As month March appears every year, the happenings of '71 and aftermath come in our mind. It seems that injustice, hostility, conflict of ideology never leave us in peace. This time I recall our first constitution which was drafted for the well-being of the people of Bangladesh; that had to be ineffaceable at least in the mind of the people. But alas! We are, it seems, now walking in the opposite direction.
Two South Asian countries introduced their constitution in 1972: Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. Sri Lanka introduced her first republican constitution in '72 by scratching the earlier one followed since 1948, the year of independence. The new constitution of the country came into effect on 22 May, 1972. Sri Lankan constitution mainly changed the country's name to Sri Lanka from Ceylon. The country had other promulgation in 1978. Many of its articles remained the same as it was in 1948. The people of Sri Lanka had no conflict among them over constitutional reforms.
Another South Asian country was Bangladesh. The country had her new landscape and had to draft a fresh constitution in the light of the spirit of liberation. The constitution, drafted mainly by Dr. Kamal Hossain with the instruction of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, was not only a modern constitution, it was also a pioneer. The constitution under the leadership of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman had firmly declared the sovereignty of people of the country. It created one government composed of representatives chosen by the people of the country, in contrast to the rule of oligarch.
The term republic denoted that the Head of the State is not a monarch, but an elected functionary. It said that the sovereignty lies with the people of the constitution is the embodiment and solemn expression of the will of the people. At the same time, the original '72 constitution had four basic principles in the light of liberation struggle against the medieval thinking of Pakistani occupiers. The Principles were: Secularism, Nationalism, Democracy and Socialism. However, after the bloody military coup on August 15, 1975, Martial Law was declared ousting Mujib's civilian government. Major General Ziaur Rahman consequently emerged in power and tried to civilianize his regime gradually and legalized all military activities by 5th amendment of the constitution when the martial law was withdrawn.
This prudent ruler took shelter under the umbrella of the Islamists, anti-Mujib political forces and pro-Pakistani anti-liberation forces. He made a political platform by appeasing the reactionaries by all means. During his time in power, Zia removed the principle of secularism from the constitution in 1977, replaced with a statement saying, "Absolute trust and faith in almighty Allah" to have support from the country's reactionary forces. After him, another army ruler Hussaain Mohammad Ershad came to power and introduced Islam as state religion in 1988 for achieving the support of Islamists of Bangladesh. Following the path of Zia, Ershad amended constitution as many as four times and retained the parliament as a secondary rubber-stamp body.
When part of democratic system restored in early 90's, Zia's party under the leadership of general's widow formed the government and supported the provision of Islam being the official religion of the state. Ironically, Awami League, the party of the Father of the Nation Sheikh Mujibur Rahman led by current Prime Minister and daughter of him, brought in constitutional amendment in 2011 that restored secularism to the constitution with retaining Islam as the state religion; although religion of the republic contradicts Article 12 which declares secularism a principle of the state.
Interestingly, a High Court verdict, in 2005, said that the governments between August 15, 1975 and April 9, 1979 were in power without lawful authority and the Supreme Court in 2010 dismissed two petitions contesting the High Court verdict that declared the constitution's 5th amendment illegal. It means all the government activities of this period illegal.
Since the assassination of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the politics of the country has been polarized, by the military rulers, over the role of Islam. From the beginning, people have been exploited in the name of religion and the politicians remained the major sharer in the business. Now the Court has decided about the state religion. We have nothing to say about it.
We have come long way ahead- 45 years passed by. But the enlightened people of the country still dream to have the constitution opened in the golden hand of the golden man despite it is out of reach. The constitution launched by Sri Lanka in the same year has been amended many times, but it has never been cursed like our one. On the Independence Day, we commemorate the declaration of liberation. But we have to forget the constitution that was introduced right after the bloodshed. But the conscience we undertook should not be forgotten. We know that if we bear secularism in mind, religion will not be lost. But if we lose secularism, religion will not be effective in our personal and state life. The writer is Executive Editor, The Asian Age
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