Sunday, June 10, 2012

On the Professor and the Parliament
Daily Sun
June 10, 2012
M. Serajul Islam 

Professor Abdullah Abu Sayeed has unwittingly provoked a serious debate in our politics. The members of parliament with Ali Ashraful as the acting Speaker took serious umbrage over a statement that the Professor was accused to have made on politics of the country and against them. The members were furious. They asked the Professor not just to render an unconditional apology; the acting Speaker said that he should come to the Parliament, kept standing before the members while he uttered public apology! 

Professor Abdullah Abu Sayeed is one of the very few eminent citizens of the country who has, by the simple life he leads, established the principle of plain living and high thinking that has won him the unquestioned respect and admiration of the nation on a bipartisan basis. He won the Ramon Magsaysay Award for Journalism, Literature, and Creative Communication Arts for "cultivating in the youth of Bangladesh a love for literature and its humanizing values through exposure to the great books of Bengal and the world” through his leadership to the Biswa Shahittiya Kendra and his very successful project “books on wheels”.   

The members of parliament based their case against the Professor who is a living legend of the country on newspaper reports and acted as the judge; the prosecution and the jury. They passed judgment on his conduct without giving him the right of self defense. Even if the worst case scenario was true; that as accused the Professor called the members of parliament “thieves” and “dacoits”; the way they dealt with him hardly did their image any good turn. In fact, if there was any way to judge public reaction taking the worst case scenario, there would be overwhelming public sympathy and support for the Professor at the way the members of parliament attacked and tried to humiliate him.. 

The members have raised a public debate on their own conduct by the way they attacked the Professor.  In the last 20 years during which 3 parliaments have completed their terms and the current one already 2/3rd there, the members who claim to be flag bearers of democracy, have ensured that the principal organ of government that the country has chosen to make democracy functional, has been kept non-functional by the parliamentarians themselves. It is not an AL or a BNP thing in which the MPs can get away by playing the blame game. It is much deeper. Today, the public see it clear as daylight that the parliamentarians have disappointed and frustrated the nation. 

The AL parliamentarians started what has now become a “tradition” in our so-called parliamentary system that in opposition, they must choose the streets for doing politics and disregard the Parliament by abstaining from its proceedings.  The opposition members however have allowed themselves all the benefits of pay and privileges including a luxury car duty free without any question asked! Clearly, those who take pay and benefit and then do not attend their place of work cannot by any stretch of imagination claim the lofty pedestal in which the members of parliament placed themselves in attacking Professor Abdullah Abu Sayeed with verbal and body language that not only offended the Professor but the nation. 

There are many honest and hardworking parliamentarians in the current parliament of 300 plus women members. With due apologies to them, as a body, the parliament has disappointed the people deeply.  These days, courtesy the private TV channels, we see a lot of debates in parliament live that are utterly frustrating to the people. These sessions bring out the worst in the parliamentarians where they abuse their political opponents in languages that should shame any individual with even the barest minimum sense of decency.  

In such debates, members of parliament distort history at will. A member of parliament and a Minister called late President Ziaur Rahman an agent of the Pakistani spy agency and his party members cheered him. When the opposition members had their time before the TV camera, they denigrated the Father of the Nation in language no less absurd. Where members of parliament show such disregard and disrespect to the country’s most eminent sons, it is hardly surprising that they would react the way they did to the Professor without checking facts. It suits the way they are by the examples they have set. 

The truth is the members of parliament have lost their ability to act independently and consequently their respect. In fact, a constitutional provision that they have themselves inserted bars them to any independent action.  They toe party lines and in doing so, they bring to the floor of the parliament, the same ugly face of confrontational politics that the two mainstream parties play out outside the parliament. As a consequence, the standards of parliamentary debates have fallen to incredibly low levels. Members of Parliament are at their best when they are hurling abuses at each other across the political divide.

In the present parliament, there is no one who attracts the attention of the people except in ways that are utterly negative. With the parliament now a body where only the members of the ruling party meet, the air of sycophancy rules almost every aspect of what happens inside it. The ability of any individual member to rise and shine as a parliamentarian has been stunted and made irrelevant. In fact, most members of the current parliament use their time on the floor of the parliament to assure the Prime Minister on their loyalty to her and shower praises at the Father of the Nation to please her. Many of them abuse Shahid President Ziaur Rahman not because they hate him but because they believe that this will please the Prime Minister! 

In effect, the two mainstream parties have turned the parliament into a fan club of their leader. If this is not bad enough, they have also turned it into a meeting place for abusing their political opponents. Therefore when the members claimed the parliament as sovereign and demanded to hold the Professor in contempt for humiliating this sovereign institution, all they did was bring about a sarcastic smile in the faces of the people who share none of the lofty views the parliamentarians have of themselves. In fact a leading legal expert humbly reminded the parliamentarian that the constitution rests the sovereignty on the people and by no means on the legislature. 

In a dramatic twist, it has now been revealed that the Professor did not mention the name of any country or any parliamentarian at the TIB event where he made the speech that infuriated the parliamentarians. It has further been revealed that two newspapers distorted his speech that in turn drew the wrath of the parliamentarians. The good Professor revealed certain facts about his life that should make those who attacked him hide their heads in shame, if they have any self respect. 

He said that he lives in a rented two room house in Dhaka and does not own a car. He referred in particular to one parliamentarian who humiliated him and said how saddened he has been that this parliamentarian was a student of his. He said that he has no wish to pursue the matter legally or the desire to demand an apology. TIB in which the Professor is a Trustee nevertheless has strongly demanded that the derogatory remarks about the Professor should be expunged with an apology. 

 It really does not matter whether this is done or not because the members of parliament with the Acting Speaker who presided over the session who censured the Professor did themselves and the parliament a very bad turn by attacking someone the nation holds in high esteem in an uncivilized manner without checking the facts. In the people’s mind, the sordid incident has ended with the Professor’s image among the pubic enhanced and that of the parliamentarians considerably diminished. 

The writer is a former Ambassador to Japan.

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