On the 16th Amendment
M. Serajul Islam
The government is determined give the power to impeach the judges to the parliament. The proposed 16th amendment that has already been tabled in parliament has created significant opposition from various sections of the country’s politics and society. Dr. Kamal Hossain has led the latest opposition. He is not just an eminent lawyer but also the individual who as Minister for Law and Parliamentary Affairs crafted the 1972 constitution. Dr. Kamal Hossain’s opposition is important because the ruling party is arguing that the amendment is necessary to restore the power of impeaching the judges to the parliament given to it by the 1972 Constitution.
No one knows the views of the judges whose fate is being decided. The judges by law and custom are not supposed to come into the public domain and express views on politics and issues of governance like the rest of the government and society. No one has also seriously come forward to argue the issue from the point of view of the judges. These facts notwithstanding, the judges must be thinking that the 16th Amendment is not just a matter of restoring the spirit of the 1972 Constitution that was based upon the supremacy of the parliament. There are issues beyond the reasons that the government has given for the 16th Amendment or has so far come into public discussion.
Till now, only the President can remove a judge but only on inquiry and recommendation of the Supreme Judicial Council (SCJ) comprising the Chief Justice and the next two senior judges. The Council can initiate an inquiry against a judge but only after it receives a go ahead signal from the President to its request to do so. The President on his own can also ask the Council to initiate such an inquiry. The judges are comfortable with this provision because it provides the independence of the judiciary where the executive or the legislature has no inherent power to interfere in removing a judge from office. It also ensures the judiciary the environment in which to act as the guardian of the constitution as enshrined in the 1972 constitution.
The bill for the 16th amendment if enacted into law will entrust this power upon the legislature making the SCJ redundant on this issue. The Law Minister while placing the bill in parliament argued that parliaments worldwide in a parliamentary system like Bangladesh enjoy the power to impeach the judges .The explanation is neither fair nor complete because it does not take into account the circumstances under which the move to give the Bangladesh Parliament the power to impeach the judges has been made. During the last AL term, there was a very public conflict between a Supreme Court Judge and the parliament. There were heated speeches in Parliament against this Judge and the Speaker issued a ruling stating that the Judge had crossed constitutional limits. The High Court examined the Speaker’s ruling and turned it down stating, “ the Supreme Court possesses the overseeing authority that no organ of the state could cross its limit of power given by the Constitution”. The Judge in the centre of the storm said after the High Court ruling that the Speaker had no knowledge about the Constitution. Members of Parliament thereafter openly expressed their contempt for the High Court ruling and their desire to control the judiciary.
Further, the move to give Parliament the right to impeach judges have not emanated from the parliament itself. The Cabinet took the parliament for granted and delivered to it a fait accompli with the issue. The Chairman of the Parliamentary Committee on Law after expressing that view of the stakeholders would be taken later made a volte-face and passed the bill as tabled by the Law Minister. That exposed the fact that the present parliament is but a rubber stamp one with little credibility. Therefore to state that the 16th Amendment would restore the spirit of the 1971 Constitution in the context of parliamentary sovereignty would not be a fair assessment. In fact, the 16th Amendment would place the judiciary under the direct control of the executive, in the hands of the Prime Minister precisely.
Therefore to argue that the 16th Amendment will give the Bangladesh parliament the role that parliaments worldwide exercise in a parliamentary system over the judiciary does not stand to any serious examinations for reasons stated above. The amendment will lead to a direct conflict between the judiciary and the executive and destroy the independence of judiciary in Bangladesh. This is why there has been so much opposition to the proposed 16th Amendment. It has led lawyers on both sides of the political divide to come together to strongly oppose the enactment of the 16th Amendment, something that has not happened in the country’s politics since the fall of the military regime of HM Ershad.
The bipartisan lawyers’ committee formed under Dr. Kamal Hossain’s leadership however ran into trouble immediately after its formation. The pro-AL lawyers, a few leading lawyers of the country, later opted out of the committee. Nevertheless, in the meeting that was called to form this committee, these pro-AL lawyers were very liberal in their criticism of the ruling party’s move for the proposed 16th Amendment and opposed the amendment as forcefully as the pro-BNP lawyers. The uncertainty over the committee notwithstanding, the speakers on both sides of the political aisle were able to send a clear message to the Awami League led government that it would be imprudent on its part to enact the 16th Amendment without discussion with the various stakeholders.
