When most of the newly elected lawmakers were preparing to take oath to the Jatiya Sangsad, a leader -- also elected lawmaker for the fifth straight times -- was passing through the last several hours of his life battling on a remote foreign land. Did he know the cabin of Bumrungrad International Hospital of Bangkok would be his deathbed? Was he informed that the leave he took from the parliament a couple of months back would be his eternal leave?
On Thursday last week, he wrote a letter to the Jatiya Sangsad Speaker applying for her permission to allow him to take parliamentary oath after he would come back -- sound and fit as he was before. That day he passed away. Was that letter symbolic of his everlasting departure? No, perhaps. Because man lives in hope. And a man like him who throughout his life used to weave dreams for others can never be hopeless. The letter was for that hope to come back, to serve his people, his country.
Lying on the bed of the foreign hospital, he perhaps realised his empty eyes were looking out of the window to the horizon stretched in a yearning -- when he could be able to join his colleagues back in the homeland. But, he could not win death, the ultimate destiny of a human. He was perhaps restless in his last days.
How could a thorough politician, whose entire life has been spent behind politics and the welfare of the country, remain quiet when his country was calling him back at its need? He could not come back, but for sure left into us that Syed Ashraful Islam who will, even after physical death, be leading us to take the country towards the goal of peace and prosperity. It is the true feeling for one's motherland and its people, that makes a politician stand unique among the common ones and which earns him boundless respect and love of people.
Syed Ashraf, as he was much popular by this name, was also well reputed for his humility and simplicity that made him a giant of a politician. His charismatic leadership brought him respect from across the political spectrum. Syed Ashraf was such a politician, a man, who had been able to build an image for himself in a country where exercise of muscle power, greed and cronyism easily take over politicians.
This leader, who went above party identity, knew how to welcome opposition's criticism with a smiling face even if it is harshest of its kind. It is his brand of politics and oratory prowess that pulled up the ethical standards in Bangladesh politics. He was the person, and above all a politician, to whom the country would come first before the party.
He was born in Mymensigh in 1952. The eldest son of Syed Nazrul Islam, a close associate of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and the acting President of Mujibnagar government, Syed Ashraf grew up in a political atmosphere. His craving to join politics was indomitable to which his father, Syed Nazrul, surrendered. In the words of Syed Ashraf's friend and long-time political colleague Nazim Uddin Ahmed, "His father was reluctant to allow Ashraf into politics but his son's interest and all of our persuasion later compelled him to change his mind."
Syed Ashraf put his first step into politics of Awami League during his student years with Chhatra League and became general secretary of BCL's greater Mymensingh district unit. He was also a member of the Mujib Bahini (BLF) during the liberation war. Worked under the leadership of late Abdur Razzak, he fought in Sylhet and Rangpur to free his motherland from the grip of Pakistani occupation forces.
After the liberation of Bangladesh, the brutal assassination of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib on 15 August 1975, and thereafter his father's killing, on 3 November 1975, inside the well secured Dhaka Central Jail along with three other national leaders, devastated his mind and he left Bangladesh for the United Kingdom where he engaged himself in organising Awami League during the dark years of politics between 1975 and 1990.
He was involved in activism with the Bangladeshi community there. Upon his return in 1996 to respond to the call of Sheikh Hasina during the party's hour of his need, he came out elected member of parliament (MP) and served as a state minister in the cabinet led by Sheikh Hasina during 1996-2001. He was also elected MP in 2001 national election and became a member of the House Committee on foreign affairs. Thereafter during the last two terms of Awami League since 2009, he also served two important ministries.
Throughout his eventful life, Syed Ashraf swam against the stream. During the 1/11 political changeover, when many senior Awami League leaders were engaged as a part of 'minus Hasina' conspiracy, it was Syed Ashraf who was absolutely different and who firmly held the oar of Awami League's boat.
His bold words gusted out of his 'lung' during the 2013 'Hefazat Movement' at Shapla Chattar in Motijheel eased the tension suddenly erupted in the public mind. At the end, Hefazat protesters were driven out of the street with the minimal loss to life and property. Syed Ashraf was such a figure. He did not compromise with the vile elements during the hard times of Awami League. He proved that one who has firm faith in honesty can never be defeated by any force.
Syed Ashraf, through his good character of dedication, love, respect, simplicity, humility and in fact every trait of a good character, became a towering figure in contemporary Bangladeshi politics. On this day, let his virtues guide us towards the goal the country achieved impendence for. Adieu, Leader!
The writer is a journalist
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