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What Democracy Is BNP Talking About?

  • Abdul Mannan
  • 1st October, 2022 11:09:45 AM
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From the current violent street demonstrations by some political parties of Bangladesh, especially BNP, it is evident that another general election is around the corner, more specifically towards the end of 2023 or early 2024. BNP’s Senior Joint Secretary, to give the violence an extra dimension, asked his party workers to carry longer and bigger sticks to their rallies. This is the current status of politics in Bangladesh. Bangladesh Nationalist Party commonly known as BNP was founded by the country’s first military ruler Ziaur Rahman on 1 September 1978 while he was still a serving officer in the military, more specifically, he was still the Chief of Army. This was in a complete violation of the Constitution of the country. Incidentally after the killing of Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman with his family members excepting his two daughters on the early morning of 15 August 1975, the 1972 Constitution was still operative and as per the Constitution no person serving in any public office could get involved in the politics of the country or run for any public office. Zia never bothered about the Constitution. Ironically when Zia was informed about the killing of President Sheikh Mujibur Rahman on the morning of 15 August his first comment was ‘So what the President is killed, Vice-president is still alive.’ But strangely when Khondaker Mostaq took over as the President immediately after the killing of Mujib Zia supported his illegal ascendancy to the Presidency and when in a few days’ time all the four national leaders including the Vice-President Syed Nazrul Islam were arrested Zia never said a word, rather he too earlier paid his allegiance to Mostaq. One may ask why the Vice-president was not made the President in 1975.  Unfortunately there aren’t any one who can give an acceptable answer to this question. When Zia was assassinated on 30 May 1981 his Vice-president Justice Abdus Sattar took over the office of the President as per the Constitution.

Many like to accuse Mujib for destroying the democracy in Bangladesh by forming the BAKSAL (to many a single party system) forgetting that BAKSAL was rather a political platform and an idea rather than a political party where all politicians and professionals who supported the cause of independent Bangladesh could come together and work as a team to rebuild the war shattered economy of the country. At best it was a national platform. BAKSAL was formed on 24 February 1975 and just in less than six months before Bangabandhu was assassinated. The much talked about ‘single party BAKSAL’ never got off the ground and its formation must also be considered taking into consideration the prevailing circumstances at that time in the country. The country was just recovering from a near famine food shortage condition because of successive failure of the crops in the country due to floods and the deliberate US food policy towards Bangladesh meant to contribute towards the food shortage and teach Bangladesh a lesson for breaking away from its ally Pakistan.  The armed goons of JSD and other ultra-left oriented parties emerged as armed saboteurs. With regular intervals they would burn jute warehouses, loot police stations, murder parliament members or set fire to important public properties. Taking advantage of such an anarchic condition a section of unscrupulous businessmen indiscriminately indulged in hoarding of essentials goods and creating scarcity of these in the market. So in all fairness BAKSAL never got to the point of facing the criticisms as it hardly went into operation. The only thing visibly done under the BAKSAL banner was appointment of District Governors which was also dismantled by Zia.

Zia never cared about the much earned 1972 Constitution of the country, a Constitution written with the blood of three million martyrs. He deleted one of the four sacred pillars of the Constitution, ‘Secularism’ from the Constitution immediately after his takeover thus paving the way for Bangladesh becoming a theocratic state. He allowed all the ultra-left and ultra-right political parties that opposed the creation of Independent Bangladesh to function in open in the name of allowing multi-party democracy to function, hitherto banned under the 1972 Constitution. Zia even was audacious enough to appoint Shah Aziza Rahman as the Prime Minister of Bangladesh.  This very person went to UN to lobby against our Liberation War in 1971. He allowed the Amir of Jamaat, Ghulam Azam, the man behind the genocide committed by the Jamaati storm troopers, Al-Badars, to return to Bangladesh with a Pakistani Passport and assume the covert leadership of Jamaat. The most deplorable action of Zia was the inclusion of the ‘Indemnity Ordinance’ into the Constitution through the Fifth Amendment besides posting all the killers of Bangabandhu in diplomatic positions in Bangladesh’s foreign missions. The ‘Indemnity Ordinance’ indemnified all the killers of 15 August and said their actions on that day shall not be subjected to any trial in any court or tribunal of the country. Thus a mass murder was given impunity from any sort of trial.

Mostaq was in power for only 81 days before he was booted out by Zia. The first Chief Justice of Bangladesh, Justice A S M Sayem instead, was made the lame duck President and the Chief Martial Law Administrator by Zia while all the powers informally rested in Zia. But Zia wanted something more. On 29 November he stripped Sayem of the Chief Martial Law Administrator’s post and assumed the power himself. Finally, Justice Sayem was dishonourably thrown out as the President at gun point by Zia and he himself became the all-powerful President and Chief Martial Law Administrator of the country on 21 April 1977. To make further mockery of the Constitution on 30 May 1977, Zia arranged for another ‘election’ this time to the post of the President where he was the only candidate and people could just say ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ which he termed as a referendum to ‘assess the people’s support’ for him something his onetime boss General Ayub Khan did when he took over the power in Pakistan as the Pakistan’s first military dictator in 1958. Zia’s mockery of the Constitution as a matter of fact broke all the previous records anywhere when the so called ‘yes’ box was stuffed with more than one hundred percent ballots and in many places there were no option to cast any ‘no’ ballot in more than half of the constituencies.