The Law Minister while introducing the bill in Parliament introduced further controversy and politics to the issue when he said that President Ziaur Rahman had taken this power from the parliament and given it to the Supreme Judicial Council in 1978. The statement is not correct. The parliament’s power was taken away in January 1975 through the 4th Amendment and given to the President. The two subsequent Presidents exercised this power. President Ziaur Rahman in fact gave away this power to the Supreme Judicial Council, an extremely rare instance in the politics of the country.
Therefore, the circumstances surrounding the proposed 16th Amendment have not been explained to the satisfaction of the people and the stakeholder. The volte-face of the Chairman of the Parliamentary Committee on Law and the withdrawal of two leading pro-AL lawyers from Dr. Kamal Hosain’s committee suggests that the executive branch is exercising its power and influence to end controversy over the proposed 16th amendment by means not democratic and adopt it post haste. Unfortunately, that is pushing the bill for the proposed 16th Amendment into further controversy leading to speculations that this and the National Broadcast Policy are ominous signs for the country that underline the intention of the AL led government to perpetuate power by dispensing with all kinds of political opposition.
The writer is a retired career Ambassador. His email id is email@example.com
President Obama and ISIS: A deer in the headlights
M. Serajul Islam
President Obama is these days up to his neck trying to keep his name from getting to the top of the list of the worst President in US history; a stark contrast to the message of “change” with which he had assumed office in 2008, encouraging many to think that he would be the new era’s John F Kennedy in terms of popularity. It is not just a conspiracy that his opponents have hatched to disgrace him; unfortunately the President himself is contributing to his predicament.
In the latest turn of events for the worse, the President chose to go on his yearly vacation to Martha’s Vineyard, an island off the coast of Massachusetts to pursue his passion with golf that his opponents have picked as a major ammunition to attack him. The President decided to take the vacation when on his lap were the Ferguson murder of an African American youth at the hands of a white police officer and the ISIS phenomenon. The two issues were extremely threatening and required the President’s undivided attention.
Presidents take their yearly vacations and no questions are asked when they take it or where they take it because they are equipped to perform their duties the same way while on vacation as they do at the White House. Therefore there was nothing wrong with President Obama’s vacation in Martha’s Vineyard with major crisis on his administration’s lap. The President fell into a deep personal crisis because as ill luck would have it, ISIS beheaded James Foley that shook the nation in its roots across the political divide.
President Obama has been credited for his cool and calm disposition in the face of crisis. This time, that ability became the reason of anger among Americans including his own party members because after speaking to James Foley’s mother and then assuring the nation with TV cameras focussed on him that he was “heartbroken”, he went to play golf. The President played golf again the next day, the 8th time in his 11 days vacation in response to the nation’s outrage. The President preferred to go into denial instead of acknowledging that people had good reasons to feel frustrated over his golfing passion and insensitivity
The ISIS situation is fast becoming a major crisis for President Obama because it has threatened to kill a few other Americans in its custody. The President’s calm confidence seen on the golf course was thus gone when he returned to Washington. He stated that the US and its allies had no strategy over how to handle ISIS that caused widespread disbelief because the threat from this group is growing by leaps and bounds. There were many who were inclined to dismiss ISIS as a threat when it was bold enough to declare itself as a Caliphate with control of vast tracts of Sunni dominated Iraq and parts of Syria. The Foley beheading has been a rude awakening for the US and its allies that ISIS is no makeshift terror group that would wither away. Great Britain has raised the red flag on ISIS by stating that it one of the greatest threats to the west in recent times, greater than what was seen with Al Qaeda and Taliban that led President GW Bush to start the war on terror.
Prime Minister David Cameron stated that “a terrorists state on the shores of the Mediterranean” in ISIS has become a reality that the western nations could lightly at its own peril. His government raised its security concerns from ISIS from “substantial” to “severe.” President Obama’s response has been a stark contrast. His statement that the US and its allies did not yet have a strategy disappointed his supporters and strengthened his opponents to claim that he did not have what it requires to lead the world’s only Superpower. One newspaper described his predicament over ISIS as that of a deer in the headlights, confused and unsure.
