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Straight Talk: Kamal Hossain – a Tragic Hero of Bangladesh’s Politics

  • Abdul Mannan
  • 24th September, 2022 12:10:01 PM
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Dr. Kamal Hossain (83) a celebrated jurist of Bangladesh seems is on his way out of politics of Bangladesh. On 20 September 2022 Gono Forum (people’s forum), the political party he formed in 1992 has decided to relieve him of his party’s post.  Earlier he was relegated to the post of Chief Adviser of the party he formed. Over the years Gono Forum disintegrated into bits and pieces and now there are quite a few leaders in the party who claims they are the `legal’ Gono Forum leaders.

Dr. Kamal was perhaps never destined to be a politician during his early years as a lawyer he outperformed many of his professional colleagues in legal profession. However, things began to take a different turn when in 1969 Pakistan Government filed the so called Agartala Conspiracy case against Sheikh Mujibur Rahman (later Bangabandhu, Father of the Nation) and Dr. Kamal Hossain was inducted into the panel of lawyers to defend Mujib and his co-accused. The principle lawyers who defended the accused were senior lawyers like Abdus Salam Khan, Former Chief Minister of East Bengal Ataur Rahman. From England came Sir Thomas Williams to defend Mujib and the co-accused but had to return back as he was continuously harassed by the Pakistan’s military intelligence. The panels consisted of other junior layers like Dr. Kamal Hossain and Barrister Moudud. Ahmed. The entire panel worked as a team and managed to build a case that in the final count perhaps would not be tenable in any civil court. But unfortunately the trial was being conducted in a military tribunal.  Treason was the charge against all the accused, but fortunately due to the country wide mass upsurge led by the students of Dhaka University the case had to be dropped and the Chairman of the Tribunal Justice S A Rahman had to flee Bangladesh under a very pathetic circumstances. As a good observer Mujib kept his eyes on the entire panel and once released he inducted Dr. Kamal Hossain into Awami League. Being aware of the legal expertise of Dr. Kamal Hossain Bangabandhu included him in the team that negotiated the transfer of power with Yahiya Khan in March 1971 to the elected people’s representatives.  Dr. Kamal Hossain was also elected to the National Parliament in 1970 as an Awami League candidate from a constituency in Dhaka.

Bangabandhu was arrested on the night of 25/26 March 1971 just before the Pakistan Army began the Annihilate the Bengalis Programme, code named ‘Operation Search Light.’ Few days later Dr. Kamal Hossain was also picked up and both were subsequently flown to the then West Pakistan to be tried again for waging war against Pakistan, i.e., treason. After Bangladesh became independent on 16 December 1971 Bangabandhu was released from Pakistan Prison on 8 January 1972. The first thing Bangabandhu wanted to know from his captors was the whereabouts of Dr. Kamal Hossain. Soon his whereabouts were made known to him and before he boarded a special flight destined for London Dr. Kamal Hossain was brought from the Haripur prison from where he was released earlier. He was sent along with Bangabandhu to London. Both returned to Bangladesh on 10 January 1972 and Bangabandhu formed the first government under him on 12 January 1972. Bangabandhu appointed Dr. Hossain as the first Law Minister. Under his Chairmanship a thirty member Constitution Drafting Committee worked within a record nine months’ time and gave Bangladesh one of the most conclusive and most modern constitutions of our time. This feat is unparalleled in the history of constitution making. Pakistan had its first constitution only in 1977. As Dr. Kamal Hossain was not a regular politician he did not have a constituency to contest any nation election. After the Constitution was adopted in the National Parliament on 4 November 1972 a national election was announced to be held in 1973 under the new constitution. Dr. Kamal Hossain got elected from a seat in Dhaka abdicated by Bangabandhu who retained his seat of Gopalganj. That was the only time Dr. Hossain ever got elected in independent Bangladesh. After the election in the new cabinet Dr. Kamal Hossain was appointed as the Foreign Minister. During his tenure as the Foreign Minister Bangladesh got the membership of UN in 1974. As Dr. Hossain’s Ph.D. thesis was on mineral law he was also made the energy minister of Bangladesh and he was instrumental in enacting the Bangladesh Petroleum Act. His legal reforms were emulated even in India and China, including in India’s 42nd Constitutional Amendment (among others ‘Secularism’) and during Chinese economic reform in energy law. Some of his reforms in Bangladesh were repealed by the military dictatorship of Ziaur Rahman in 1977. Dr. Kamal Hossain also played a key role in drafting the Shimla Agreement signed on 2 July 1972, ending the hostilities amongst Bangladesh, India and Pakistan and return of Pakistani Prisoner of Wars (PoW) detained in India after the Pakistan-Bangladesh War in 1971 in exchange of all Bangladeshis stranded in Pakistan. During his tenure as the Law Minister he also drafted the International Crimes Tribunal Act of 1973, Collaborators Ordinance of 1972 and arranged for formulating an Order for nationalization of all natural mineral resources of Bangladesh.

