Saturday, May 17, 2014

It's time to return to the Constitution


Posted : 17 May, 2014
It's time to return to the Constitution
M. Serajul Islam

The seven murders in Narayanganj have underlined that the country is caught in a political quicksand because of the way the Awami League-led government is conducting politics. Bangladesh's politics is breaking at the seams like a cricket ball. When a cricket ball starts to break, that ball becomes useless and must be replaced. The urgent need is, therefore, to bring about a paradigm shift in the nature of the country's politics. It is time to return to the drawing board for a new cricket ball. It is time to return to the Constitution. The politicians won't do it for they are the problem why the ball is breaking at the seams; "we, the people of Bangladesh" must now put their acts together.

The Preamble to the Bangladesh Constitution unequivocally underlines the important role of the people in the country. There is no ambiguity in it. The opening sentence of the Constitution reads: "We, the people of Bangladesh, having proclaimed our Independence on the 26th day of March, 1971 and through a historic struggle for national liberation, established the independent, sovereign People's Republic of Bangladesh" The Preamble gives the proprietorship of the country to the people and therefore the source of all powers of the state. The Preamble does not recognise any individual or a party for its establishment. Therefore, the Preamble does not recognise any stakeholder for proprietorship of the country except "we, the people".

The Preamble to the Bangladesh Constitution, that is, its heart, correctly gives all credit for the establishment of the country to the people because they contributed to the establishment of their country unlike any other in living memory. In 1971, the people of Bangladesh were face-to-face with death when a military regime armed to the teeth wanted to keep control of Pakistan over what is now Bangladesh where they were prepared to kill to the last the 65 million that were in their grasp. Yet, those 65 million refused to surrender and supported the war of liberation that eventually led to victory and liberation of the country. They overcame their fear of death to support the war of liberation aware that they could be killed for their support and in fact, millions were killed for doing so.

Unfortunately, regimes after regimes have taken away people's sovereignty over the country for personal and group interests through one amendment to the Constitution after another. The 15th Amendment, as the cliché goes, is the last straw that broke the camel's back. The Fifteenth Amendment has violated the Preamble like an arrow in the heart of the Constitution. It did this in a number of ways.

First, it has taken away the provision of referendum that had given the people the ultimate right over that of parliament on issues of fundamental importance to the nation. Second, it clipped people's sovereignty further by making certain provisions in the Constitution sacrosanct that 'we, the people" could question only at the risk of being charged with treason that is punishable by death.

Third, the Awami League (AL) used its three-fourths majority in Parliament to put these provisions in the Constitution without a mandate from the people. Finally, the provisions have been placed in the Constitution not only by ignoring the people but also by being overtly those that favour the ruling party! The 15th Amendment, to use another cliché, took "we, the people" for a ride.

The 15th Amendment in effect has changed the status of the people from being proprietors of the state to being tenants. The Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) was too deeply involved in its demand over the reinstatement of the Caretaker Government that the 15th Amendment had annulled. It failed to reveal the grand design behind the Amendment that was to make the Constitution and the Government subordinate to the will of the ruling party. It is a design modelled after present-day Russia where as Time Magazine has stated in its current edition, President Putin has emerged as the Czar where the Constitution, government and party are all serving his interests and of his chosen few.

It is a pity that the BNP failed to reveal the grand design behind the 15th Amendment. The country's constitutional pundits also failed likewise. The media, too, failed to expose how the status of the people was changed in favour of the ruling party and much more. The net result of these failures to reveal the grand design was the ease with which the people were made powerless as was evident on January 05 when the AL returned to power without the overwhelming majority of the people even being asked to vote. That brought about a paradigm shift in the nature of the government that became one from being elected by the people to one chosen by the ruling party itself.

The results of the grand design are now all around. The sense of accountability is no longer a matter of concern for the government because the people are no longer sovereign.  The 15th Amendment has transferred that sovereignty to the ruling party. Thus we are witnessing the impunity with which the cadres of the ruling party, including its student and youth wings, are exercising power over the people.

One MP, by his own assertion very close to the Prime Minister, has openly stated in a public meeting that he would take law into his hands and serve justice in the Narayanganj murders! Law-enforcement agencies are now perceived by the people as being partners of crime with the cadres of the ruling party with no power to control them. Hussain Mohammed Ershad, a Special Envoy of the Government, has described the AL-led government like those that were run by Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini.

Millions gave their lives so that Bangladesh would be a democratic country, where the people would be the source of all powers of the state. The 1972 Constitution had guaranteed that in the Preamble unequivocally. The 15th Amendment has taken away that power of the people by its provisions and thus has turned the country un-democratic and dishonoured the spirit of 1971. It has also pushed Bangladesh to the edge.

The only way of bringing Bangladesh back on track is for the people to rise as they did in 1971 and seek the rights that have been taken away from them. The politicians will not do it as they did not in 1971 when "we, the people" fought the Pakistani killers and were successful. If they succeeded in 1971, they will again.

The writer is a retired career Ambassador.

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