President Obama’s current predicament therefore is one that must be painful for is supporters. Unfortunately, neither his supporters nor his opponents are discussing the fact that the upsurge and successes of ISIS underlines the utter failure of the US/allies’ invasion of Iraq. It further underlines that the trillions of US $ that were spent mainly by the US together with the deaths of thousands of soldiers, again mainly of Americans, have been wasted and that these wastages were the consequences of his predecessor’s ill conceived decision to invade Iraq. Prior to the invasion that was undertaken on falsehood and lies, there were no terrorists in Iraq. There were violations of human rights by the evil regime of Saddam Hossain but there was no threat to the territorial integrity of the country.
Today, Iraq is under serious threat of breaking up. ISIS is postured to take away a major part of the country and some of its oil resources. With parts of Syria in it, the Islamic State could emerge on the shores of the Mediterranean as a terrorist state as David Cameron has said. However, western leaders such as David Cameron and the western media are in almost total denial over the hundreds of thousands of men, women and children that have been victims of “collateral damage” of the western invasion. The western leaders and media are in similar denial that the democracy that the US/allies had promised to Iraq for which the US/allied troops have killed these hundreds of thousands of innocent of Iraqis and turned the country to face its present predicament has now vanished into thin air.
The media in the United States seems to have chosen their President to take the major blame for Iraq’s current predicament and the rise of ISIS. The President’s opponents are suggesting that had the President taken decisive action in Syria when Bashir Assad had crossed the Red Line and instead armed the opposition groups against him, the leadership of the anti-Bashir group would not have gone into the hands of the Al Qaeda and the terrorists that linked up with the Sunni groups in Iraq and created the ISIS and turned it into a powerful fighting force, very sophisticated and well funded right under the nose of the US an its allies.
There is no doubt that President Obama has been indecisive in Syria and that had a major impact in the emergence of ISIS as a powerful force. Nevertheless, the reason for growth of ISIS is not really in inaction in Syria or President Obama’s failures. The seeds on ISIS were sown by the way the US/allies intervened in Iraq. Saddam Hussein was a creation of the US and his indulgence with terror was mainly carried while his regime had the goodwill of Washington. The US led the attack on Iraq on false pretext because the advisers of President Bush who were also advisers of his father- Dick Cheneye, Karl Rove and Donald Rumsfeld- felt that while USA had indulged with Saddam Hussein, he had armed his regime with weapons of mass destruction that threatened Israel.
That belief led to US/allies invasion of Iraq in 2003 and destroyed the country and unleashed the Shia-Sunni hatred that was always there but kept in control by the Saddam regime. Thus it has been the US/allied invasion that has directly created the environment for emergence of ISIS because the government in whose hands the US/allies had left Iraq believing it would be able to establish democracy was corrupt, inept and tried to impose Shia denomination over the Sunnis doing the same thing that Saddam Hussein had done but only in reverse.
President Obama’s mistake for his present predicament over ISIS/Iraq has been his failure to blame his predecessor for misleading the country to invade Iraq for upholding Israel’s interests and allowing the Republicans to pocket major part of the trillions of dollars of taxpayer’s money spent in Iraq. Because of these failures, he now finds himself confused over the next move against ISIS, as he himself has admitted, without a strategy and therefore exposing himself further to the attempts of his opponents to turn him into one if US’ worst presidents. The President’s confusion notwithstanding, his administration is in no position of sending troops to Iraq again and David Cameron’s strong words were simply rhetoric.
At the time of filing this article, a second American Steven Sotloff has been beheaded. President Obama has sent 350 additional troops as a response but to Iraq to guard US interests. He is still like the deer confused in the headlights, unsure how to deal with the deepening ISIS crisis.
The writer is a retired career Ambassador and his email id is firstname.lastname@example.org
The politics of education
M. Serajul Islam
The Minister of Education is undoubtedly one of the Ministers of the Government that the people of the country respects. He is a serious person and very sincere as well. Therefore, whenever he speaks in the public, people take his words seriously and try to understand his public statements. The people are comfortable that such an important Ministry of the Government is in the hands of a person on whom they can depend; something that cannot be said of many of his colleagues.
