Courtesy: New Age, Dhaka, 18 July 2010, www.newagebd.com
All secular democratic forces need
to be mobilised for secularising
The government is going to form an all-party parliamentary committee shortly for amending the constitution, as disclosed by the prime minister Sheikh Hasina at a meeting of the Awami League Central Working Committee. According to the prime minister, the government will amend the constitution in order to uphold the Supreme Court verdict which had declared illegal the fifth amendment to the constitution.
The making and amending of the constitution is a serious national issue, especially so if the amendment is going to be of a drastic nature. It is not merely a legal exercise but is also, to a great extent, a political process. A return to the constitution adopted in 1972 and restoration of secularism had been the ruling party’s election pledge. To implement this pledge the government will need to mobilise all progressive secular democratic social and political forces within and outside parliament. But, has the necessary groundwork for achieving the goal been done? A mere legalistic hair-splitting will not suffice to cure a political ill which can perhaps even be regarded as structural ill. For democracy and equality of all citizens an essential prerequisite is secularism (although secularism can more discreetly be called by other names). While de-secularising process of the Constitution began with the fifth amendment under Zia regime, secularism was torpedoed by the eighth amendment by Ershad’s government. The constitution of the state cannot be secularised again with the eighth amendment remaining intact. It was an election pledge of the Awami League to constitutionally uphold secularism. But instead of uniting the nation on this issue the government now seems to try to prop itself up on a certain court verdict. In other words, the government, as if, is not implementing its own election agenda but a court decision. Why should the law court be used by the ruling party as a shield? Is it unsure of its political support or is it afraid of a popular backlash? Apart from the court’s ruling, secularism is the only option that accords with the spirit of the liberation war.
While we would aver that with its overwhelming parliamentary majority the government is presented with a historical opportunity to secularise the constitution, we are afraid the government may miss the opportunity in case it fails to realise the importance of mobilising organic political supports of all the democratic, social, cultural and political forces to materialise the idea. For that the government has to look beyond its nose. The constitution is not for the present only, or for today’s winner only. The government and leaders will come and go, but the spirit of the liberation war is an abiding force that should guide the future political and constitutional process.