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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2704

“Legacy of chasing the shadow politics in Bangladesh”

By Rabindranath Trivedi

The People’s Republic of Bangladesh is under the Constitutional Emergency provision of Article141A, Article 141B, and Article 141C since 11January 2007. As such the present government of Dr.Fakhruddin may be considered more as an emergency government or an interim government created as the need of the hour than a non-party caretaker government as per constitution (Article 58B).

The non-party Caretaker Government (CG) has a growth and death with in 90 days, but interim government does not. It is based on the ‘doctrine of necessity’. This doctrine of necessity is necessitated for free and fair elections in the country.

Bangladesh has been facing the constitutional provision of Caretaker-syndrome since October 28,2006. In medical term, Constitution, or Diathesis, means the general condition of the body, especially with reference to its liability to certain diseases. A sound constitution is one in which the structure and functions of the various parts and organs are so evenly maintained that there is no apparent liability to any disease.

And the term ‘Constitutional’ is sometimes vaguely applied to diseases which present knowledge does not permit of our attributing to any definite organ or system. A constitution such as the gouty constitution may be inherited, or it may develop as the result of improper food, habits and environment. On the other hand, a hereditary tendency towards some disease may be gradually eliminated by careful and regular life. (Black’s Medical Dictionary, By William A R Thomson,p-218) We have been listening about the Constitutional bindings of 90 days since President became caretaker Prime Minister on 28October 2006. Politicians used to say in every speech or talks on 90-day obligation of election. We were tired up this sort of excuses from the 4-party leaders.

In general term ‘Constitution’ means the system of laws and basic principles that a state, a country or an organization is governed by. Political science will give more definitions. However, the Bangladesh Constitution has developed a gouty-syndrome after August 1975 by the successive military regimes. However, It is worthy to note that Bangladesh got her Constitution within 10months of her achieving the nation-state under the dynamic leadership of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in November 1972.

Pledging in clear terms in the preamble “that it shall be a fundamental aim of the state to realize through the democratic process a socialist society, free from exploitation, a society in which the rule of law, fundamental rights and freedom, equality and justice, political, economic and social will be secured for all citizens.

The subsequent military governments in Bangladesh after August 1975, however, reversed all the state principles. Secularism has been replaced with full trust in almighty Allah and Islam the State religion. Socialism was replaced with social justice and Bengali nationalism with Bangladeshi nationalism, presumably, to highlight the Islamic identity of the nation. And ‘Islam’ becomes state religion.

Thus Bangladeshi minorities with 12% population become second-class citizens with 1.6% MP and nil cabinet ministers. But Vested Property Act and property ownership of Hindus became a contentious issue after independence of Bangladesh when many Hindus lost their land holdings due to unequal application of the law, left home and became stateless citizens in India.

After 1990, the two dominant parties –BNP and Awami League- had altered power, BNP winning in 1991, Awami League in 1996, and a BNP-Jaamat led 4-party alliance again in 2001.Hindus had to face violent attacks and to bear agonies of the power-game of pre and post electoral victory in October 2001.

In the 8th parliament, October 2001, election, the incidence of violence was the highest. Minorities were violated in 2,685 villages in the country. Minorities were debarred from casting votes in the election -- a fundamental right of any citizen of Bangladesh. They were obstructed from casting their votes on the way to the voting center.

The status of the Hindu community, after the general election in 2001, has also been focused in the report of the US State Department entitled “Supporting Human Rights and Democracy:” The US Record 2005- 2006 which stated: "Because minorities, especially Hindus, were subjected to intimidation and other forms of pressure during previous election campaigns, the United States has increased its monitoring of this issue in anticipation of the 2007 election.
After President Dr. Iajuddin proclaimed State of Emergency in Bangladesh on 11 Jan, Dr Fakhruddin, former governor of Bangladesh Bank, who assumed office on January 12 to head a reconstituted caretaker government.

New York Times on 13 January in its editorial under caption ”Earning a Bad Reputation, “ commented: “Bangladesh is lurching in a dangerous direction. …Only strong pressure from the United States and international help will keep this huge country from slipping further off a democratic path. For weeks, a broad coalition of parties has protested what it a charge is a clear attempt by the government to rig parliamentary elections, originally scheduled for later this month.

