Justice Murshed: In memoriam -The Asian Age

    "I sometimes hold in half a sin
      to put in words the grief I feel
      For words like nature half reveal
     And half conceal the soul within."

I am told that the late Chief Justice S. M. Murshed would recite these lines of Alfred Lord Tennyson quoted above, on an occasion when he suffered a personal bereavement. Even today, after many years I find these still haunt me. It is rather difficult for me to put into words the feelings evoked by these lines and the memory of a man with whom I associate them with. Syed Mahbub Murshed is undoubtedly one the most striking and impressive public figures that had ever appeared in our national scene. Many describe him as the torch bearer of his uncle Shera-E-Bangla Fazlul Haque. Born in early 1911 in a distinguished Muslim family of then Bengal, he had shown signs of his talented abilities at an early age. The late playwright and litterateur Nural Momen, recalls in his essay "The Precocity" of youthful Murshed in their Presidency college days in Calcutta. The great expectations Murshed aroused in the mind of his contemporaries during his student days were subsequently materialized.After a brilliant academic career both in the Subcontinent and England, Syed Mahbub Murshed began his career as a lawyer in 1939 and soon made his mark in the Calcutta Bar and the High Court. His attachment to the Bar and to the members of the legal profession lasted till the end of his days. While serving in the 'Bench', he would speak rather nostalgically of the 'Bar'. The Bar, Murshed stated, "is my profession home a place to which I shall continually return; even when I am dead, my disembodied soul shall hover around the precincts of the Bar. His affection for people of his profession was deep. After his somewhat premature retirement or more correctly resignation he wrote, "I salute you - you who are my erstwhile comrades, the members of Bar.In spite of his professional preoccupations, Syed Mahbub Murshed found time to write and publicly speak with brilliance and also to participate in social, cultural and humanitarian activities. His article "Quo Vadis Quaid-e-Azam in which he criticized the policies of Mohammed Ali Jinnah when it appeared in the 'Statesman' of Calcutta and 'Telegraph' of London in 1942. During the famine of 1943 and later during the communal riots of 1946, Murshed worked actively with the 'Anjuman Mofidul Islam'. Again, the communal violence that shook the Subcontinent in the partition year, he was one of those men who were primarily responsible for setting in motion a process that culminated in the Liakat-Nehru pact. Murshed was drawn into the vortex of the language movement in the early fifties.In the later part of 1954, he was elevated to the bench of the Dhaka High Court. As a judge Syed Mahbub Murshed remained committed to his lifelong ideals of liberty, justice and excellence. His judicial pronouncements, delivered while he was sitting in the bench of the Dhaka High Court and the Supreme Court of Pakistan where he served as an ad-hoc judge, then as Chief Justice reflected these ideals. Some of Murshed's judgments created constitutional history and were landmarks which won for him international acclaim.In addition to his monumental work on constitutional law in the judiciary Murshed championed cultural freedom especially during the repressive Ayub regime which will always be remembered. In 1961 he organized the Tagore centennial celebrations in Dhaka and other districts which comprise now Bangladesh, in defiance of the opposition of the then Pakistani military rulers. Deep down, Murshed was a Sufi and a liberal muslin and preached tolerance and was against any form of communalism.Another significant contribution by Chief Justice Murshed was that he gave the final varnish to the drafting of the six points that was the demand of the then Bengali intelligentsia for provisional autonomy, which Sheikh Mujibur Rahman fought and was jailed for. It was Justice Murshed as a practicing lawyer in early 1954, who was among those who drafted the 21 point manifesto of the United Front that formed government and this could be and was summarized by him into the famous six points. Again, Mazharul Haq Baki, the Chatra League President in later 1966, records that no one except Chief Justice Murshed dared to accept invitation to become the chief guest at their annual conference, where Murshed, like Sheikh Mujib, made a clarion call for provincial autonomy for East Pakistan. During the roundtable-conference in 1969 and when Ayub was virtually surrendering to the opposition and additionally, with the dissolution of the one unit in West Pakistan, Justice Murshed demanded one man one vote. Prior to this new demand, there was parity of 150 seats each for East and West Pakistan in the then Pakistan National Assembly. However, the breaking of the one unit in West Pakistan, it was when Justice Murshed's proposal was accepted, the one man one vote concept resulted in 169 seats for East Pakistan out of 300. In other words, it was Justice Murshed who paved the way as to whoever would be the majority in the East Pakistan, would obviously from the National government.Justice Murshed's significant role during the mass upsurge in late 1968-69 is also on record. Shortly his protest resignatio made Murshed being termed by the intelligentsia as the only acceptable presidential candidate against Ayub Khan. His refusal to collaborate with the Pakistani authorities during the liberation war in 1971 is also recorded by historians. Hence, in fact it can be said that Justice Murshed is living history and was truly the founding father of Bengali nationalism. In conclusion, to quote Dr Mizanur Rahman Shelly, Murshed was the man in his life span who was endeavoring in "building bridges between the past, present and future." He will always remain the keeper of our national conscience.

The author is founder secretary of the "Syed Mahbub Murshed memorial committee" and a poet who retired
as an employee of Radio Bangladesh.