(Editorial: New Age, 30 June 2011: source South Asia Citizens Wire – 4 July 2011 – No. 2719)


The passage of the 15th amendment to the constitution in parliament on Thursday marks a sad episode in the political history of Bangladesh. By pushing the amendment through, the ruling Awami League officially completed its deviation from the spirit of the liberation war and bracketed itself with all those that it has consistently castigated as forces opposed to the spirit of liberation.


In the objective clause of the amendment bill, the law minister claimed that the legislative exercise is aimed at restoration of the essence of the 1972 constitution by reinstating certain provisions therein in respect of fundamental rights of the people, fundamental principles of state policy, etc. The claim cannot be any farther from truth, since the amendment approves functioning of political parties formed on the basis of religious faith, and retains ‘Bismillah’ in the preamble of the constitution and Islam as the state religion, which were not in the 1972 constitution and run counter with the secular-democratic spirit of the liberation war. Notably, these were inserted in the constitution by the regimes that the party has always projected as undemocratic.


The chairman of the parliamentary standing committee on law, justice and parliamentary affairs in its report on the amendment bill termed the retention of Bismillah and Islam as the state religion and allowance of religion-based politics a ‘compromise…in the greater welfare of the people.’ He suggested, albeit not in so many words, that his ‘matured’ understanding of the ‘importance’ of religion in power politics over the past three decades or so. In other words, the ruling party, which dictated history when it presided over the country’s war of liberation, has now chosen to be a slave of history despite its numerical strength in parliament.


The compromise regrettably has resulted in dichotomies on the basis of not only religion but also ethnicity, between Muslim and non-Muslims, Bengalis and non-Bengalis. The amended Article 6 (2) says the ‘people of Bangladesh shall be known as Bengalees’, essentially relegating the members of the non-Bengali ethnic minority communities, who have lived in this country for generations through centuries, to second-class citizens, just as retention of Islam as state religion has done people of other faiths. While Bangladesh is the country of Muslims and non-Muslims, Bengalis and non-Bengalis alike, its state has become primarily of the Bengali Muslims.


The consolation clauses, so to speak, in this regard, i.e. Article 12 (b) that says the state shall not grant ‘political status in favour of any religion’ and Article 23 A that says the ‘State shall take steps to protect and develop the local culture and tradition of the tribes, minor races, ethnic sects and communities’, tend to highlight the contradiction on the one hand and the Awami League’s nationalistic chauvinism on the other. The religious and ethnic stratification, needless to say, would contribute to further deepening of the sense of insecurity of non-Muslims and non-Bengalis.


The least said about the essential hypocrisy behind the retention of socialism as one of the fundamental principles of state policy the better. The Awami League has long ceased to be a party ideologically inclined to socialism, if it ever were, and pursued anti-people neo-liberal economic policies, prime concern of which is profit-making, not people’s welfare, let alone egalitarianism.


By pushing the amendment through the parliament, the ruling party has not only deviated from the spirit of the liberation war, which was fought in the hope of establishing a state that would be politically a people’s republic, culturally secular-democratic and economically egalitarian, and betrayed the people but may also have committed a political suicide. After all, the party now stands bereft of even the moral right to claim itself to be committed to the spirit of the liberation war and at par with the pseudo-democratic and autocratic military regimes of the past. Simply put, the Awami League has ultimately joined the ranks of its political rival, whom it has called anti-liberation.


As for scrapping the election-time non-party caretaker government provision, which the party forced upon the constitution in 1996 to pave its way to power, it only proves that the politics of the ruling class is about crude struggle for retention of or return to state power. Understandably, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party is now fighting for its retention.


Under these circumstances, it also draws the battle line between the power-obsessed ruling class and the politically conscious and democratically oriented sections of society. The latter needs to realise that they need to win the battle for realisation of the values and ideals of the liberation war so many people sacrificed their lives for. They also need to realise that, to win the battle, they must strive to become the master of history, not its slave, as the Awami League and its allies have chosen to be.

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