But why was he announcing the HSC results? There are a number of Boards with a Chairman in each that conducts these examinations. In the good old days, even the Chairman did not think that announcing results was his responsibility. There is a Controller of Examinations in each of these Boards and it used to he his/her (and still is) responsibility to announce the results of the SSC/HSC Examinations of their equivalents. The HSC and the SSC examinations are very important examinations no doubt. However, having the Minister appear before the media and then carry the results to the Prime Minister with the media accompanying does not add anything to the importance of these examinations.
Therefore if the Minister of Education appears before the media to announce the HSC examination results, then quite naturally people are justified to be curious. They cannot help but feel that even these examinations have now an agenda of the politics of conflict in the country. The Minister has not just announced the results; he bragged that the pass percentage has been over 4% higher that the last HSC examinations and a record number of students have got the G5 as if these are achievements of the AL led government. Why would the Minister brag about what after all is a basic service that governments worldwide perform without any fanfare at all as our Minister has done?
The reality with education in the country is both positive and negative where the positive ones are being lost because the government has been trying to take credit by going to denial over the negatives. On the credit side, there have been improvements in education in the country at the levels where the government is taking credit. The number of students entering schools leading up to the HSC has increased. The changes in the system of conducting these examinations have also led to more students passing these examinations than in the past. This government must also be credited for the way it has succeeded with supplying of textbooks. But this government cannot take the credit for these positive developments in the education sector alone. Credit must also be given to preceding governments and the huge non-government sector and private initiatives that have also positively contributed to these aspects of education in the country.
Therefore there is no reason for the Minister to make the high percentage passes look like this has happened because of the present government. The major credit for the improvements should go to the students and their parents and of course to the teachers. The Minister while announcing this year’s HSC results not just bragged over the outcome, he also asked a rhetorical question about what would be wrong if 100% passed instead of the 78.5% in this years HSC examinations. With this rhetoric, the Minister tried to get back at those who think that all is not well with the country’s education sector. In fact, the Minister did not leave any doubt that his press conference was intended to answer the critics of the country’s education policy as well as to take political mileage for the government.
In doing so, unfortunately the Minister has gone into denial that the criticisms have not at all been political. The critics have all been individuals from the civil society/educationists who are supposed to know what they are talking about and none representing any political party. Their concerns have been based on the sudden but largely unexplained rise in the pass percentages and in the number of G5 passes. In fact, there are so many aspects in the institutions that deal with education like the leakages of question papers by the Boards underline laxity in administration of an extremely serious nature. There have been no new policies or massive funding of the education sector by the government to justify the sudden spectacular improvement of education. In fact, a leading English daily in an editorial, while justifying the public criticisms, has added that the recent HSC results have underlined the fact that the urban-rural divide now increasing in all sectors has also been reflected in the HSC results; an issue that the Minister has not addressed.
In fact, a dispassionate look at the education sector overall is not particularly encouraging. The HSC results do not cause public enthusiasm because of the over-all state of affairs existing in the education sector of the country. These days, among the urban affluent living in the major cities particularly Dhaka that makes the major impact in the country’s politics; economy and society, there are not many who send their children to take the SSC/HSC Examinations and the few who take these examinations, get G5 passes effortlessly underlining that G5 can no longer be a proof of brilliance as its equivalent first division was in the olden days when only a very few could achieve it. The affluent these days send their children to take the O and A levels and then to universities abroad, perhaps never to come back. Those who do not leave the country after HSC enter the private universities, which are already turning counterproductive to a sound educational policy. These universities are producing an unbelievably disproportionate number of business graduates like Bangladesh would fly into economic heaven on the shoulders of these graduates where often for commercial reasons, results are made to order and not necessarily based on merit.
The 78.33% pass rate and the 70,632 with G5 result at this year’s HSC Examinations therefore do not cause public optimism. The public perception is that in the country where there has been a general deterioration of all institutions that include educational institutions where violence in the campus has become the buzzword, there are no reasons that in the year 2014, suddenly so many students would be passing their HSC examinations and such a huge number would be passing with G5. The government has neither taken major polices in the education sector in recent times nor allocated to the sector large additional fund to justify the exceptional results for which the Minister has bragged.