In the political history of Bangladesh, Zia became a political villain who not only overstepped his limits but trampled the sacred Constitution for his own personal gains. On 3 June in 1978 Zia arranged for a Presidential election while still he was the Army Chief, again violating the Constitution.  His opponent was the war time Army Chief, General Osmani who was backed by Awami League, other progressive political parties and a big group of civil society members and professionals. Zia used all possible state machineries to win this election which he did. Zia continued to occupy the post of Army Chief till June of 1978 and without any notification from the Defence Ministry or Army Headquarter Zia retired from the post as a Major General. The strangest incident took place when the then Defence Ministry on a back dated notification on 28 February 1979 announcing that ‘Major General Ziaur Rahman, BU, PSC is promoted to the rank of temporary Lieutenant General with immediate effect which literally means that Zia was promoted to the rank of temporary Lieutenant General disregarding all Constitutional obligations and established norms as he claimed he was an elected President at that time. The notice was circulated much after his retirement from the military. While Zia was in power there were at least twenty attempted military coups and after every so called military coup hundreds of military personnel, most of whom were freedom fighters, were hanged virtually without any trial or through a sham trial. Andre Gunder Frank (1929-2005), the German-American sociologist and an economic historian in his book Crisis: In The Third World while commenting on these killing wrote “Ziaur Rahman has opened an ugly breach. Mass execution  of the imprisoned ordered  by central authority of the state is something repugnantly new…these are the first official mass execution that have been known in this century in South Asia…President Ziaur Rahman had slain large numbers of suspected rebels without bringing them before courts-martial (Pp 201).” No one perhaps shredded the Constitution as did Zia and later his widow Begum Zia continued with the flawed legacy of her deceased husband.

Keeping in view with the 2023/2024 election BNP and their riff-raff vagabond allies regularly speaks that they will not participate in this election under the current Awami League government. Their repeated demand that they will participate only under a Care Taker Government or the so called election time unelected unconstitutional government  and before that the current government will have to resign forgetting that as per the ‘The Constitution (thirteenth amendment) Act’s Case (Commonly known as Thirteenth Amendment Case) the Apex court of the country in clear terms ordered that ‘The Constitution ‘Thirteenth Amendment Act 1996 is ultra vires the Constitution and hereby declared void prospectively.’ It also said in a democratic system not for a single minute the governance of the country should go to any unelected person(s) or government. During the hearing of the case there were also few other observations one of which mentioned, ‘That the Care Taker Government may function for another two terms if the Parliament decides so.’ It also mentioned that ‘the members of the Judiciary must be left out of this exercise.’  Judiciary is a sacred institution which the BNP made controversial and when the Care Taker system was incorporated into the Constitution in 1995. Country’s Judiciary is sacred institution from where the Care Taker Leader(s) will come from. Now after this verdict that option is closed. So where will these so called Care Takers or its leader come from?  An appeal for review of the 13th Amendment could be made within six months (nine months in extraordinary circumstances) but no one cared to do this.  The BNP leaders regularly mention that if the Care Taker Government can be incorporated in the Constitution in 1996, why not now? It is very clear why not now and the use of judiciary was also made controversial by BNP when it deliberately increased the retirement age of Supreme Court judges by two years keeping in mind that their one time party member retired Justice K M Hasan would become the next Chief of Care Taker Government in 2006. To make things worse BNP formed a highly controversial Election Commission in 2005 that amended the voters’ list to enlist 10.2 million fake voters in the voters list to guarantee their victory in the ensuing election of 2006. While selecting the Chief of Care Taker Government BNP created another farce when it’s chosen President Iajuddin Ahmed, instead of exhausting all the options under the then prevailing obligations of the then Constitution appointed himself the Chief of Care Taker Government.

From its birth BNP continuously kept on disregarding the Constitution and norms of acceptable democracy and now keeping in view the next election it is back to square one, trying to create a nationwide anarchy as they did in 2013, 2014 and 2015 forgetting that this is 2022 and Bangladesh has come a long way under the present government to be recognized as a country which has become according to the UN and WB and other international agencies as a role model for the other developing countries. Let good sense return to BNP and its allies instead of surviving on nonsensical political rhetoric. However government will have to keep its vigil till the end of the election and tread the path to the next election carefully. There may be enemies within that needs to be identified and delinked from party activities.

The writer is an analyst and a commentator

Source: Sun Editorial