Mostafa Kamal Majumder
The publication of The New Nation remained uninterrupted and its journalists and employees worked in unbelievable safety for one full year when the proprietor and the members of his family were unable to enter the Ittefaq Bhaban, which also housed the office of The New Nation, was occopied by civilian forces loyal to his rival brother from April 2010 to April 2011. Only the chairperson of the Robbar Group of Publications, the parent company of the NN, could come to the Ittefaq Bhaban several months after its takeover by their opponents.The feud for the control over the Daily Ittefaq, Bangladesh’s largest circulated newspaper for nearly four decades, earlier cost the lives of two of its employees. The two brothers who owned its lion’s share for some reasons could not tolerate each other.
The takeover of the Ittefaq Bhaban and the Daily Ittefaq paper by forces loyal to the proprietor’s younger brother followed two years of the military-backed caretaker government of 2007-2008 in which the NN proprietor was an adviser and his brother had to embrace life in exile along with his family to escape arrest under graft charges.
The shift in the control over Ittefaq Bhaban came little over three months after the tenure of the caretaker government and the start of the rule of the Awami League government for the second tenure. Members of the civilian force who took over the building assaulted Ittefaq staff members known to be close to the NN proprietor and expelled them one after another.
They however did no harm the NN staff members. One day the leader of the civilian force controlling the building came to my office room which was located at its third floor to see who the editor of The New Nation was on a flimsy ground. I knew who he was as Peon Abdul Quddus sought my permission to let him into my room. Thank God just after entering the room and having a glimpse of me he started speaking profusely in praise of me. A mid-level political worker of the party to which his mentor (NN proprietor’s brother) belonged, the man was known to me before from interactions at political programmes for a long time. He was a resident of Gopibagh area where the Ittefaq Bhaban was located.
The man departed after making a small request to publish the photo of a programme in which he was present. I knew that was the pretext of his visit to me. His actual intention was to ascertain if the NN editor was a threat to his men who took possession of the Ittefaq Bhaban. Also, was it safe to allow the nearly 100 journalists and employees of the NN to come to the building daily for continued publication of the NN newspaper. Notably a senior general section man had started absenting himself from the office out of a fear of being assaulted by the new occupants of the building.
What I can say, the meeting of the leader of the civilian forces controlling of the Ittefaq Building with me worked as a magic. I felt the threat of interference in the affairs of the NN by them was over. And it remained so till siege to the Ittegaq Bhaban ended through the conclusion of an agreement between the two brothers. Under the said agreement the elder brother took posssession of the Ittefaq Bhaban and got some compensation money in exchange of the Daily Ittefaq newspaper which became the sole property of the younger brother. Senior members of the legal profession mediated the deal.
Because of this agreement Bangladesh’s premier newspaper, the Daily Ittefaq, escaped the threat of premature death. The Ittefaq family also escaped themselves from decades of hostilities that could have throttled the paper to death any time as was the case with the Daily Azad which was the number one newspaper of Bangladesh until the mass upsurge of 1969.
Another big newspaper – The Bangladesh Observer – died premature death because the family that owned it did not have a unity of purpose to lead its publication, although the logistics support it had remained unmatched even during its dying years in the early part of the current century. The employees of the paper on their own ran it for more than a decade relying on its goodwill and readership support which over time dwindled and turned inadequate for its continued publication.
Anyway, as I steered the growth of the New Nation from a losing concern to a self-reliant one, of course with active support from owners, I had a wish in the back of my mind that they would one day view it as the paper on which they can rely just like the Daily Ittefaq. I would not claim full credit for the safe publication of the NN during the occupation of the Ittefaq Building by the propretor’s rival, although my presence clearly helped dissuade the leader of the civilian force not to create obstructions, because after all they were brothers. When the forces loyal to the proprietor’s brother were sure that there was no threat to their own secuity from the New Nation staff, they were not inclined to obstructing their functioning.
But one thing can be said for sure, when the proprietor agreed to the Ittefaq-property sharing agreement giving up his share of ownership of the Daily Ittefaq newspaper, he definitely had in his mind a thought that he had at least the NN to fall back upon. The New Nation was by then not only self-reliant and well-established in the society but also expanding its business and reputation, and received a permanent base of support at the behest of a previous government.
What I can say about my role, the NN benefited from the services of the most matured part of my career. I took it over when I was 52 equipped with all the knowledge and experience to steer an English Daily newspaper, and left it when I was just 60. I had a host of contacts at home and abroad to flood the paper with reading materials. In addition due to my academic background for being a fellow of Dhaka College and the University of Dhaka – two premier educational institutions of Bangladesh – I found many of my class mates or batch mates of both the institutions leading government ministries, departments and attached offices or being the leading business figures when I was the editor of the NN. These contacts paid rich dividends in getting readership and harnessing revenue for the NN which in time stood on its own feet.
Mostafa Kamal Majumder