Mirza Nurul Huda – or Dr M N Huda, as he is widely known at home and abroad – was undoubtedly a prominent and illustrious Bangali of the 20th century.
With a career rooted in Dhaka University as an outstanding scholar and a professor of economics, he occasionally ventured outside the academic arena from time to time but left behind indelible imprints of an accomplished technocrat serving the government at the highest levels.
In British India, he had served as a deputy magistrate as a member of Bengal Civil Service after topping the list at both bachelors and masters levels in economics from Dhaka University.
Then while working as a Member of the Pakistan Planning Commission during 1962-65 on deputation from Dhaka University, he passionately espoused the 'two-economies' in 'two provinces' theory that to a large extent laid the basis for the 6-Point demands floated by the Awami League in 1966.
Then he served as the finance minister of East Pakistan from 1965 to 1969, and later became the Governor of the province in March 1969 after the ouster of Monem Khan, but only for a couple of days.
Following the independence of Bangladesh, Dr Huda again played a pivotal role as the planning and finance minister of Bangladesh from 1976 to 1981 and then served as the Vice President of the country for four months from November 1981 to March 1982.
The above paragraphs, in a nutshell, encapsulates the salient features of Mirza Nurul Huda's lifelong journey and career over seven decades through periods in British India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.
Although Dr Huda had passed away in December 1991, it was through the painstaking efforts of his wife late Professor Umme Kulsum Siddiqua Banu (died in 2008), elder daughter Simeen Mahmud (expired in 2018), younger daughter Zareen Ahmed, and the editor of the book Dr Fakhruddin Ahmed that the memoir could finally see the light of day.
Dr Huda's preferred choice for the title of the book was 'Stray Thoughts', and he justified it by saying: "Because formally and technically, these articles, speeches, notes etc. of mine do not form parts of an integrated whole; they represent my ideas and thoughts at different times in my life on important challenges facing the country – Pakistan, East Pakistan and Bangladesh. The explanatory notes accompanying each seek to explain some of the environmental circumstances under which each was contemplated".
What makes Dr Huda's memoir, immensely rich and insightful, has been a parallel narrative on the chronological unfolding of sub-continental history specifically related to the territory and population of Bangladesh.
The editor of the memoir further elaborates, "His memoir is based on his own writings and a few interviews he had given. This book is foremost a memoir, although Professor Huda does delve into some topics of economics in depth which will surely whet the appetite of economists".
The memoir is broadly divided into three parts or chapters. These are My early life in British India (1918-47); My Life during the Pakistan period (1947-1971); and The Bangladesh period of my life (1971-91).
The highlights of the first chapter include birth and schooling in Tangail, college education at Rajshahi College, and graduate studies at the University of Dhaka.
Despite losing his father in 1933 when he was a student of class nine, Huda passed the matriculation examination held in 1935 in the first division with overall star marks (above 75%).
Then he earned another first division in the Intermediate examination held in 1937 from Rajshahi College by topping the list in the whole Rajshahi division under Calcutta University.
At Dhaka University, he once again demonstrated his academic brilliance by topping the list in both the bachelor's and master's degree examinations in economics and bagging the Raja Kali Narayan Scholarship in 1940 by obtaining the highest marks among the bachelors' level examinees of all departments.
After the conclusion of his Dhaka University chapter, Huda briefly served as a lecturer at Karatia Saadat College of Principal Ibrahim Khan which helped him hone his teaching skills.
He subsequently went back to his alma mater Rajshahi College as a Lecturer of economics in November 1942 but appeared at the BCS (Bengal Civil Service) examination in Calcutta towards the end of 1943 amid the rumblings of the Second World War as well as the Bengal famine.
He passed the exam with flying colours and subsequently joined the civil service as a deputy magistrate at Alipore, the headquarters of 24 Parganas district, on 19 May 1944.
In 1945, Huda got married to Umme Kulsum Siddiqua Banu – the elder daughter of Maulvi Tamizuddin Khan, who was then serving as the education minister of Bengal (later served as the President of Pakistan Constituent Assembly after the partition of India).
The very next year, Huda was selected for a PhD course in the subject-area of rural and agricultural economics at the prestigious Cornell University of Ithaca, USA. Interestingly, he left Calcutta for the United States as a citizen of British India in June 1947 but returned in April 1949 as a citizen of Pakistan after completing his PhD within a record time of two years.
When he returned to Pakistan, the then Vice-Chancellor of Dhaka University and his former teacher Dr Sayed Moazzem Hossain successfully persuaded Dr Huda to join the university as a Teacher of Economics department.
As teaching was his passion and preferred profession since his youth, he gave up the civil service job at Dhaka district administration and joined Dhaka University in September 1949. By then, the city had transformed itself into a bustling provincial capital from that of a sleepy university-dominated district town.
Against the backdrop of the mass exodus of Hindu teachers to India after the partition, it was mostly the foreign-educated former Muslim students of Dhaka University who were rebuilding the university.
At that time, students revered their teachers and treated them like parents. Conversely, the teachers also treated their students as their sons and daughters. Apart from tutorials, pupils were encouraged to see teachers after classes if they faced any difficulty in understanding lessons.
Good students were encouraged to even visit them at home. Dr Huda noted that up to the end of his teaching days at Dhaka University in 1975, he never saw any university or college teacher offering the students private tuition for money. He lamented that teachers did not teach seriously in their classes now, and did so only in their private coaching classes that required the attending students to pay.
The 1950s also saw Dr Huda serving in various panels of economists for tasks like advising the Planning Board and Planning Commission for preparing the five-year plans of Pakistan.
The economists of East Pakistan held a special conference of the Pakistan Economic Association at the University of Dhaka in August 1956 on the First Five Year Plan of Pakistan.
There, a group of Bangali economists including Dr Huda, Dr Mazharul Huq, Abdur Razzak and Dr Nurul Islam drafted and issued a report that for the first time called for the necessity of 'Two Economies' in Pakistan.
Its essence was: "Pakistan was a unique country. Its two wings were separated by a thousand miles of India. The resources and the development history of the two wings of Pakistan were different. Pakistan had to be developed recognising the fact that it had two different economies in its two wings''. Therefore, "The planning in Pakistan should be as if the country consists of two economies, and two producing and consuming areas".
However, the regional perspective was kept in view by the Pakistani Government only in drawing up the provincial development programmes, not in respect of the central plans and the huge outside-the-plan expenditures like the Indus Basin Project in West Pakistan.
The outcome was a half-hearted attempt by the central government to accept the regional basis of development plans and attach priority to regional development in national plans. As a consequence of this biassed and skewed approach, over 70% of resources in the central budgets of Pakistan were spent in West Pakistan, whereas less than 30% were spent for East Pakistan during the decades of the 1950s and 1960s. This has been clearly shown by Dr Huda in the appendix of his memoir by citing official statistics.
Dr Helal Uddin Ahmed is a retired Additional Secretary and former Editor of Bangladesh Quarterly. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of The Business Standard.