Thus, people without any political motives on the issue, cannot help feel that the exceptional pass percentage and unbelievably large number of G5 passes have been the outcome of a decision of the government to play with the numbers for political mileage. It is a pity that a Minister whose integrity and honesty is beyond reproach has become controversial as a result. Unfortunately, hard facts related to this year’s HSC results suggest that politics have played a part. Therefore many fear that politics that has very much contaminated almost every sector of the country is now set to do so to the vital education sector that could be dangerous and devastating for the country.
The writer is a retired career Ambassador. His email his email id is email@example.com
Indian elections and end of Congress-AL era of Bangladesh-India relations
M. Serajul Islam
The Awami League leaders are more concerned whether the BNP would gain any advantage from the change of guards in New Delhi to bother with the realities of the change. They are abusing and insulting the BNP by calling the party as one of “ahammaks”; idiots; goats; etc, etc because they think that the BNP leaders are gloating at the victory of the BJP. The Prime Minister ridiculed the BNP as Indian agents for expressing excitement and happiness at the BJP’s victory. In dong so, the AL leaders have gone into denial over what the Indian elections mean for Bangladesh and of course for its own future.
Narendra Modi had said during his campaign trail that his government would start “pushing back” the alleged 20 million Bangladeshis his party believes are in India immediately upon assuming power. The prospect of the LBA deal being delivered by the BJP Government would be remote. The Trinamool’s strong performance in Paschim Bangla would mean a similar fate for the Teesta deal. In addition, the BJP has come to power riding the Hindu fundamentalist wave. Therefore, New Delhi would no more have the compulsion of fighting the fundamentalist agenda in Bangladesh. The Prime Minister and AL leaders should therefore have been worried and concerned with the changed reality instead of going into a tangent with BNP bashing.
The AL’s BNP bashing of course makes sense from the perspective of the party’s interests and those of the government. The Congress’ defeat is very bad news for the Awami League and the BNP bashing underlines that fact. Since January 2009, New Delhi had looked after the interests of the Awami League ahead of those of Bangladesh. It interfered blatantly in the January 5 elections to ensure that the Awami League would return to power at any cost. Its support to the AL led government after January 5 elections gave it the breathing space in the face of widespread national and internal outcry that the elections did not reflect the will of the people with less than 10% people voting and 154 of the 300 members of the parliament being elected uncontested.
The question over the legitimacy of the January 5 elections still persists in Bangladesh and abroad. In fact, if anything, the question has gathered momentum. The AL’s problems at home over governance, particularly on law and order and human rights issues have re-enforced that question. At such a time, the AL led government’s need for continued and unqualified support of New Delhi is huge. That unqualified support would now come under the spanner in New Delhi because the support has not just brought the AL to power in questionable ways; such support also has caused Indian acceptance in Bangladesh to fall into an all time low. There is no reason why the new government would not consider these realties while conducting relations with Bangladesh.
Also, the BJP has no historical reasons to support the Awami League at any cost. Having come to power with a landslide, the BJP would have no reason to ditto the Congress’ Bangladesh Policy that many would say also reflected what went wrong with the Congress to have suffered its worst ever defeat in history. There are a few other reasons for the Awami League to be worried and concerned. A lot of the unqualified support that New Delhi gave to the Awami League came from two sources. The Indian President had taken the interests of the Awami League and more importantly, those of Sheikh Hasina in a personal way. Shiv Sankar Menon, the National Security Adviser was equally committed to the Awami League and was responsible for the hard to believe “Bangladesh Policy” of the Congress. The Indian President’s powers to do whatever he wanted in Bangladesh would now be clipped and SS Menon would no longer be around.
The Congress government did not just support the AL in Bangladesh at any cost. When the USA expressed support for “inclusive” national election in Bangladesh, New Delhi put its own relations with Washington on line. The case of Devyani Khobragade, some would say, went to nasty level among other reasons also because of New Delhi-Washington differences over Bangladesh. Good relations with Washington would top the agenda in the foreign affairs priorities of the BJP government. Narendra Modi would need Washington’s support desperately for both personal as well as India’s interests. Therefore, the differences between Washington-New Delhi over Bangladesh seen under the Congress could very well turn into cooperation and the Awami League would be seriously cornered if that were to happen.