“ It claimed that the voter rolls were padded; the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs, an American monitoring group working in Bangladesh, surveyed the voter lists and found 13 million fake names. The coalition also charged that President Iajuddin Ahmed, who had the job of overseeing the elections, was biased in favor of a rival party. The United Nations agreed that the run-up to the elections had been so flawed that the results could not be “considered credible or legitimate.” International election monitors pulled out of Bangladesh, saying the existing conditions did not allow for a meaningful vote
.“On Thursday, Mr. Ahmed yielded to international pressure, resigning as the election caretaker and postponing the vote. Mr. Ahmed, who will stay on as president, a largely ceremonial position, said a clean voter roll was needed for “free, fair and credible” elections.” (Editorial,,NYT,13 Jan .07)

In a letter to the editor, New York Times, on Jan 20,under caption “Democratic Bangladesh” Ms Felice D. Gaer, chairwoman of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, a bipartisan, independent federal agency writes: “You are right to insist that the United Nations, the United States and the international community help Bangladesh schedule a new and fair election soon. But both of the major political alliances will need to participate in restoring Bangladeshis’ confidence in their electoral system and preventing intimidation and violence against religious minorities and women.

Democratic Bangladesh could be a model in the Muslim world. But extremists have already made inroads: The government that has ruled for the last five years has included a party that promotes an Islamic state, and a surge in violence by religious extremists has raised fears. The main opposition bloc has flirted with another religious party, which would demand legislation that would contravene basic human rights. Courting extremists threatens Bangladesh’s democracy, with its roots in a constitution that protects basic rights, including religious freedom. Bangladesh must close the door to extremism if it is to shore up its faltering democracy. Felice D. Gaer New York, Jan. 13, 2007”

On the other hand a news was published by London's respected financial newspaper, Financial Times (FT.com) on January 17 says : “Preceding Thursday, the January 11 declaration of emergency, the top brasses of army, air force, and navy met President and Chief Adviser, Dr. Iajuddin Ahmed and offered him an unpublished five-point demand. The five-point demand of the army consists of:

A drive to clean up the country's biased electoral machinery;

A pledge to improve governance in the civil service;

An anti-corruption drive that would cleanse the nation's politics;

The depoliticization of the judiciary; and

Reform of the crippled power sector.

The president took into cognizance the demand and acted accordingly. In a short speech addressed to the nation, he resigned from the position of Chief Adviser of the Caretaker Government, which was not music to the ear of the BNP.

According to FT it was the army who summoned Dr. Fakhruddin Ahmed to take the charge of chief advisor of the caretaker government. Dr. Ahmed is a technocrat who lived in America from 1971 through 2001. He joined the World Bank in late 1970s and worked there until 2001 when he retired from active duty. The BNP government in 2001 to the post of the governor of the State Bank appointed him. His tenure ended in 2005 and he joined an NGO that is involved in poverty alleviation in Bangladesh.

The FT news added "Fakhruddin Ahmed, a former World Bank official and ex-central bank governor summoned by the generals on Friday to replace President Iajuddin Ahmed as de facto prime minister, is now framing rules to determine how authoritarian this regime will be. Diplomats say the army charged him with executing a five-point agenda that the generals presented to the president in a tense three-hour meeting the previous day." (FT,17 Jan .07)
It reminds me the very incident that the army who summoned Dr. Fakhruddin Ahmed to take the charge of chief advisor of the caretaker government. It sounds me like early fifties period of Pakistani democracy.It reminds me the Mohamad Ali Bogra’s case of becoming Prime Minister of Pakistan.

Recalling those days, I may put the story of the old political culture of Pakistani democracy. On 17 April 1953, Governor General Ghulam Mohammad summarily dismissed Prime Minister Nazimuddin because the constitutional proposal envisaged by the latter was not conducive to the Punjabi domination.

After the dismissal of Nazimuddin , Ghulam Mohammad brought back Mohammad Ali of Bogra, then serving as Pakistan’s Ambassador to the United States, and made him Prime Minister of Pakistan The ease with which Ghulam Mohammad could dismiss a Prime Minister enjoying the confidence of the legislature and then appoint a complete outsider to the highest political office is indeed a strange phenomenon in the history of parliamentary democracy of Pakistan.

The role played by civil and military bureaucrats from West Pakistan-Malik Firoz Khan Noon,Ghulam Mohammad, Iskesder Mirza,Ayub Khan And Yahya Khan –has been far more significant in the history of Pakistan than that of its political leaders. Sheikh Mujib rightly observed that while Ayub Khan, after serving the British, claimed to be patriot, those who fought for Independence were branded as traitors. Pakistan had three constitutions during the period from 1947 to 1971. General Iskender Mirza was the first Constitutional President of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan under the new Constitution framed by the people’ representatives that came into force on 23 March 1956 and continued till he proclaimed Martial Law on October 7, 1958.

General Ayub Khan, the Chief of Army of Pakistan ousted President Mirza and took power of Pakistan. Martial Law Proclamation abrogated the Constitution of 1956, which was framed after nine years of effort. On 17 February 1960, President Field Marshall Ayub Khan appointed a Constitution Commission with the retired Chief Justice of Pakistan Justice Shahabuddin as its chairman. The Commission presented its reports to President Ayub Khan in May 1961.

