There haven’t been many people in the world whom I called both (bhai and chacha). AMA Muhith was one. We met through our work on 1971. He helped me develop the volume on the international aspect of 1971 by lending me his archives of the period.
It was for the Dolilpatra project, and as I worked I took time to return them. He complained to my dad who was also a secretary in the Finance Ministry then. When we met the next time, he roared with laughter and asked, “Did your dad tell you the exact word I used for you?“
I smiled and said,”You called me a delinquent.“ We laughed together.
I met him when he was the Secretary of the ERD (External Resources Division) and even then didn’t get along with Zia. It was on some policy the fight got bigger and he later resigned. There was no hiding his admiration for Sk. Mujib. I remember being at a book launching of Moudud bhai (the late politician Barrister Moudud Ahmed) where Gen. Shishu and his crowd called SK. Mujib a lot of names including a “coward”. It was the kind of narrow mindset any regime that comes to power by force has. This mindset applies to all civil and military regimes.
Muhith bhai stood up and defended Sk. Mujib. That took some guts in those days for a serving officer. The program ended with both sides having spilt blood. His loyalties were clear and one day when he could take no more, he left with a public statement that made him an instant hero.
No incumbent government is popular and Zia was no exception. Soon after Ershad’s takeover Muhith became the Finance Minister. Later he left that and in the post-1991 paradigm became the Awami League’s Finance Minister in 2009. Of course, that meant the public face of finance and so he got more flak than any FM.
My relationship with Muhith bhai/chacha was personal and clustered around 1971. He was from the Sylhet upper class and came through the CSPm route to where he was. 1971 was a year that many had to choose and he did make a choice while plagued by his anxiety about what would happen once the cushy diplomatic posting was gone. That affected many but in the end, he did choose and that is history. He didn’t lose out and had a splendid career after 1971.
What sort of a Bangladesh did the Bangladeshi CSPs want? Basically, a state free from Pakistani muscle. A world where upward mobility of the middle class would not be hampered by any and that has happened for those who also graduated to the upper class. Muhith’s policy has helped wealth making for all who could and his interest outside that was limited.
The surge in growth including asymmetry can’t be denied and the current consuming class owes much to him. The sloth and slack that the banking sector suffers from is not his creation but began under Zia. But he also did little to rein them in. His focus was on wealth making and he did that well.
He led a successful life and to me, the man with a large smile and endless laughter for me is not the economics czar but the man describing how he managed to avoid the many pressures that play in Washington and look after the interest of Bangladesh about to be formally born. That is the best hour for him.
Farewell, Muhith bhai, till we meet again.