History recounted

December 15, 2013

History recounted

It seemed Dr Kamal Hossain drew most satisfaction from being on the committee that drafted the first constitution of the Republic of Bangladesh. He held many important positions while he was in the government that was formed as Bangladesh achieved independence after a bloody struggle. He was the foreign minister, minister of petroleum and minerals, and law and parliamentary affairs.

Principally, the book is about the first few years of Bangladesh and the effort that went into the making of the constitution. While the state claimed its rightful place and was included in the comity of nations in United Nations, it developed a working relationship with the countries it was carved out from -- India and Pakistan.

 The challenge presented by independence was to make full use of the opportunity to realise national goals. 

But in that short span of time, differences arose between the Bangladeshi founding father and Kamal Hossain as evident from the amendments made to the constitution that went against the spirit of the constitution promulgated only three years earlier.

The primary question to ask is what made Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, and the coterie that went along with him, in making such drastic changes to the constitution to only centralise power in one office. There is no adequate explanation offered on the founding father taking such steps that went against his entire political position during the days of united Pakistan.

The principal objection for most Bengalis and their leader Rahman was that there was too much centralised power in united Pakistan. The institutions were not democratic during the military rule but even when there was a democratic process, not enough checks and balances were put in place to build a just society and an equitable distribution of resources. Soon after becoming prime minister, Mujibur Rahman reverted to the policies of his hated political colleagues in united Pakistan.

There is only a hint and that through an observation by Tajuddin, another pivotal member of the Awami League, who warned that the one-party system would take the country down a dangerous road. Tajuddin himself had urged that post independence Awami League "needed to undergo an organizational transformation by strengthening its popular base with induction of motivated young members …. What was needed after independence was a radical reorientation of the party members. They were to be energized and empowered to become proactive agents of change. This called for a creative lead forward."

Kamal Hossain’s contribution was immense. After doing his bar, he was appointed part-time teacher in the department of international relations in Dhaka University. He joined a group of academics in the ‘National Association of Social and Economic Progress’ pushing for democracy and regional autonomy. The movement grew and he fought the first big case when the students refused to get their degrees from a chancellor who was a military general in 1962. He also started to defend political prisoners and, in 1963, when Ayub Khan started to amend his own constitution through Presidential Orders, it was challenged by him; he won the cases in both the High Court and the Supreme Court.

He came into contact with Mujibur Rahman in 1959 when Suhrawardy visited Dhaka. At that time Rahman was building a mass political movement to empower the Bengali people. As the Awami League launched its six-point agenda in 1966, he and his colleagues undertook mass contacts of unparalleled intensity. As the movement gathered pace, the Agartala Conspiracy Case was initiated against Mujibur Rahman and his associates alleging them of the conspiracy to dismember the country.

It was challenged in the court and this also brought Kamal Hossain closer to Mujibur Rahman and his politics. Kamal Hossain formally joined the Awami League to work on the constitution when Yahya Khan announced the first general elections in the country in 1970 and was made incharge of the election campaign. He was also the election agent for Mujibur Rahman in Dhaka and, when the latter won from both the seats, he vacated one on which Kamal Hossain became member parliament.

He started to work on this book in 1976. He had been member of the committee that had drafted the constitution but amendments were being made and he did not want to be a part of the changes being made in the constitution. He was committed to the multiparty democratic parliamentary system and opposed the one-party system also because it concentrated the power of the three highest offices like head of state, chief executive and head of political party into one.

The amendment was passed but soon after Mujibur Rahman was assassinated on August 15, 1975. Kamal Hossain at that time as Foreign Minster was visiting abroad and the moment he heard the news he relinquished his position and requested for an ordinary passport. He stayed back in London and, after some time, was able to receive his family who were flown out of Bangladesh.

He decided to conclude his account in this book in 1974 when Bangladesh was formally admitted to the United Nations but the focus of the book was also meant to aim higher like the transformation needed to achieve social and economic justice. The history recounted was to be a source of inspiration and provide valuable lessons. He exhorted the commitment to shared national goals and public interest over private and party to promote integrity in public life, thus curbing corruption which obstructed progress towards a just society.

The challenge presented by independence was to make full use of the opportunity to realise national goals. As the struggle to achieve this was a continuous one, to sustain the struggle, hope and strength could only be derived by the people from the experience gathered on the road to independence.

Bangladesh Quest for Freedom and Justice
Author: Kamal Hossain
Oxford University
Press-Pakistan, 2013
Pages: 283
Price: PKR 895

History recounted