Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Contradiction And Opportunism Marks JS Panel Report

THE report that the parliamentary special committee on constitution amendment finalised on Sunday, containing as many as 51 recommendations, is loaded with contradiction and smacks of political opportunism. It also undermines the committee’s self- professed claim to restore the constitution on the ideals and values that defined the people’s struggle for freedom, which culminated in the successful nine- month long war of independence in 1971. The people put their lives on the line, against the Pakistani occupation forces in the hope of establishing a state that will be politically republic, culturally secular and economically egalitarian. Regrettably, however, the committee has recommended retention of Islam as the state religion, at the same time suggesting that the state’s policy should be religion-neutral and that the state shall not afford any political status to any religion. The obvious contradiction could be explained by the inadequate understanding of secularism by the committee at best and a crude attempt at securing the sympathy and support of the Islam-pasand electorate at worst. Moreover, the recommendation that the people of Bangladesh will be known as Bengali by nationality and Bangladeshis by citizenship is not only in contravention with the core principles of democracy but also an affront to the national minority communities. Worse still, the committee has recommended insertion of the word ‘upajati’ to define the national minority communities, a definition that these communities have clamoured against for years. Such a blatant manifestation of Bengali chauvinism is an impediment to Bangladesh’s natural progression to a citizens’ state from a nation state and risks undermining the progress towards achieving natural peace in the Chittagong Hill Tracts. It may also rekindle mistrust in the ethnic minority communities of the intent of the Bengali ruling class. The least said about the recommendation for reinstatement of socialism as one of the fundamental principles of the constitution the better. The ruling Awami League has long ceased to be a party ideologically inclined to socialism, if it ever were, and pursued neo-liberal economic policies, at the behest of the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and other multilateral lending agencies, especially since the 1980 s, a fact that the committee members should be aware of more than anyone else. Hence, its recommendation for a return to socialism as a state policy is essentially a ploy to hoodwink the people at large. Finally, in recommending repeal of the non-party caretaker government provision, although it had earlier decided to propose two caretaker models for the prime minister to choose from, the committee showed, once again, where the ultimate power rests. Moreover, by proposing constitutional recognition of the slain president Sheikh Mujibur Rahman as the father of the nation and incorporation of his ‘ declaration of independence’ in ‘ the early hours of 26 th March, 1971 ’, an issue that historians have not yet been able to reach a consensus on, in the constitution as well as inclusion of his March 7 , 1971 public speech in its schedule, besides recommending that his portrait should be preserved and displayed in public offices, government, semi-autonomous and private organisations, government and non-government educational institutions, and foreign missions in Bangladesh, the committee seems to have only subscribed to the idea of perpetuating the practice of cultism and dynasticism in politics. These are just a few examples; there are more. The committee is claimed by its key members to have sought to weed out the distortions that different regimes—elected or unelected, civilian or military—had caused to the constitution since 1975 and to restore the constitution of 1972 ‘in line with the [recent] Supreme Court verdict. ’ In reality, however, the committee appears to have been driven by the same intent and impulse that it claims dictated the constitutional amendments since 1975 —tailoring the constitution to partisan needs. Most importantly, the report and the recommendations therein are loaded with the risk of instigating a political crisis that may eventually set back the existing political process. Hence, the ruling party would be well-advised to give the report a second thought, instead of pushing the amendments through by dint of its numerical strength in parliament.