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Dhaka Tribune

Mujib’s challenge was the road to democracy

How the architect of our independence paved the way for a democratic nation

Update : 17 Mar 2020, 12:15 AM

Days after Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman returned from Pakistan, after languishing in solitary confinement in Mianwali prison, the stalwart politician quickly understood the challenges ahead.

The architect of Bangladesh’s independence, by dint of political wisdom, overcame the crisis. His first task was to bag diplomatic recognitions. Except for India, Bhutan, and later the Soviet bloc, no Western country had recognized independent Bangladesh.

Mujib decided to send strong messages to the global community and international bodies that war-torn Bangladesh had stepped into democracy.

Just a day after his home-coming on January 10, 1972, Bangabandhu promulgated the “Provisional Constitution of Bangladesh Order of 1972.” The order stated that those elected in the national and provincial parliament held in December 1970 and January 1971 would be deemed as members of the Constituent Assembly of Bangladesh. On the second day, January 12, the leader took an oath of office as the prime minister of Bangladesh and formed an 11-member cabinet of ministers.

Of course, no other political leader had ever been able to drive their country to the road to democracy after a bloody war of independence. In less than three months, Sheikh Mujib held Awami League’s first Council Session on April 7, 1972.

Two days later, the Constituent Assembly held its first session at the Constituent Assembly Hall, which is now the prime minister’s office.

The Constituent Assembly merged all 403 elected members from the national and provincial assembly as Members of the Constituent Assembly. Among the 401 members, all were from Awami League, except for Surenjit Sen Gupta from NAP (Muzaffar), and independent member Manebendra Narayan Larma from the Chittagong Hill Tracts; they were in the opposition bench.

On the first day, the Constituent Assembly formed a 34-member Constitution Drafting Committee with Dr Kamal Hossain, Law and Parliamentary Affairs Minister in the chair.

Kamal Hossain wrote the draft in English and Anisuzzaman, a professor of Bangla from Chittagong University, painstakingly translated it to Bangla. Kamal Hossain was twice summoned by Bangabandhu for consultation regarding the draft constitution. On both occasions, he was accompanied by Professor Anisuzzaman.

Bangabandhu advised constitutional provisions to bifurcate religion and politics. The second was to block party law-makers from crossing the floor during voting in the parliament. Both pieces of advice were included in the first constitution and both the clauses had drawn flak from lawmakers.

The third issue regarding the citizenship was debated by independent lawmaker Manabendra Larma, for the use of the term “Bangali” to describe all Bangladeshi citizens.

He argued: “Under no definition or logic can a Chakma be a Bangali or a Bangali be a Chakma … as citizens of Bangladesh, we are all Bangladeshis, but we also have a separate ethnic identity.”

Nevertheless, the draft constitution was adopted with thunderous applause on November 4, 1972, and took effect from December 16, 1972 -- the day 93,000 marauding Pakistan troops surrendered at Dhaka -- and lawmakers decided to commemorate the day as Victory Day.

On December 17, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and his cabinet colleagues took a fresh oath on the new constitution -- the four pillars of which were nationalism, democracy, socialism, and secularism. The Constituent Assembly decided to hold the first general election on March 7, 1973, to commemorate Bangabandhu’s historic fiery speech at Suhrawardy Uddyan.

After 25 years, the political battle of realizing regional autonomy against the Pakistan junta had yielded a constitution for an independent and sovereign nation.

As Mohiuddin Ahmed, a writer and political historian, described in his book “Bela Obela,” Awami League had envisioned to draft and adopt a constitution in the Constituent Assembly in the shortest time.

Finally, the “road to democracy” adopted a new path after the constitution came into effect.

Saleem Samad is an independent journalist, media rights defender, and a recipient of the Ashoka Fellow and Hellman-Hammett Award. He can be followed on Twitter @saleemsamad.

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