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Master Shahjahan wins award of ideal upazila chairman

Congratulations to Master Shahjahan for winning Human Rights Award and Honour of Television Reporters’ Association of Bangladesh. National Human Rights Society, on the occasion of World Human Rights Day 2012 on December 10, awarded Alhaj Mohammad Shahjahan BA, Chairman of Sandwip Upazila Parishad the Human Rights Award 2011 as Adarsho Upazila Chairman (Ideal Upazila Chairman) in Chittagong division of Bangladesh.

It is learnt that he has been given these awards for his outstanding contributions to ensuring peace and social security, improving law and order situation, spreading education, inspiring sports and cultural activities, setting example of political coexistence and expanding social relations and, above all, for overall efforts and development of Sandwip.

The award giving ceremony was held in the Auditorium of Bangladesh Supreme Court Bar Association, Dhaka. Member of the Advisory Council of National Human Rights Society, Professor Md. Shafiuddin Ahmed PhD, who is also an eminent writer and researcher in Bangladesh, handed over the award to Mr. Shahjahan. In the ceremony, among other human right leaders and eminent persons, Chairman of National Human Rights Society, Mr. Nazrul Islam Tamizi, was present.

Just after two days of winning Human Rights Award, Television Reporters’ Association of Bangladesh (TRAB) gave him the Honour of TRAB 2012, marking his outstanding contributions to the services of the people and development of Sandwip. The honour giving function was held in Hotel Sonargaon, Dhaka. Information Minister Hasanul Haq Inu, who attended the function as chief guest, handed over the Crest of Honour to Mr. Shahjahan.

As a matter of relevance, I also mention here the names of two other great sons of Sandwip, Balal Muhammad and Abul Quasem Sandwipee who also got the national awards for their outstanding contributions to the War of Liberation of Bangladesh. Balal Muhammad got Independence Award, the highest national award of Bangladesh. Abul Quasem Sandwipee got Ekushey Award, a significant national award of Bangladesh. Besides these two Sandwipees, whether any other Sandwipees got any kind of award or recognition, I don’t know. But, Mr. Shahjahan is another great son of Sandwip and the first man who got two distinguished recognitions from the national level organizations for working in the grass-root level of Sandwip, especially for the services to the people and contributions to the development of Sandwip. Shahjahan has, before these two recognitions, got many receptions, crests and honours from different socio-cultural organizations at his locality for his services to the people and contributions to the society. But, these recognitions are, of course, exceptional. Though these two organizations, which have recognized him, are not state-organizations but have identity and dignity socially, nationally and internationally; one for its roles and contributions to human right activities and the other for being the community of journalists who are called the conscience of the nation and also known world-wide to be the members of the fourth pillar of the state.

So, this is a great honour not only for Shahjahan but also for Sandwip and all Sanwipees, irrespective of caste, creed and political affiliation, living at home or abroad. By this time, many persons and organizations have congratulated him and, no doubt, many more would congratulate him in the days to come. Truly, Shahjahan, by his awards, has made Sandwipees and Sandwip proud.

It is pertinent to mention that Shahjahan is a committed and die-hard Awami Leaguer and a true follower of the ideals of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. He joined the Awami League Politics in 1963 in his student life and played an active role in the provincial and national assembly elections of 1970 for Awami League candidates in Sandwip. He also played a very effective role in our Great Liberation War, forming Awami Mukti Parishad (Awami Freedom Council) in Sandwip for organizing and providing necessary assistance to the freedom fighters. After the killing of Bangabandhu on 15 August 1975 when Awami League was passing throug a crucial time, many left the Awami League and jumped at the call of General Ziaur Rahman to his party, and again to General Ershad’s Jatio Party. Shahjahan was also given a covetous offer to join General Zia’s party but he declined, only because of his loyalty to the ideals of his leader Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. Since then to the people of Sandwip, “Awami League means Shahjahan and Shajahan means Awami League in Sandwip.” Many also think, “If there were no Shajahan, there would have been no Awami League in Sandwip”. Even many call him, “Bangabandhu of Sandwip.”  He is a time-tested leader of Awami League in Sandwip.