These realities after the Indian election would thus explain the AL’s anger and abuse of the BNP. The BNP is of course happy that the Congress has been dumped because it literally took away its chances of coming to power from its grasp. In fact, impartial observers also believe that without the Congress’ unfair interference for the AL, the latter would have suffered the same fate on January 5 as the Congress has suffered now. The BNP, on its part however, has not expressed any joy and happiness in public to bring upon it the sort of abuse and insult that have been heaped on it. It has resulted from AL’s insecurity that the Congress would no longer be around to back it at any cost.
The AL would do itself favour if it stopped its BNP bashing for a better grasp of reality. Even if the BJP were not to support the AL like the Congress, there is no reason to think that it would ensure for the BNP a new election in Bangladesh. The BJP would like the Congress do what would be in the interest of India. As for election in Bangladesh, that would depend on the efforts and abilities of the BNP, the opposition parties and the civil society. The BNP, to be fair to it, has not stated publicly that they would want or that they expect the BJP to do any such thing. For the BNP, the fact that the Congress has been dumped should be enough reason for rejoicing.
The Foreign Minister has stated that the Bangladesh Government is waiting eagerly to start bilateral relations with the BJP government to take these to greater heights. That statement too has been made out of the same feeling of insecurity and nervousness as those of insults and abuse of the AL leaders. It is indeed a reflection on Bangladesh as a country that when it would needs to come together to deal with new dangers that could come from New Delhi, its mainstream parties are considering their respective party’s interests and showing little or no concern about how to deal with these dangers. In fact, the ruling party in any other country would have consulted with the opposition to respond to the dangers that have appeared in Bangladesh-India relations as a result of the recent Indian elections.
The reactions in Bangladesh particularly those from the ruling party are therefore strange ones. In particular, the comparison in Sheikh Hasina’s congratulatory message that the BJP’s historic mandate is similar to one AL received by the AL on January 5 has been made in utter denial to reality. The BJP will conduct relations with Bangladesh based on India’s national interests and in that, little will change. Nevertheless, the BJP will, unlike the Congress, also look at the long-term prospects of pursuing India’s interests in Bangladesh; in particular its acceptance or the lack of it in pursuing these interests. It will also consider where the AL led government is going with governance and how Congress’ support for it at any cost has made it unpopular as well as India. Therefore, while the new BJP government will most certainly not do anything to benefit the BNP immediately; it will also not give the AL blank cheque to use Indian support to rule in Bangladesh the way it is doing at present. The AL led government’s problem with RAB will also discourage the BJP government in giving the AL led government unqualified support. That could make sense why the BNP is gloating, as they no doubt are in private.
On our certified freedom fighters
M. Serajul Islam
The aura around the war of liberation, the pride of every Bangladeshi, is breaking in the seams. Not long ago, it was the forgery over the gold in the “gold medals” given to the country’s foreign friends who gave us support in 1971 that shamed the country to the international community. It was discovered that the “gold medals” were fake and the forgery was committed in the Ministry of Liberation War. Investigations have been conducted into the despicable affair but the perpetrators of this act of national shame have been spared any real punishment.
This time five secretaries to the government have been exposed to have taken privileges/benefits as freedom fighters with fake freedom fighters certificates. Media reports have stated that there are hundreds more who have used fraud certificates for liberal benefits that the government gives to the freedom fighters in public service. The forgery of the secretaries has stunned and angered the nation. The government so far has just taken away the certificates. In other words, these officers have been set free with a reprimand for a crime that should have sent them to jail.
Every country with history of wars of external aggression or national liberation honours those who place their lives in harms way for their country’s independence and freedom. They are the heroes of the country; their freedom fighters. Bangladesh’s heroes were the Bengali officers/soldiers who defected from the Pakistani Army; the para military EPR and the Police/Ansar who started the war of liberation. People from all walks of life; from the cities as well as the villages; later joined them and fought the murderous Pakistani military mainly in a guerrilla war and earned the right to become FFs.
