A leader of the people

Published on Sunday, June 14, 2020

The political landscape will be pervaded with tributes to Mohammad Nasim MP in the days to come. And rightly so. Nasim Vai was one of the bravest, most principled and decent political commanders of our time. In nearly sixty years of public life, many disagreed with his political positions but a very few ever questioned his virtues or doubted his integrity.

He was outstanding in many ways. As a young student in the time of the six-point movement, he found himself in the Pakistani prison along with his father Captain Mansur Ali. In captivity, like all his fellow revolutionaries he had suffered from torture, deprivation and humiliation which could have broken him. But that didn't stop his active participation in the greatest struggle of our nation- the 1971 liberation war.

Later on, after the brutal killing of the father of the nation and his own father Captain Monsur Ali, as a politician, Nasim Vai continued to be driven not only by the same sense of bravery of his youth but a profound sense of duty towards his fellow people, along with a sense of right and wrong. To him, self-interest was never the standard. Neither was the petty party-interest. Time and time again, we have seen him criticising the party line and his comrades, risking his political career.

Those lone wolf actions contemplate the beliefs he held on doing what he felt was right for the people over right for his political interest. Such rebellious actions, to be honest, have harmed his political standing within the party but they earned him respect.

But, this is not my intention today to list his accomplishments or write long-form about the agonies, triumphs and the barriers in his life. When his life ended with COVID-19 on Saturday, he had many of them all. I'm not here even to mention how he may have contracted with the fatal virus. Instead, I wish to highlight the values he lived by and make a plea to our political leaders to pledge to them.

A plea to those in positions of power to act in accordance with the exemplary conscience, morality, human decency and gallantry set by Mohammad Nasim which, unfortunately, is in short supply in 23, Bangabandhu Avenue and halls of power across Bangladesh today.

We in Bangladesh have entered an unfortunate time when in politics, virtues such as conviction and conscience have become useless, intelligence and intellect are in short supply, principles and morals are often referred to as unnecessary and unwinnable 'old-fashioned' values. Yet they've never been as essential or pertinent to the challenges being faced within the Awami League party and Bangladesh as today.

The advantage many politicians have today is that because of the 24/7 news coverage, chasing sound bytes and mastering the media cycle can become an easy way to fame. In the short term. But in the longer term, there is no alternative to interacting with people as one of their own. Doing what is right for people over what is politically convenient. Having the courage to acknowledge and pay attention to the views of those with whom we do not agree rather than to humiliate and suppress them.

A very few would disagree that the value placed on political openness, inquiry and investigation has taken a pummeling in the recent past in Bangladesh. This is exactly what Mohammad Nasim has fought against as a frontline leader of the opposition during the pro-democracy movement. He fought against a constant stream of lies about Awami League, about our history and our people. He was a truth-teller. Yet no one can accuse him of descending to the incivility and name-calling of his opponents. This refusal to disparage or dehumanize the opponents for short-term partisan political agenda won him respect and contributes to his family's political legacy.

As we watch with great dissatisfaction how incompetence, lies and dishonesty currently unravelling in our political arena, Mohammad Nasim's life and work is a testament to the significance of respecting the values of dignity, humility and decency.

The outburst of love and tribute to Nasim Vai is not only an attestation to who he was but to the outcry people have to return to the principles he lived by. Like rectitude, serving the nation and doing anything possible for his fellow countrymen.

That's his legacy. He has fulfilled his earthly duty in the most dignified way and earnt a place in our memory beside the finest.

It is high time for his party to acknowledge that values are the foundation upon which rest the success of organisations, countries and leaderships.

And to reflect on this legacy. Not just on his ministerial role, but on how he empowered and interacted with people, how he served Bangladesh on its path to democracy and dreamt of a safer, equitable and prosperous Bangladesh for all, not just for the privileged few.

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