After General Ayub Khan came to power following the promulgation of martial law in 1958, the Bangali economists including Dr Huda were still propagating the 'Two Economies' theory for East and West Pakistan.
But Pakistanis at the helm, including Ayub, construed this to be an indication of East Pakistanis conspiring for independence from Pakistan!
General Ayub invited some local economists including Dr Huda when he visited Dhaka in May 1961, but Dr Huda could not attend as he was away in Tangail.
Then a group of Bangali economists including Dr Huda, Professor Mazharul Huq, Professor Nurul Islam, Professor Mazharul Huq, Professor Rehman Sobhan and Dr Abdullah Faruouk were asked to write a paper on the 'two economies' by the president, which they duly submitted.
The report highlighted the need for framing development plans in Pakistan to address the country's peculiar geography that did not allow free movement of people and material from one wing to the other owing to prohibitive costs.
Dr Huda and Dr Mazharul Huq went to meet Ayub the next time he visited Dhaka in the late summer of 1961. The president was sitting along with the Governor of East Pakistan, General Azam Khan in a room of his guest-house.
Seeing the Bangali economists, he exuded fury and hurled insults without referring to the paper. Ayub called them anti-Pakistan and Indian agents and accused them of subversive activities by seeking to divide the country or join India.
Then he asked them what they had to say. Finding an opening, Dr Huda dwelt on parts of the paper that he had underlined to make Ayub understand its gist.
Then he boldly said, "Mr President, this is what we have said in our paper. What your advisers told you is something completely different … We are fortunate that you have given us this opportunity to explain. Otherwise, your impression about us and our theory would have remained as negative as what your advisers told you … In that case, you would have formulated policies for Pakistan based on false and dangerous assumptions …".
There was a huge change in President Ayub's demeanour and he appeared a changed man. Governor Azam Khan, who was present, literally jumped up and down and said, "I know my people. My boys cannot be like this".
Then he asked Ayub, "Who is the person who told you all this? Why did he suspect us of something like this?" Azam Khan's use of the word 'us' was quite noticeable.
Despite being a West Pakistani, he behaved as if he was an East Pakistani, and he proved to be the most popular Governor of East Pakistan because he identified himself with the local people. The meeting ended amicably after some further exchange of ideas between the economists and the president for improving the situation.
The very next year, Dr Huda was appointed a Member of Pakistan's Planning Commission in July 1962, where he had open disagreements again with the West Pakistani Members including the Deputy Chairman.
But Huda kept up his fight in favour of the 'two economies theory' until he was appointed the finance and planning minister of East Pakistan in March 1965.
Then four years later – in the wake of a mass upsurge, he had to accept President's Ayub offer of provincial Governorship. The memoir describes in detail the circumstances leading to Dr Huda's oath-taking as the Governor on 23 March 1969, quickly followed by the imposition of martial law by General Yahya in the evening of 25 March despite his pledge of allowing the Governor at least one month for restoring order in the province.
Dr Huda noted, "Developments during the two days of my Governorship of East Pakistan had filled my heart with optimism and high hopes for re-establishing democracy in Pakistan. But all those hopes of mine and others' were ruthlessly crushed to the ground by the military junta".
Dr Huda returned to his Dhaka University job the very next month and resumed teaching at the economics department. His memoir narrates the turbulent developments in East Pakistan during 1970 and 1971 leading to 'Operation Searchlight' launched by the Pakistani army against the unarmed Bangalis on the fateful night of 25 March.
At that time, Dr Huda, his wife and two daughters were residing in a university bungalow adjacent to Jagannath Hall, while son Najmul was away in Germany.
He recounts in his memoir a gruesome description of the savagery perpetrated by Pakistani troops at Jagannath Hall and surrounding areas on that dreadful night: "The army attacked Jagannath Hall around 11 pm on the night of March 25. Shells were being fired from the University Officers' Training Corps (UOTC) Headquarters across the road towards Jagannath Hall. All one could hear were shouts and shrieks from the hapless, unsuspecting student residents of the Hall…".
"The army went in and killed many residents of the Hall, as well as men, women and children living in the slums and servants' quarters nearby. This I saw with my own eyes. I also heard piercing sounds of pain, groaning and death from all sides. It was obvious that the story was being repeated all over the campus; that all other students' halls of Dhaka University, as well as the residences of the teachers and university staff, were being attacked. Other areas of Dhaka outside the campus were also attacked with equal vengeance. It was clear that the attack had been meticulously planned to inflict a maximum casualty, and instil terror into the hearts of the average East Pakistanis to bring them to their knees in submission".
More horror was to follow for the Huda family in the morning of 26 March, as five Pakistani troops arrived at dawn to kill him. They broke open the front door and entered the drawing-room forcibly. Their leader asked Huda in Urdu: "Are you a Bengali or a Bihari?" When Dr Huda replied 'Bangali Muslim', he jeeringly retorted, "Can a Bangali ever be a Muslim?".
Although the Bangladesh flag was removed earlier from the room by his daughters, a black flag was still flying at the rooftop that infuriated the soldiers. They ordered Dr Huda at gunpoint to accompany them towards the UOTC.
As they stepped out of the bungalow, his wife and two daughters also came out of the house and said in broken Urdu they would also accompany him wherever he went. This rattled the soldiers and they decided to go inside again.
This time they took away several valuable items from the bungalow and left for the UOTC building without Dr Huda. However, the second batch of Pakistani troops returned after only two hours and one soldier thrust a gun at Huda's chest.
But as his wife clung to him and the elder daughter bravely pushed the barrel of the gun away from his chest, the soldier was unable to pull the trigger. The troops then left without killing anyone.
The Huda family left the bungalow the very next day when curfew was lifted for a few hours and took refuge at a relative's home at Hatkhola. They stayed there for three and a half months before moving to their residence at Dhanmondi in July.
The Bangladesh period has also been covered by the memoir, but it is quite short, although it mentions the role Dr Huda played as Adviser in charge of planning, commerce and finance ministries from November 1975 to November 1981, as well as his four-month-long stint as the country's Vice President from November 1981 after Justice Abdus Sattar emerged victorious in the presidential polls.
However, it is the elaborate descriptions of the British and Pakistani eras in Dr Huda's memoir that is bound to carry some weight for the inquisitive readers. The memoir is a must-read for academics and history buffs alike.
Dr Helal Uddin Ahmed is a retired Additional Secretary and former Editor of Bangladesh Quarterly. Email: [email protected]
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.