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The life and times of Rashid Suhrawardy

  • Published at 11:07 pm February 11th, 2019
Web_Rashid-Suhrawardy
File photo of Rashid Suhrawady Courtesy

Eminent citizens and senior political figures of Bangladesh termed his departure a great loss for the nation

Only a little over a month after the nation and its polity was struck by grief at the death of former Awami League general secretary Syed Ashraful Islam, the news of yet another loss has shaken the country.

The bad news came after Rashid Suhrawardy, the only son of Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy, one of the founders of Awami League and the fifth prime minister of Pakistan, was found dead on February 7 at his UK residence.

Eminent citizens and senior political figures of Bangladesh termed his departure a great loss for the nation.

Recounting his contribution to the independence of Bangladesh and its political arena, they described Rashid as a role model for new and future generations.

Noted jurist Dr Kamal Hossain recalled that Rashid played an important in raising mass awareness for the freedom of Bangladesh from Pakistani occupation forces in 1971.

“He worked hard to build awareness among the international community to help Bangladesh achieve independence from the clutch of the then West Pakistan,” said Dr Kamal Hossain, adding: “His contribution to the newly-born country was rather important.”

Sharing his memories of Rashid, the 81-year-old said: “Every time we met, he used to discuss a lot about Bangladesh and related issues.

“He was supposed to come to Dhaka on March 10, but that did not happen,” said a shocked Dr Kamal, also a veteran politician, adding that both Awami League and Bangladesh owe much to Rashid.

Contributions to the Liberation War

Economist Prof Rehman Sobhan, whose wife Salma Sobhan was a cousin of Rashid’s, recalled that Rashid was in London in 1971.

“He identified right from the beginning with the Bangladesh cause, because he felt that his father had been the leader of the Bangalis. In London, the movement [for Bangladesh] was led by Abu Sayeed Chowdhury and Rashid was very active.

“But the main involvement came when Rashid’s sister, Begum Akhtar Sulaiman, started actively supporting the activities of the Yahya Khan government. She gave a number of statements that time on behalf of the Suhrawardy family saying her father believed in Pakistan,” said the economist.

“Rashid became very angry that his sister had used their father’s name to support the genocide ordered by Yahya. So Rashid gave some strong statements at that time, denouncing his sister, saying that she betrayed their father’s ideology and politics, and broke off all relations with her till she died,” he said.

Bangabandhu was very fond of Rashid, Prof Rehman said, and he was very familiar in the leader’s family as well.  

“After 1971, Rashid visited Bangladesh a number of times and Bangabandhu appreciated his role during the war,” he said.  After the killing of Bangabandhu and his family in 1975, Rashid was devastated, the economist said.

“Rashid cut off all relations with his friends in Pakistan and he did not visit Pakistan for many years.

“For all practical purposes he was an Englishman, in the sense that he looked English, he spoke English, all his education was in England. But he remained a committed believer in Bangladesh,” said Rehman Sobhan.

He kept a good relationship with Sheikh Hasina and Sheikh Rehana. In London he used to spend time with Sheikh Rehana’s family and her children.  In 1996, after the general election campaign started, Rashid came to Bangladesh.

“He was deployed in the election campaign for Awami League to deal with the international media and the diplomatic community because he spoke very well and he could relate very well. He had social presence and could charm people,” the CPD chief said.

In that election, Rashid played a very important role in communicating with the international community for Awami League.  

Born to Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy’s second wife, Vera Alexandrovna Tiscenko, who took the Muslim name Noor Jehan Begum after converting to Islam in 1940, Rashid was actively engaged with the UK unit of Awami League.

Shah Shamim Ahmed, office secretary of the UK unit of Awami League, in a Facebook status mourned  the death, recalling the contribution Rashid made for the party and Bangladesh.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on Saturday expressed her profound shock and sorrow at the death of Rashid.

’He led a lonely life’

Rashid Suhrawardy was a well-respected and well-regarded British actor under the stage name of Robert Ashby, who trained at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and known principally for his time with the Royal Shakespeare Company as well as roles in feature films such as Jinnah (1998) and Legend (2015).

Focusing on the personal and early life of Rashid, Barrister Mainul Hosein said he led a lonely life since childhood as his father was busy with politics and his mother was Russian and away.

“In London, he had a really lonely, and I would say, a neglected life. Strangely enough, his mind and heart has always been with Bangladeshi people,” said Mainul.

Rashid was always aware of the fact that his father was a great leader, and that he must do something by any means to uphold the dignity of his father.

“Despite facing many difficulties and though he was not financially affluent, Rashid never turned to anybody for help, maintaining his dignity,” added Mainul.

“During the Liberation War, he was very vocal and as a result of that, he had a strained relationship with his sisters and others in Karachi,” Mainul said.

Mainul said he had repeatedly invited Rashid to join politics in Bangladesh, which the latter rejected, citing his language issues and saying that "he was not as great as his father."

Abul Hasan Chowdhury, former state minister for foreign affairs, said: “He considered himself a member of the Bangabandhu family and used to address him as Mujib bhai," adding that Rashid had told him personally that he was on his way to Dhaka just before the August 15 tragedy, responding to a call by Bangabandhu.

Since then, his relations with the party and Bangladesh deepened a lot, recounted Abul.

“Rashid was into arts, he had politics in his blood, and he had a very multi-dimensional personality.”

Rashid was deeply committed to the people of Bangladesh and headed Awami League’s election steering committee in 1996, he said.

“His closest relative was his sister Begum Akhter Solaiman. For the cause of the nation, for his principle, he did not hesitate to sever his ties with her,” he said.

“There are many aspects of Rashid Suhrawardy that cannot be covered in one conversation but he was a man full of laughter and humour,” he further added.