detailed account of how HRC and Begum Mehjabeen Choudhury took great care of them during the most difficult time in August 1975. HRC took great risks and he also earned the wrath of Mushtaq and his protegees. He was recalled to the capital and made an OSD.
After a long 11 months as OSD he was posted to Saudi Arabia as the first Ambassador of Bangladesh. With his charismatic leadership, he established a very close relationship with Saudi Arabia, opened the Saudi manpower market for Bangladeshi workers and lined up a steady source of remittance much needed for the economy of Bangladesh. From Saudi Arabia he was transferred to Dhaka and made Foreign Secretary (1981-82). Later he was made Bangladesh Ambassador to the United States of America (1982-84). During 1985-1988 he acted as the Foreign Affairs Advisor and the Foreign Minister of Bangladesh.
HRC was first elected to the parliament in 1986 and later again in 1988 as a MP representing Sylhet-1 constituency. During this time, he facilitated significant development works in Sylhet which included the establishment of Shahjalal University of Science and Technology (SUST), the tax exemption for the designated area around the mazar of Hazrat Shahjalal (RA) and setting up the Kumargaon Power Station with the French technical assistance to improve the power situation in Sylhet. During his tenure in the parliament from 1996 to 2001, he made phenomenal development efforts in Sylhet. Some of the important development projects included upgradation of Sylhet Osmani Airport as an international airport, construction of a modern railway station in Sylhet, improving the quality of education through recruitment of additional teachers at the primary level and also construction and improvements of road networks in Sylhet Division.
In 1986 HRC was elected as the President of the 41st session of the UN General Assembly (UNGA) and became the first Bengali to achieve that status. His tenure as UNGA President was also very remarkable. During that year the UN had undergone significant reforms. HRC also took a strong position towards facilitating the development of poorer countries.
Under his presidency, UNGA adopted Resolution 41/128 on 4 December 1986 which contained the Declaration on the Right to Development. According to the UN, the Declaration was a further attempt by the United Nations to develop a normative regime to deal with one of the most pressing issues of our day - underdevelopment. It was a logical culmination of a movement that started with the Charter of the United Nations and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and continued through the period of the anti-colonial struggle. He also contributed significantly towards enrollment of Bangladesh for international peace keeping operations.
HRC joined the Bangladesh Awami League in 1995 and during the general election of 1996 he was elected to the 7th Parliament from Sylhet-1 constituency. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina nominated him as a candidate for the position of Speaker and he was unanimously elected on the first day of the Parliament. Together with the Deputy Speaker (now the President) Mr. Abdul Hamid, he brought about significant reforms in the parliament and converted the parliamentary library into the Legislative Information Centre (LIC). He forged a partnership with UNDP and adopted the "Strengthening the Parliamentary Democracy Project" for modernisation of the Secretariat and Capacity Development of MPs and Committee Chairmen.
Both HRC and Mr. Abdul Hamid as the Speaker and Deputy Speaker took an active part in the Inter Parliamentary Union (IPU) and Commonwealth Parliamentary Association ( CPA). In this House, he ensured decency and discipline and took the debate to a matured level by regularly pronouncing rulings on different issues. One of his historic rulings was on declaring Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman constitutionally as the Father of the Nation. HRC was a strong advocate of repealing the Indemnity Ordinance in order to bring the killers of the Father of the Nation to justice. He presided over the parliament session which repealed the infamous Indemnity Ordinance on 12 November (HRC's birthday) 1996 paving the way for the trial of the killers of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.
10 July 2022, we pay deep homage to HRC, a brilliant son of the soil who devoted his entire life in promoting peace, development and justice. May Allah SWT grant him Jannah.
Md. Nojibur Rahman served as the Private Secretary to Speaker Humayun Rasheed Choudhury and founded HRC Memorial Council (HRCMC) in 2019.He is also former Principal Secretary and Chairman, Capital Market Stabilization Fund (CMSF) and Member of the Advisory Board, Cosmos Foundation.
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