President Ayub Khan announced finally third time constitution of Pakistan in a broadcast on 1 March 1962. The constitutional development of Pakistan again came to an end on 25th March 1969, the day Ayub Khan handed over power to Army Chief General Agha Muhammad Yahya Khan, who violating his oath to the Constitution abrogated the Constitution of 1962.

By a Martial Law Proclamation, General Yahya Khan appointed Justice Abdus Sattar (1906-1985) of the Supreme Court of Pakistan as the Chief Election Commissioner (later President of Bangladesh in 1981, ousted in a bloodless coup in March 1982, died on October 5,1985) and expressed the hope that elected representatives to the National Assembly would frame Constitution under a Legal Framework Order.

Elections were held in 1970; the Awami League under the leadership of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahaman won over -whelming majority in the National Assembly and Provincial Assembly in East Pakistan and a large majority for the Pakistan People Party, led by Z A Bhutto, in West Pakistan.

Bangladesh War of Liberation was fought against Pakistani occupation forces by Bengali freedom fighters alone with Indian Mitra Bahini since proclamation of independence by Bangabandhu on 26 March. Finally Pakistan Army surrenders to the Joint command at Dhaka racecourse on 16 December 1971 thus Bangladesh became a new Republic in the South East Asia. Three million people of Bangladesh sacrificed their lives at the altar of the War of Liberation and the Pakistan occupation military junta violated some three hundred thousand women during that period.

We all know, Bangladesh is a product of the Bangla language movement and double secession from British and Pakistan colony. Bangladesh is a nation -state that changed its statehood and identity twice in less than a quarter of a century. The dramatic emergence of Bangladesh runs counter to conventional tenets of nationalism in South Asia. Bengaleses are a volatile nation whose roots baffle the historians. Bangladesh, observed an American political scientist,” is a country challenged by contradictions”.

The FT article mentioned that if things do not move in Bangladesh the way the army wants, they may apply the Musharraf-tested principle of removing both Khaleda Zia and Sheikh Hasina Wajed from the country following Pakistani military style which sent both Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto abroad. Khaleda Zia may find solace in her heart knowing that Saudi Arabia may take her in. On the other hand, Hasina may join her daughter and son to spend her early retirement in America. Has the drama been acted out? Not quite so.

The curtain was raised and it is act one now. Therefore, view the drama with inquisitive eyes. I'm not so sure when the election will be held.”Yes, it’s a drama, but we must all remember that we have been able to emerge out of a serious political impasse.

Dr Fakhruddin Ahmed Chief of the Caretaker government in his address to the nation on 21Jan pledged to transfer power to an elected government at the earliest through holding a free, fair and credible general election after constituting the Election Commission and preparing a flawless electoral roll. Fakhruddin, who assumed office on January 12 to head a reconstituted caretaker government, said the main task of his government is to hold a free, fair, peaceful and neutral election with participation of all parties in accordance with the constitution and people's aspiration.

He noted that as a nation the people believe in peace-harmony, human rights and democratic values. And Bangladesh kept fostering traditional and cordial friendly attitude towards all countries, particularly toward the neighboring countries.

We are determined to carry on operation against international extremism and terrorism. In this regard, our activities at home and abroad are guided by internationally recognised rules and principles and values," he observed, adding that the government is committed to properly following the guidelines of the United Nations and strengthening the ties.

"We want to go ahead on the democratic path keeping good relations with all countries on the basis of equal dignity, giving appropriate importance to regional cooperation," the chief adviser said.

‘People as well the political parties welcomed the speech and hoped that date for holding the next parliamentary election Bangladesh is under attack; she is struggling for existence as a democratic secular country.

The vision that mobilized the nation during the Liberation War in 1971, of a society economically prosperous, exploitation free, democratically governed, tolerant of pluralism, and respectful of peoples' rights, is still alive in the minds of average citizens. We demand the people's uninterrupted voting rights Minorities deserve their separate Electoral College and representatives in the parliament or give back the secular constitution of 1972.

The shadow of ghosts could not over shadow the reality. So the drama or act whatever it is termed, cannot suppress the people’s voice.

“The stage but echoes back the public voice.
The drama’s laws the drama’s patrons give,
For we that live to please, must please to live.”
(Dr Samuel Johnson: Prologue at the opening of Drury Lane)

Rabindranath Trivedi is a retired Additional Secretary to the Bangladesh Government and formerly Press Secretary to the President of Bangladesh.

- Asian Tribune -

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