And in 1979 when Awami League was in deep organizational crisis, Shahjahan was chosen for MP election. Though he had no intention to take part in election at that difficult time, he took part in the election just to keep Awami League alive in Sandwip. He was President of Sandwip Thana Awami League from 1981 to 2002 and led the party successfully.  One’s success, in our society, sometimes makes others jealous. This was no exception for Shahjahan. He became victim of political revenge. He was imprisoned two months in 2001 by BNP-led Four-Party Alliance Government. Shahjahan, however, stands aloof from this narrow political practice. At present he has set an unprecedented example of political coexistence in Sandwip.   And, after a decade, in 2011 he was again elected President of Sandwip Thana Awami League. Recently, he has written a book named ‘Sandwiper Awami Rajniti: Otit Bortoman (Awami Poltics in Sandwip: Past and Present)’. The book has reflected not only on Awami League Politics in Sandwip, rather it has made a complete focus on total politics and socio-cultural context of Sandwip. Without creative power or writing capacity, no one can write a book. So, this also gives a testimony to the creative genius of Shahjahan.

Shahjahan is involved with Awami politics for long 50 years. During his presidential period of Sandwip Than Awami League from 1981 till to date, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina had visited Sandwip five times, sometimes as Party President, sometimes as Leader of Opposition or as Prime Minister, last on 18th February 2012. Shahjahan as her time-tested colleague always accompanied her in Sandwip. Even she was seen many a time, accompanied by Shahjahan, going to different places in Sandwip. What an irony of fate, this man is ignored by present Awami League and denied the nomination for MP election. Alas! In the last term of Awami League under Sheikh Hasina and even now, many infamous and worthless persons in the name of Awami League were made MPs and Ministers, whereas men like Shahjahan were ignored.

No honest efforts of men go unrewarded or in vain. The recognitions of National Human Rights Society and Honour of TRAB to Shahjahan prove this. We hope the Awami League Leadership under Hon’ble Prime Minister, a worthy daughter of a worthy father, Sheikh Hasina would realize and evaluate the efforts and contributions of honest men like Shahjahan in her party. And with humility, I add that this writer is an admirer of Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and a well-wisher of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who has been focusing on the ideals of Bangabadhu and the contributions of Sheikh Hasina for a long time. In this context, this writer appeals to the farsighted people’s leader, Sheikh Hasina, for considering the long contribution of Mr. Shahjahan to Awami League and Sandwip and for accommodating him in a right position so that he can get an opportunity with her to serve the nation.

In view of this, a few words more to say about Mohammad Shahjahan. Shahjahan was born in 1946 in a respectable Muslim family in the village of Bauria in Sandwip. He was brought up and had his schooling in his birth place Sandwip. From his school life, he is involved in socio-cultural and political activities. He was elected chairman of Bauria Union Parishad five times, once uncontested. As chairman, he had achieved an unprecedented popularity among the people of whole Sandwip. A tall, smart, handsome, well-dressed and well-mannered person, Mr. Shahjahan is popular from his early age to the people of his locality for his activities and commitment to the people. Now at his late sixties with white-beard and grey hair, wearing Mujib Coat on white Pyjama-Panjabi he looks not only more venerable but also wins the hearts and minds of his people by his affectionate approach and response to their call now and then.

More or less, all say that as an elected Upazila Chairman he has been able to bring in a positive change in law and order situation, social, cultural, academic and administrative and development activities in Sandwip and to draw the proper attention of the government for construction of Sandwip Urirchar Cross-Dam. And, for all of these activities, he is called a successful Upazila Chairman.

Sandwip Cross-Dam has been an issue of life and death for the people of Sandwip for the last 50 years. Since I am writing this paper on Shahjahan, it seems quite relevant to write a few words more about Cross-Dam for information of my valued readers. I am actively involved with the activities and movement of Sandwip Cross-Dam both as a journalist and as a Sandwipee for the last 28 years and have been writing series of stories and articles in different national dailies, periodicals and publications including The Guardian about Cross-Dam since 1986.

