Memorable days: Old Sangsad Bhaban now Prime Minister’s office

Mostafa Kamal Majumder
At the close of a programme of the Ministry of Education at the Milanee Hall of Hotel Purbani International, education secretary Kazi Fazlur Rahman was exchanging views with journalists. Prime Minister Shah Azizur Rahman who was in charge of the education ministry had left soon after the end of the meeting. As I walked towards a side table to collect snacks, reporter Muhitul Islam Ranju (of Banglar Bani who subsequently became editor of Dainik Janata) approached me to convey that the Education Secretary wanted to talk to me. I walked towards the group of journalists who were surrounding him. Kazi Fazrul Rahman said ‘We found your series on education in the metropolis very informative and the reports would be helpful in the formulation of policy. Most journalists write for or against things, but your reports are factual and unbiased,’ he said in front of all the journalist present. I had written a series of eight reports depicting the state of education in the metropolitan city of Dhaka. Those covered primary, secondary, higher secondary and university level education in the early eighties. By that time because of my specialization in the education beat, I knew the location and size of most of the schools and colleges in the city. I had intimate contacts with quite a number of school headmasters, headmistresses and principals of colleges. The pitiable state of education at the government primary schools in the city has started to encourage the setting up of private nurseries and kindergartens. Most secondary schools had their own primary school sections, but most of these schools did not have physical facilities such as laboratories, libraries and playgrounds to qualify to be called educational institutions. In one extreme example, there were three independent schools in one premise at the Segun Bagicha area. The reports had generated good reader-interest.

At that time I used Mostafa Kamal as my pen name and avoided adding family name Majumder. Years later after the revolution in newspaper publication in Bangladesh, I found so many people by my pen name that I had to add the family name as a mark of distinction. One evening a journalist from the Dainik Bangla came to see me at the reporting section of The Bangladesh Times office then located at the same building complex at 1 DIT Avenue. While Dainik Bangla news section was housed at the western side of the L-sized building, the news section of The Bangladesh Times was located on its southern side. My colleagues in the reporting section introduced me to the man and told me that journo from the sister publication wanted to see who was I. The man wrote the education subsection of the weekly Bichitra. That week he filled the education subsection with contents packed in my series of eight reports.
While doing the investigative reports I found the headmasters of schools and principals of colleges of the metropolis very cooperative. But at one college in the Siddheswari area, I faced a kind of resistance. The Principal of the college called in a member of the college managing committee who was previously associated with the planning commission. Instead of providing me with information as per my queries, he started interviewing me. He sought to know from me what my methodology of the investigation was. At this point, I failed to keep my cool and told him the first planning commission of Bangladesh was a failure because of people like him as they were more concerned about theory than the practical situation. The visit to the college was unproductive. Subsequently, I came to know the institution was set up by grabbing a plot of land owned by a big industrialist who settled in the area. The college management doubted my intentions. On the following day, I went to the Ideal College in the Hatir Pool area. Principal Nawab Ali of the college was a knowledgeable person and I was satisfied with the Interview.
I recall Principal Sohrab Hossain of Suhrawardy College and Tofael Ahmed founder Principal of Tejgaon College who were visionaries and men of initiative and drive. Taking advantage of my contacts with educational institutions, Shahidul Huq, then Editor of The Bangladesh Times asked me to get his two daughters admitted to the Azimpur School located inside the government staff quarters area. Being requested by him I also later took his elder son Shahriar Shahid for admission to the Notre Dame College.
One day I was assigned to cover a meeting of economist Dr, MN Huda, who was the Adviser for Finance in the government of President Ziaur Rahman. I was not a man from the economic beat. Other newspapers sent economic beat reporters to the meeting of Dr. MN Huda a former finance Minister of erstwhile East Pakistan, and former Head of the Department of Economics of Dhaka University. Most economic beat reporters did not know me by name although I knew almost all of them. Among them was Reazuddin Ahmed from The Bangladesh Observer who sought to know from me which paper I did represent. I knew Reazuddin Bhai as a union leader. At that time only three reporting beats were distinctive in Bangladesh – Crime, Sports and Economic. Dr. Huda did make a big disclosure at the meeting. The government was preparing a 2-year approach plan and a 20-year perspective plan to rebuild the economy. That piece of news made lead items in all newspapers. My ability to handle such a piece of big economic news increased my appreciation not only at my office and but also among the economic beat reporters of Dhaka City.
My specialization in education was known also to political leaders. After the second parliamentary elections held in 1979, I was approached by some leaders of the Bangladesh Awami League to share with them some clippings of my reports. They needed those to put questions at the question hour of Parliament which used to hold sittings at Nakhalpara. The old Sangsad Bhaban, now the Prime Minister’s office was first turned into the President’s Secretariat by President HM Ershad after the session of Parliament was shifted to the present Parliament Complex. The second Parliament had its last sitting at the present Sangsad Bhaban in February 1982 before the Martial Law takeover one month later.
15 June 2020