Bangabandhu was charismatic and genial: Sir Mark Tully
Mark Tully, former BBC bureau chief in India is a renowned journalist and needs no introduction. Covering the Liberation War of Bangladesh was a high point in his career; that he did extensively for the BBC and had the fortune to watch the founding father of Bangladesh, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman from close quarters. He also had the opportunity to meet Bangabandhu after his return from Pakistan’s captivity. Reflecting on those tumultuous days, Sir William Mark Tully described the late leader as an “extremely friendly and open person” who loved his people from the heart.
My scheduled interview with Mark Tully looked as if the celebrated former BBC Bureau Chief had been waiting for me to express his feelings about Bangladesh’s charismatic leader and father of the Nation-Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.
Recalling his first interview with Bangabandhu after the latter returned from Pakistan, he said “I do not recall the exact dates but it was after he returned from jail in Pakistan and the army had moved out of Dhaka. I did not know Sheikh Saheb very well before he was arrested and taken to jail in Pakistan”.
At his East Nizamuddin residence in New Delhi, the veteran journalist spoke about his visit to Dhaka, soon after the Independence of Bangladesh. He had to file some reports on the new-born
country and sought an interview with the charismatic leader of the new nation. “Of course I wanted to interview him… but never knew he would see me actually, I did not know that it would be granted so soon. As the interview was granted I was told Sheikh Saheb was also interested to meet me”, he said.
“We had a long discussion and he spoke a great deal about the new-born Bangladesh, its people and his future plans. The interview lasted over an hour, I guess. He told me about his determination to establish a secular democracy in Bangladesh and also his other big dreams”.
Recalling the gesture of the legendary leader, Tully said, “at the very outset Bangabandhu thanked me for my contribution to the Liberation War of Bangladesh to which I replied: “I merely reported the incidents as it unfolded, many others journalists had done like me”. But he (Mujib) would not agree. At the end of the conversation, he presented me with a painting that is still with me.”
“I was deeply touched by his gesture (the gift) and you know we (BBC staff) are not supposed to accept any gift. I told my BBC head office in London about the gift and informed them that I would put the painting in the BBC office in Delhi, which I did.”
Responding to my query as to how did he find the person Bangabandhu at that time, Mark Tully, who received Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 1985, said: “I found him extremely genial, friendly and open. He was a very friendly man, a very big person in every sense of the term of the word.”
Tully, also a recipient of ‘Padmashri’ from the Indian Government in 1992, said that he had met the Bangladesh leader several times after that. But he could not recollect how many times. During subsequent meetings Sheikh Mujib told Tully that he was upset with the problems.
“I also attended several public meetings addressed by Sheikh Saheb. He had a wonderful voice that could mesmerise the crowd. I could feel from the reaction of the people when Sheikh Saheb used to address public meetings.”
During Emergency, in July 1975, Sir Tully was proscribed from India and had to move to London and mostly worked in a newsroom and could not travel as much. “I was working in the night shift when the news of Sheikh Mujib’s brutal assassination came I was very sad obviously as Bangabandhu had been very kind to me.
“Personally I was sad because I remembered my interactions with him and the high hopes and optimism he had for his people and his belief in the future of Bangladesh.”
Asked how he rated Bangabandhu as a leader compared to other leaders of his time, Mark Tully responded: “He faced lots of problems than any of his contemporary leaders. He had bigger problems– the nation was ravaged; then there was global economic recession, coupled with rise of prices of petroleum products”. And there was an open border with India where it was impossible to stop smuggling.” “I personally feel he had faced more problems than any other leaders of his time,” Tully added.
While generalising the problems in the subcontinent, Sir Tully observed: “Too much power comes to the leaders when there is no institution to check that. The leaders often have to take decisions for which they have no idea. And later they are blamed for that.”
Sir Mark Tully, who received the ‘Knighthood’ from the Queen of England in 2002, also narrated his experience about military rule and how detrimental it was to the development of a nation. “I know from the experiences of Pakistan, military government cannot be a solution for any problem in Bangladesh. I always felt that military rule was never an answer.”
The former BBC Correspondent was all praise for Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina too, the daughter of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.
“I interviewed her….I must have done (interviews) both as Prime Minister of Bangladesh and Leader of the Opposition,” Tully added.
“I have great admiration for her courage. She came back and joined politics despite risks. to run a big political party like the Awami League”, he quipped.
On the current relations between Bangladesh and India, Sir Mark Tully observed: “My great hope is that Bangladesh and India must build relations to the mutual benefit of the two peoples. This depends on both countries. “You cannot expect one country to follow the other”, said.
As the interview came to an end, Sir Mark Tully took me to the adjacent living room where he showed the gift given by Bangabandhu. The painting was done by artist Muzimul Azim, in 1973. I asked how he managed that. “I simply took it from the office,” Tully quipped with a child like smile as he would cherish the memory of the late Bangladesh leader for long time. Mark Tully also informed that as and when he shifts to a new house he would surely take this rare gift with him.
(Writer is Bureau chief of BSS, New Delhi)
Author : M. Shafiqul Karim