During the 9 months of the liberation war, the freedom fighters were in the hearts of the people who considered them as their saviours. It was the image of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib and the freedom fighters that kept the hopes of the people alive in the darkest period of their lives when danger and death lurked at every corner. When the country became independent and time came to honour the freedom fighters, it was easy to identify the armed cadres in the liberation war. When it came to the civilians, politics decided the issue. The Awami League led Government issued certificates to them keeping vague the nature of their participation. The certificates went almost all to the supporters of the Awami League in a war of liberation where every party/sections of the people except a few well-identified groups/individuals participated. The certificates gave the certified freedom fighters top government jobs that paved the way for them to rise to the highest rungs of the bureaucracy. Sheikh Hasina exposed the pro-AL nature of these certified freedom fighters. In 1996, she called the 1973 certified freedom fighters’ batch in civil service as “Tofael Bahini”.
The 1973 FF batch was a very large one. During the 1971-75 term, the AL also issued thousands of freedom fighters certificates to its supporters who used these certificates to enter subsequent intakes into the civil service where a significant percentage was set aside for freedom fighters under a quota system. Later non-AL governments did not add or change in any substantial way to the list, as they were afraid to fiddle with a sensitive issue. Subsequently children of the certified FFs were given the same benefits as their parents. This extension allowed the Awami League to have its supporters in the civil service in a substantial number that gave the party significant edge in the country’s politics as the civil service became politicised.
The strength of pro-AL members of the civil bureaucracy beefed and led by the FFs was visible in 1996. The certified FFs organised and led the Janatar Mancha that brought down the BNP government. The preponderance of AL supporters among the certified FFs is not the only issue that has frustrated the people outside the Awami League circles and supporters. The fact that the overwhelming majority of the civilians who were given the FF certificates did not have direct contact in the war is what has been even more frustrating. Further, in giving the freedom fighters certificates, the rights of many thousands who participated/fought in the war of liberation, in many cases with arms, were ignored because they had no connections with the Awami League.
Many in civil service or trying to enter service have tried to gain freedom fighters certificates to get lucrative benefits allowed for certified FFs. Although many were successful in establishing their case and were given FF certificates, the overwhelming number of certified FFs have been those to whom the Awami League Government of 1971-75 had issued the certificates. The certificates opened doors for their holders to higher civil service that went only to those with exceptional academic qualifications in the Pakistani days that the majority of these certified FFs did not have, for instance position of Secretary; Cabinet Secretary; Ambassador, etc. The instance of passing such lucrative benefits to the children of certified FFS is unique and exceptional to Bangladesh alone. The quota that these days exists in the civil service for the children of certified FFs is now a major cause of dis-satisfaction in the civil service of Bangladesh.
The secretaries who are now the centre of the storm were led by the lucrative advantages of being a FF to commit the fraud. It was the lure of an extra year of service that this government decided to give to the certified FFs over and above all the other advantages for certified FFs that encouraged them to commit the fraud. Further; their closeness to the ruling party helped them in their act. Their case revived in the public mind the lingering perception that many in civil service treaded the same path by acquiring FF certificates without participating in the liberation war but were never exposed for a variety of reasons of which political protection has been one. Therefore, they feel they have been singled out by a government that they thought would protect them and surprised that they have become the object of its wrath.
The reason for this government’s decision to review the list of FFs has not been explained properly. Nevertheless, it has brought out into the public an issue over which no past government has acted this way because of its sensitivity. It has reopened debate on just not these secretaries but on certified FFs in general. In this debate it has come out that the list of FFs in Bangladesh has been prepared without any definition of a freedom fighter. In USA for instance, a FF or a veteran is defined by the very act of wearing uniform to fight for the country. In India, where the freedom movement staggered over decades, the list of FFs was carefully compiled from those who unquestionably put their lives and livelihood on line for freedom of the country. In case of Bangladesh, the criterion of a civilian FF has been very questionable and very vague and designed to fit almost anyone.
Unfortunately, too much water has gone under the bridge. It will be impossible now to correct the mistakes of the past. It is therefore time to draw the curtain. Nevertheless the 5 secretaries and the others caught with fake FF certificates should be punished as prescribed by law and not allowed to get off with simply their FF certificates taken away. Their case should be made exemplary; otherwise the nation’s pride in its liberation war will be deeply dented. The cancellation of quota for children of FFs is now also a demand of the majority of those who take the civil service examinations. This is also something that the government should do to restore rationality to the way the issue of civilian FFs has been handled that in turn has had and continue to have an adverse effect on the civil bureaucracy.
The writer is a retired career Ambassador. His email id is firstname.lastname@example.org