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Dhaka Tribune

Veteran politician Shahjahan Siraj passes away

The 1971 war veteran had been suffering from cancer and several other old age complications

Update : 14 Jul 2020, 05:39 PM

Shahjahan Siraj, one of the key organizers behind Bangladesh’s birth through the 1971 Liberation War and witness to major political events in the country’s history, has passed away, losing a long battle against cancer.

The 77-year-old freedom fighter breathed his last at Evercare Hospital in Dhaka at around 3:30pm on Tuesday, his wife Rabeya Siraj confirmed Dhaka Tribune.

Siraj, a senior BNP leader who served as environment minister in the Four-Party Alliance government from 2001 to 2006, had been undergoing treatment at the hospital since Monday.

The former Tangail 4 lawmaker had long been suffering from cancer since 2012 and from several other old age complications, including diabetes, kidney ailments and high blood pressure.

His body was taken to his Gulshan residence later in the evening.

“He had been ill and was being treated at home and hospital for a very long time,” Rabeya Siraj said. Siraj was admitted to Evercare again on Monday after his condition worsened.

She said Siraj’s body would be brought on Wednesday to the family home in Tangail’s Kalihati upazila, where he was born on March 1, 1943.

The first namaz-e-janaza of the deceased politician will take place in the morning at the Government Shamsul Haque College in Elenga and the second one in the afternoon at Shahjahan Siraj College in Kalihati, she said.

A third janaza will be held at the Gulshan Society Mosque in the capital later in the evening.

Afterwards, Rabeya added, Siraj would be buried at Banani Graveyard. 

Apart from his wife, Siraj has left behind a son and a daughter, alongside other relatives and well-wishers to mourn his death.

Recalling his contributions to the country’s independence and politics, President Md Abdul Hamid in a condolence message mourned Siraj’s death and conveyed his profound sympathies to his bereaved family.

BNP acting chairman Tarique Rahman, Secretary General Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir and Senior Joint Secretary General Ruhul Kabir Rizvi, along with many political and social organization leaders in Dhaka and Tangail, also mourned the death of Siraj, who was the party’s vice-chairman.

Politics and legacy

In the 1960s, Siraj was a student at Government Saadat College, where he was elected vice president of the student council twice. He entered student politics in 1962 through the movement against the Sharif Education Commission Report.

Later in 1970, having played a major role in the 1969 mass uprising, Siraj became general secretary of the Bangladesh Chhatra League, the student wing of the Awami League.

The active student leader was known as one of the four caliphs, or “Char Khalifa,” of the Chhatra League loyal to Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman before the war. The other three were Nure Alam Siddique, ASM Abdur Rab and Abdul Kuddus Makhan.

Siraj made his mark on the country’s history by reading out the manifesto of Bangladesh’s independence on behalf of the students on March 3, 1971, in front of millions of people in the presence of Bangabandhu.

He was one of the active members of Swadhin Bangla Biplobi Parishad, dubbed as “Nucleus,” and a Chhatra Sangram Parishad leader. A Mujib Bahini commander during the 1971 war, Siraj was also one of the designers of the Bangladesh flag.

Even though he spent the final days of his political career with BNP, he had been mostly known for his time as a leader of Jatiya Samajtantrik Dal (JaSaD).

He was one of the founders of JaSaD, formed in 1972. He served as its founder assistant general secretary and later as its president, before leading a splintered JaSaD faction and before joining the BNP in 1995.

Siraj was elected MP five times from the Tangail 4 constituency on JaSaD ticket in 1979, 1988, 1991 and on a BNP ticket in 1996 and 2001.

He served as a minister in BNP chief Khaleda Zia's cabinet in 1991 and 2001. 

However, his life was not free from controversies. In 2007, during the tenure of the military-backed caretaker government, he was arrested and jailed in a tax evasion case.

In 2008, he and his wife were also sentenced to 13 years of imprisonment in a corruption case filed during the same caretaker government’s reign. But that conviction was overturned by the High Court in 2010.

Even though Siraj managed to secure freedom from jail, he did not become active in politics again due to his deteriorating health.

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