Remembering Justice Murshed

K Salahuddin

Syed Mahbub Murshed is one the most striking public figures that have ever appeared in our national scene. Born in 1911in a distinguished Muslim family of Bengal, he had showed signs of his vastly talented abilities from an early age. The late playwright and litterateur Nurul Momen, recalls in his essay “The Precocity,” a youthful Murshed in their Presidency College days in Calcutta. The great expectations he had aroused among his contemporaries were subsequently materialised. 

After a brilliant academic career both in the subcontinent and England, Syed Mahbub Murshed began his career as a lawyer in 1939 and soon made his mark in the Calcutta Bar and High Court. His attachment to the Bar and to members of the legal profession lasted till the end of his days. 

While serving at the bench, he would speak nostalgically of the Bar. The Bar, Murshed said, “is my professional home a place to which I shall continually return; even when I am dead, my disembodied soul shall hover around the precincts of the Bar.”

His affection for people of his profession was deep. During his farewell speech from the bench after his premature retirement or resignation as Chief Justice while addressing the Bar to a standing ovation Murshed concluded his speech by stating "I salute you - you who were my erstwhile comrades, the members of the Bar."

In the later part of 1954 Mahbub Murshed was elevated to the bench of the Dhaka High Court. As a judge, Justice Murshed remained committed to his lifelong ideals of liberty, justice and excellence. His Judicial pronouncements delivered as a High Court Judge and briefly in the Supreme Court and then as Chief Justice clearly reflected these ideals. Some of Justice Murshed's judgements created constitutional history and not only won national fame for him but also international acclaim. He will always be remembered in history for fearlessly upholding the rule of law. He remained a reflection of courage despite pressures from the highest quarters. As Chief Justice in a Judgement he stated that "it is not the use but the abuse of power that the Courts are meant to readdress." Hence, he will remain a Titan in the judicial arena of South Asia for his landmark judgements. Not being a lawyer, I will not comment more, except I am told that Chief Justice Murshed are among the finest treatise in legal history and vastly quoted as references by lawyers not only in his native Bangladesh but also in other SAARC countries.

I would like to point out some other examples of Murshed's manifold social cultural and political activities. A master in oratory Murshed would hold his audience spell bound whether written or speaking extempore he would captivate the listening gathering by his eloquent speeches. Being a humanitarian all his life the famine that griped Bengal in the early forties of the last century and the communal riots in 1946 moved him to found the Anguman Mofidul Islam. As a sitting Judge in the fifties he worked relentlessly as the Chairman of the Red Cross. Murshed also fought for our cultural freedom as he organised Tagore centennial celebrations in Dhaka and other parts of Bangladesh despite the obstacles he faced from the then Pakistani military leadership.

In the political arena Murshed will remain unparalleled. As a young Barrister in 1942  Murshed's article "Quo Vadis Quaid-e-Azam criticising Mr Jinnah and defending his Uncle Mr Fazlul Haque that appeared in the "Statesman" of Calcutta created a stir in Bengal. After the partition of the Sub-continent in 1947 due to communal violence that spread Murshed was among the persons who put to motion the process that culminated in the Nehru-Liaquat pact. Murshed was drawn to the vortex of the language movement in the early fifties.

In early 1954, just before becoming a Judge, Murshed along with Abul Mansoor Ahmed drafted the Manifesto for the Jukta Front government. Again it was these two that put the final varnish to the six points which Sheikh Mujib fought and was jailed for. In the same year in 1966, Mazharul Haque Baki the then President of the Chhatra League and Mr Serajul Alam Khan no one dared but Chief Justice Murshed to Chair their annual conference where Murshed also like Sheikh Mujibur Rahman gave a clarion call for provisional autonomy.

On his resignation as Chief Justice among the first thing Murshed did was to organise the defence of the Agartala Conpiracy case. It is mainly on account of him that Sheikh Mujibur Rahman did not have to come out on parole and all others were set free unconditionally. Murshed’s active participation in the mass upsurge in 1969 further earned him respect. It was his protest resignation as Chief Justice the public of both wings felt he was only acceptable candidate to run against President Ayub Khan.

The agitation that Justice Murshed created with the then High Court Bar on account of the constitutional hiatus that prevailed went to such an extreme that no Judge was willing to give oath Gen Tikka Khan the Governor designate in March 1971. His refusal to collaborate with the Pakistani military authorities during our war of liberation is also recorded.

During the roundtable conference in 1969, and when Ayub was virtually surrendering to the opposition and additionally, with the dissolution of the one unit in West Pakistan, Justice Murshed demanded 'one man, one vote.' Prior to this new demand, there was parity of 150 seats each for East and West Pakistan in the then Pakistan National Assembly. Since Murshed's one man one vote was accepted, the eastern wing got 169 out of 300 seats. Thus he paved the way that who ever won the majority in the eastern wing would form the national government.

Justice Murshed is a living history. I can only conclude by saying about him the same passage he said about his uncle the Sher-a-Bangla AK Fazlul Huq, "In life and in death, he was a king without the trappings of a monarch, for he had built an empire in the hearts of his fellowmen.”

K Sallahuddin is a retired 

official of Radio Bangladesh 

and a poet. He is also the 

secretary of the Syed Mahbub Murshed memorial committee.