Sandwipees have a long history of suffering and struggle for Cross-Dam. The man who played the pioneering role of Sandwip Cross-Dam and turned it into a movement was Mr. M A Aziz of Chittagon, who had been then General Secretary of Chittagong District Asami League. On an organizing tour to Sandwip in 1969, he keenly observed the suffering and impact of dangerous river erosion on the life and livelihood of Sandwippees. The situation influenced his mind. He then announced a week-long programme named Sandwip Cross-Band (Sandwip Cross-Dam) and under his leadership the struggle of Sandwip Cross-Dam continued for seven days in 1969. He also announced in Sandwip that if the government did not construct Cross-Dam soon, he would announce a large programme and compel the government to construct the Cross-Dam. At that time Shahjahan also took an active part with him in the Cross-Dam Movement. It is a bad luck of Sandwipees, this great man, M A Aziz, died the next year.

And, so far it is learnt, neither the head of the state nor the chief of any political party paid attention to the issue of Sandwip Cross-Dam until 1970. It was Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman who truly realized the importance of Sandwip Cross-Dam for the protection of Sandwip. Realizing this, as President of Awami League, he first announced to construct Sandwip Cross-Dam while addressing a huge public meeting on the occasion of election campaign in the playground of Sandwip High School in 1970.

As a result, the then MP Obaidul Hoque of Sandwip became seriously active to convince Bangabandhu to construct the Cross-Dam. We heard that Bangabandhu had given him consent to do it and some effective steps were also taken about this in 1974. After 15 August all efforts went in limbo.

There is no denial of the fact that Obaidul Hoque played a very active role about Cross-Dam. In this

regard, there is also a saying that whenever Mr. Hoque met Bangabandhu, he told him about Cross-Dam, for which Bangabadhu once called him Cross-Band Mantri. Since then, for his untiring efforts for Cross-Dam he became so popular to the people of Sandwip and out of Sandwip, many called him Cross-Band Mantri. He was committed to the issue of Cross-Dam until his death.

Sandwip is a famous island in Bangladesh. The island has produced many great sons who by dint of their deeds and talents have heightened the name and fame of Sandwip at home and abroad. One of them is Comrade Muzaffer Ahmed, one of the founders of the Communist Party in Indian Subcontinent. So, there are different socio-economic, cultural and natural reasons that have made Sandwip famous and attracted the national and international dignitaries towards Sandwip. There are 483 upazilas in Bangladesh. So far it is learnt that it is not possible to visit every upazila by the head of the government during one term of his or her tenure. But Sandwip is never missed. As a result, there is no head of the state or head of the government in Bangladesh in the past or present who has not visited Sandwip in his or her tenure.

President Ziaur Rahman visited Sandwip in 1978. He was impressed by Sandwip and announced Sandwip ‘Amar Dwip’ (Sandwip my island). He was seen very cordial for doing something for Sandwip and Sandwip Cross-Dam. Later, the leadership of Sandwip failed to attract his due attention to the issue of Cross-Dam. President Ershad visited Sandwip including Urirchar a few times. He took positive initiative for Cross-Dam. Ultimately, he failed to implement it, though there were some political reasons behind his failure.  In her first term Prime Minister Begum Khaleda Zia visited Sandwip. During her rule from 1996-2001 Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina also visited Sandwip. The two prime ministers were also cordial for the development of Sandwip. It is also true that the leadership of Sandwip failed to convince the two prime ministers to realize the importance of Cross-Dam for Sandwip.

Through these experiences and observations what I realize that despite the eagerness of every head of the government or the state towards Sandwip, only due to crisis of worthy leadership in Sandwip, Sandwipees could not draw the proper attention of the government for Sandwip Cross-Dam for a long time. After Obaidul Hoque, successive MP AKM Rafique Ullah Chowdhury, MP Advocate AKM Shamsul Huda, MP Mustafizur Rahman and MP Mostafa Kamal Pasa also could have taken efforts for Cross-Dam; but what or how much they have done about Cross-Dam or what initiatives they have taken to draw the attention of the government for Cross-Dam remain to be known.