When Bangabandhu was assassinated on 15 August 1975 Dr. Kamal Hossain was travelling in Yugoslavia as the Foreign Minister of Bangladesh. Sheikh Hasina one of the surviving daughters of Bangabandhu requested Dr. Hossain to arrange for a Press Conference as the Foreign Minister. Unfortunately he gave a cold shoulder to the request and took up a fellowship in Oxford. But Sheikh Hasina though frustrated did not distance herself from Dr. Hossain. Dr. Kamal Hossain returned to Bangladesh in late seventies and actively took part in the anti-Ershad movement along with his other professional colleagues. He remained with Awami League and after the fall of Ershad he was given a nomination to contest in the 1991 election from a Mirpur constituency which he convincingly lost. Mentioned must also be made that Dr. Kamal Hossain contributed immensely in making Sheikh Hasina the President of Awami League in absentia in 1981 and also convinced her to return to Bangladesh from her exiled life in Delhi. In the 1991 presidential election Dr. Kamal Hossain contested as a candidate of Awami League against BNP’s candidate Justice Abdus Sattar but again lost election.

After the election of 1991 the relationship between Awami League President Sheikh Hasina and Dr. Kamal Hossain soured and finally he said good-bye to Awami League and formed his own political platform, Gono Forum, a mistake by any count for a person of his stature. Initially, he had few of his professional colleagues join Gono Forum. Late Finance Minister Abul Mal Abdul Muhith also was one of the first members of Gono Forum.  Soon few Awami League leaders who were expelled from the party for their controversial role during the 1991 election also joined his Gono Forum adding no equity to a fractured political platform. However Dr. Kamal Hossain remained vocal against the misrule of Begum Zia, especially during 2001-06 rule. As any other person he was very vocal against the misdeeds of Hawa Bhavan and even on one occasion he led a group of his party workers to `gherao’ Hawa Bhavan. To make mockery of Dr Kamal Hossain Begum Zia’s both the sons arranged a mock cricket game near the Hawa Bhavan under a tight police protection. Dr. Kamal Hossain was humiliated by the two sons of Begum Zia that never happened before.

Since the formation of Gono Forum it never got off the ground but was used for personal convenience of many political touts and vagabonds. In the meantime his Gono Forum began to break up into different fragments while Dr. Kamal Hossain was just a pathetic onlooker.  However, the fatal political mistake that Dr. Kamal Hossain made was to be a facilitator of Jatiyo Oikyo Front (National Unity Front) with the backing of BNP and their allies to contest the 2018 national election. Strangely a large political party like BNP could not find someone from its own party to lead such an election alliance. Keeping Dr. Kamal Hossain in darkness BNP nominated twenty Jamaat candidates who contested the election with BNP’s election symbol and lost. When asked by the media about the matter Dr. Kamal Hossain would sometimes express his ignorance and on few occasions lost his cool. Later he apologized for his erratic behaviour.  Dr. Kamal Hossain can be termed as a tragic hero of Bangladesh’s sticky and slippery politics. However his contribution towards the making of Bangladesh and its politics can hardly be ignored.  Dr. Kamal Hossain can be a good teacher for the would be politicians as to what should be done and should be ignored in the politics of Bangladesh. Dr. Kamal Hossain’s illustrious political career grew under the shadows of Bangabandhu but he lost his way later. Long live Dr. Kamal Hossain. History will remember you for all your good deeds but you will always remain a tragic hero of politics in this country.

The writer is an analyst and a commentator

Source: Sun Editorial