What on earth is going on with the Quader Molla issue? We know that the government was trying to make an example out of him but the way the events developed, it seems the government is making an example of high class fumbling all by itself. It was announced that he was to be hanged at Tuesday midnight, even the final visit by Molla’s family members were completed but then suddenly it was postponed, delayed, whatever.
Although the law minister and every other legal bigwigs of the government had declared that all recourses to relief was gone, a supreme court judge suddenly gave a stay order on the execution for an appeal hearing. Why?
Another unique statement was left for the Attorney General to make that he had no idea of what was going on and was actually very hurt because he felt left out. It was for making such ridiculous statement that he may or may not be remembered of, but under the present circumstances, he is certainly looking like a little boy without his shoes. What are you doing here if you don’t know what is going on?
It doesn’t matter whether Molla hangs when the court system seems hell bent on suicide. It was a stunning display of chaos that has claimed the legal system where the boundary between law and politics has been removed.
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Bangladesh is a product of Pakistan which after birth till date has failed to produce a functional constitutional state. Bangladesh’s birth’s immediate trigger was Pakistan’s own constitutional failure which was the refusal to hand over power to the elected representative by its martial law rulers in 1971. Pakistan was a perpetually constitution violating state. Each of its crises was produced by lack of constitutional rule and each of its solutions was burdened by the same lack of rule of law.
This has been Bangladesh’s greatest political inheritance and this is what we have been practicing. The Molla incident is the latest symptom of that malady which infected us at birth which is to ignore rule of law.
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The reason why we are like Pakistan is because we don’t want to live legally; because we never did learn how to. Though there is such a lot of songs and dance about the 1973 constitution, it lasted only two ramshackle years and by then underwent three major changes including PO 9 which is sacking officials without showing any cause. By 1974 emergency had been declared and by 1975 one-party rule was established through the 4th amendment ending all pretensions of pluralistic democracy violating one of the four major state principles. In August 1975, President Sheikh Muib and most of his family members were killed by a section of the military and martial law was imposed followed by a series of coups.
Of course all this was a result of the first August 15 coup which again was triggered partly by the one-party rule which was probably triggered by the lack of ability and experience of its rulers to rule a post-war state constitutionally. By 1981 General Zia who imposed the first martial law and ran an authoritarian state and facilitated the return of the banned Jamaat-e-Islami to politics was himself killed by his fellow freedom fighter comrades and soon General Ershad came to power in 1982. After several miserable rigged elections which began from 1973 onwards, he was ousted by a mass upsurge and we have the 1990 scenario.
So where did we have a phase when the country was ruled by law supported by the constitution? We built the unconstitutional phase from 1972 to 1990 as the foundational phase and the 1990 was not a victory of the constitution but the inauguration of the next unconstitutional phase that begin with the caretaker government system during elections.
Bangladesh has never lived under a constitutional phase and it has been legitimised and endorsed by the ruling parties. This is the basic crisis and till it’s resolved things can’t improve. The 15th amendment is an extension of this syndrome.
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The present crisis is the legitimate child of this illegitimate system. The 1990 arrangement was itself a contingency one because the two political animals would rather kill each other than work together.
In the immediate stage two things happened.
In 2006 the BNP tried to manipulate the caretaker system and kept putting in power various people allowed under the list of possible chief advisors in a pathetic but dangerous attempt at manipulation ending with their own president. It provided the opportunity for the AL to give a ‘logi-boitha’ call and take to the streets. On no side was there any commitment to constitutional rule.
After the Fakhruddin-Moeen caretaker phase was over, a result of the AL-BNP fighting, there was an election effectively under a military “caretaker”’ supervision, the AL came to power and within three years had brought the 15th amendment which ended the caretaker system that was designed to ensure elections without violence and was acceptable to both. So the AL is at least half responsible for the present crisis and has given the BNP a chance to do a ‘logi-boitha’ display at an epic scale. If anyone wishes for a showcase of failed politics this is it.
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It was also a display by the AL of either complete lack of foresight that does not know what the consequences would be by imposing the 15th amendment or a level of cynicism that is unprecedented in national politics. They simply didn’t care what happened. The Government and its supporters seem to gain great pleasure in pointing out the horrors of the present violence conveniently forgetting that this was largely triggered by the decision to unnecessarily impose the 15th amendment. The AL knew what was going to happen but it still did it knowing full well the consequences of its decision.
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As for the BNP, no words are ever going to be strong enough to condemn their condoning, encouraging and fanning violence. Street rumour has it that it’s not the BNP cadres who are doing all the violence but Shibir cadres whose survival is at stake. The BNP as the guardian party of Jamaat-e-Islami has truly benefited from the easing of Jamat back into Bangladeshi politics and apart from the 2001 alliance which brought them electoral victory , they are also benefiting of running a “war” without getting hurt. And the statement of Shamsher Mobin Chowdhury to this effect (For Mobin, this is ‘war’) also shows the mentality of this party. The last time a government went into war with its own people was 1971.
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The Quader Molla show is a signal of how bad things have become and if rumours are right, it’s foreign powers again who are trying to manage the situation. Bangladeshi politicians don’t have the will or the skill to look after its people. One may not like the interference but then wouldn’t you try to rescue a child with mental problems, the equivalent of an autistic state?
And the drama rolls on.
Afsan Chowdhury is a journalist, activist and writer.