No one, could, however, stop the dream that Bangabandhu showed the people of Sandwip. For the last 50 years the people of Sandwip have been fighting for this genuine cause. In 1986, seaman Wahab Master (master of ship) along with some of his seamen colleagues of Sandwip played a very notable role that inspired Sandwipees to be united for the Cross-Dam. Under his inspiration a six-hour hunger strike was observed for Cross-Dam in Central Shaheed Minar in Dhaka on 11 December 1986, which was participated in by a large number of Sandwippes, including me. At the

end of hunger strike, Wahab Master accompanied by Economist and Educationist Dr. S. A. Atahar, President of Sandwip Samity, Dhaka and Principal of T & T College Munir Ahmed, President of Sandwip Sikkha O Sanskrity Parishad, Dhaka handed over a Memorandum to the Assistant Military Secretary to the President for the Hon’ble President at Bangabhaban. This also caused to draw the attention of President Ershad.

The people of different walks of life of Sandwip, living in Dhaka and other parts of the country, including the journalists hailing from Sandwip and out of Sandwip, have been making continuous efforts for Cross-Dam for a long time. Among the journalists, out of Sandwip, one eminent journalist and TV personality of Bangladesh, Mr. Fazle Lohani played a very extraordinary role in focusing on Bangladesh Television on 10 November 1984, the heart-rending scenes and tragic stories of the people affected by dangerous river erosion in Sandwip. This broadcasting moved the sentiment of the whole nation. It was one of the prime factors, among many others, that influenced President Ershad to take Sandwip Cross-Dan into consideration. In inspiring Mr. Lohani to go to Sandwip for doing this great task, among others of Sandwipees, two persons played a key role. One is Economist Jashim Uddin Ahmed, then Deputy Chief of Planning Commission and the other is former chairman of river-devoured Katghor, Shaab Mian (Ashadul Hoque Chodhury), then Chairman of Kalapania. Sandwipees still remember Mr. Lohani and his unprecedented efforts for Sandwip.

In this context, the name of Sandwip Correspondent of Daily Ittefaq, Professor Rafiqul Islam, former Vice-Principal of Haji A B College, deserves mentioning here. Once he had a wider identity and reputation as a journalist. He was the Sandwip-Sitakunda Correspondent of Dainik Ittefaq since 1968. It was a time when to be a journalist was  a difficult asking. After 36-year long journalistic career, he retired from Ittefaq in 2003. During this long span of time, he had played a remarkable role in the development of neglected Sandwip by writing series of stories on the problems and prospects of Sandwip, especially the Cross-Dam. He is a living history of Sandwip, who also took part with M A Aziz in Cross-Dam Week Observance in Sandwip in 1969.

It is also to be mentioned here that for a few years Sandwip Unnoyon Forum under the leadership of A.B.M. Wahidur Rahman and Sandwip Development Forum under the leadership of Engr. M.A. Kalam have been working to draw the attention of the policy makers. All these moves are of course important but these are neither united nor properly connected with the mass-people of Sandwip as well as with the official channel for action. Due to this, all these non-political efforts failed to draw the attention of the government.

At long last, Upazila Chairman Shahjahan along with the commom people of Sandwip took a bold initiative to draw the appropriate attention of the government.  To attain the purpose, he formed a committee comprising the people of different walks of life living in Sandwip and across the country. With this committee he started different programmes to attract the policy makers for the construction of Sandwip Cross-Dam. As a dedicated politician of Awami League in Sandwip, Shahjahan holds a high reputation for his honesty, dedication and organizing capacity among the people of Sandwip, irrespective of party affiliation. So, the people of all walks of life widely responded to his call for this genuine cause of Sandwip.

As a result, the Committee under his able leadership organized a human chain on 25 September 2010 in Sandwip. According to the reports of national dailies ‘Jugantor, Samakal, Naya Diganta, Amar Desh, Inquilab’ and local dailies ‘Azadi and Purbakon,’ tens of thousands of people from al1 walks of life spontaneously joined the human chain, and it became a 30-km long human chain ever organized for Cross-Dam. People from this large human chain called upon the daughter of Bangabadhu, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, for the construction of Sandwip Cross-Dam in the name of Bangabadhu as ‘Bangabandhu Sandwip-Urirchar Cross Dam’ recalling the sentiment and contribution of Father of the Nation Bangabadhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman to the suffering people of Sandwip.

Realizing the sentiment of the people, Upazila Chairman Shahjahan quickly sent a Memorandum to the Prime Minister through DC, Chittagong, although he had already sent a DO letter to the Prime Minister for the construction of Sandwip-Urirchar Cross-Dam on 21 September 2010 and sent the copies of the DO letter for information and necessary action to the Chairman of Parliamentary Standing Committee on the Ministry of Water Resources, the Minister for Water Resources, then State Minister and currently Minister for Environment & Forest, and the Director General of Bangladesh Water Development Board. He did not stop here. He also sent a DO letter from Hon’ble Chairman of Parliamentary Standing Committee on the Ministry of Civil Aviation & Tourism Engr. Mosharraf Hossain, MP to the Prime Minister for Sandwip Cross-Dam.  At the request of Shahjahan, Hon’ble Chairman of the Standing Committee Engr. Mosharraf Hossain, MP also raised the issue of Sandwip Cross-Dam to the National Parliament to draw the attention of the government and the whole nation. Being a man of Mirsharai, he has made extraordinary efforts for Sandwip Cross-Dam. Sandwipees should remember him.

The Upazila Chairman, accordingly, reformed his committee in the name of ‘Sandwip-Urirchar Bangabandhu Cross-Dam Bastabayan Parishad’ and the committee consists of 131 members, irrespective of caste, creed and political affiliation including the current heads of different social and cultural organizations, associations, committees and forums of Sandwip working across the country. This committee is also publishing a news bulletin named ‘Sochchar’ (vociferous- voice). Through this committee the Upazila Chairman reunited the people of Sandwip, irrespective of caste, creed and political affiliation, to strengthen the movement for Sandwip Cross-Dam and continued series of programmes to draw the attention of the government.

As a result, on her visit to Sandwip on 18 February 2012, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina assured the people of Sandwip of fulfilling different demands including the implementation of Sandwip-Urirchar Cross-Dam, while addressing a huge public meeting in the play ground of Government Haji A B College in Sandwip. And it is learnt that she has already ordered the concerned ministries and authorities to take necessary steps to construct Sanwip-Urirchar Cross-Dam. Accordingly, the action-process has started. This is a great achievement of Shahjahan.

In early seventies of the last century, as part of social service, Shahjahan started teaching as an honorary teacher in BauriaG.K.Academy at his own village, Sandwip and played an effective role in making the school well-established as well as in upgrading it to a full-fledged high school. He also discharged the responsibility of Headmaster of Momena Sekendar Girls’ High School from 1975 to 1977 and established another high school named Sandwip Ideal High School in 1986. He is founder, organizer and patron of many academic, social and cultural organizations in Sandwip. This writer is his direct student of Bauria G. K. Academy. He taught many students. Some of his students are now working in leading positions at home and abroad. To his students, he is a nice and committed teacher and to the society, he is an honest and dedicated leader. He earned huge name and fame as drama artiste and drama-director, sportsman, referee, social worker, organizer and as a simple man and a dedicated leader.

Since Shahjahan is a politician, so he has rivals and critics. As we all know from the adage that ‘to err is human.’ So, no man is 100 percent perfect and none of us is above fault. So is Shahjahan. But, his efforts, capability, dedication, sincerity, honesty, commitment and contributions to Sandwip are undeniable.

Sandwip has a lot of problems like river erosion, internal and external communication, electricity, health service and many other essential services and, with all these problems, the movement for Sandwip Cross-Dam also needs to be continued until it is implemented. And there are also a lot of unexplored potentials in Sandwip like tourism, fishing industry, salt industry, mineral resources and many others. If necessary initiatives and supports are extended, Sandwip can make immense contribution to the national economy and play an important role in solution to unemployment problem of Bangladesh.

For this, Sandwip needs worthy leadership. By dint of his quality and capacity, Shahjahan has already proved his worthiness. So, he looks fit for this leadership. And, today when the nation faces the crisis of good men, men like Shajahan are needed to lead the society. So, it is expected that Sandwipees under his able leadership will build a new future for Sandwip.

In the end, I pray may Allah grant him a long life and sound health.