“Idea of Bangladesh: In Conversation with Dr Kamal Hossain”

Written by : Syed Mostofa Moosa 

In the latest episode of Talking Policies, hosted by Youth Policy Forum, Dr Akhtar Mahmood interviewed Bangladesh’s prominent statesman, drafter of the Constitution, and secular political icon of South Asia: Dr Kamal Hossain. Dr Kamal Hossain was the first Law Minister of Bangladesh, one of the youngest Foreign Minister’s in the world during his tenure and served both internationally and domestically as a legal stalwart. In this episode, Dr Kamal Hossain talks about his experience in drafting the constitution, the tremendous political acumen and prophetical knowledge that Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman possessed, and the role of nationalism and other ideologies in forming the Constitution.

On Dr Kamal Hossain’s Rich Political, Legal and International Experience

In Dr Kamal Hossain’s introduction, host Dr Akhter Mahmood noted how the former was called to Lincoln’s Inn slightly over 60 years ago and had close relationships with two of the biggest historical figures in Bengal and Bangladeshi politics: Mr Hussain Shaheed Suhrawardy and Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. Dr Kamal Hossain served as the legal representative for Bangabandhu and others in the Agartala Conspiracy Case. He was jailed with Bangabandhu during the 1971 War of Independence and upon their release and eventual return on the great “Shodesh Protyaborton Dibosh”, he joined Bangladesh’s nascent cabinet as the Law Minister. He was given the extremely consequential responsibility of Chairing the committee tasked with drafting the constitution. Despite his youth, Bangabandhu trusted him because of his legal experience. On November 4th of 1974, the Constitution was passed in the parliament, promising a new hope for the Bangladeshi people in the horizon.

Dr Kamal Hossain also led Bangladeshi delegation in their integration to the United Nations, co-chaired the commission of inquiry in various UN positions and served as the chairman of Bangladesh Bar Association. He has political, legal, and diplomatic experience not only in Bangladesh but one that spreads far across the border.

On the role of pre-partition history in shaping of Bangladesh and its constitution

Both Dr Akhtar Mahmood and Dr Kamal Hossain agreed on the important role pre-partition history played in the emergence of Bangladesh and also during the country’s early years forming the constitution and gaining international support. Both lamented the absence of such discussion in popular culture and stressed on the importance of discussion about the pre-1947 era.

Dr Kamal Hossain talked about how the Bangladeshi fight for independence and later, the Bangladeshi Constitution “emerged organically” after seeing the stark differences in Pakistan’s imagination and realities. Pakistan was formed after a convergence of two streams: a political stream that pushed for equal representation for peasants and landlords alike, and a literary/cultural stream that debated and ruminated on the role of various identities and culture towards a nation for all. Particularly, the host and Dr Kamal Hossain noted the generational difference that existed between Mr Suhrawardy and his protégé Bangabandhu (affectionately called Mujib bhai by Dr Hossain). It was both this commonality and difference that ultimately led to Bangabandhu’s realization that a free East Pakistan is the only viable option.

On the importance of consensus in a constitution drafting process

Dr Kamal Hossain talked about the extraordinary positive atmosphere that surrounded the Constitution drafting process. Everyone was aware of the momentous nature of this step in creating the country and Dr Kamal talked how the meeting on April 10, 1972 was a particularly emotional gathering of the draft committee members – who reflected on the friends of Bangladesh and themselves who gave their life on the path to that auspicious day.

Regardless of party affiliation and ideologies, there was a tremendous consensus and Dr Kamal Hossain stressed on the overwhelming similarity in contrast to opposition that was the driving engine behind the committee’s process. Most importantly, Bangabandhu, despite his tremendous power and popularity, ensured that there was no imposition and rather a consensus among all, albeit with the realization that some parties may have to give in at times for the sake of a united front.

On pragmatism and realism in political implication of the constitution

One of the important takeaways for Dr Kamal Hossain in this process was the strong and shrewd pragmatism shown by leaders like Bangabandhu and Tajuddin Ahmed. While Dr Kamal Hossain would show the legal implications of the constitution, Tajuddin Ahmed consulted on the political implications it might have on common people and their leaders.

On the discussion about Article 17, that was debated as undemocratic and providing too much power to the Prime Minister, Dr Kamal Hossain provided the background on the decision. Although Bangabandhu agreed with Dr Kamal Hossain on the necessity of dissenters and opposition views within a political party, the former explained why he supported the fact that constituent representatives must resign their position if they differed from their party position. Bangabandhu referred to his role as a gatekeeper of Awami Muslim League when many politicians were seduced by official roles to leave the party and its people.

Although there was opposition and dismay by minority leaders during the drafting process, Dr Kamal Hossain laments that he never envisioned such leaders like Mr Larma would leave the process altogether. This rift exposes the dilemma of creating a nation-state that only adheres to the majority views but also recognizes the importance of minority rights.

On Dr Kamal’s Retrospective Wisdom and Bangabandhu’s caution

Dr Kamal Hossain also laments about the optimism and positive mood that overshadowed the very real possibilities of a divided nation in the future. In retrospective, Dr Kamal Hossain agrees that there must have been more checks and balances in the government and more room for dissent and disagreement.

Particularly, Bangabandhu was prophetically cautious about the implications of such lack of checks and balances on a future Bangladesh.

On the way forward for the young generation

With Bangladesh struggling with a lack of political engagement in the youth and a severe lack in discussion about the constitution and its motivations and implications, Dr Kamal Hossain stresses that Bangladeshi youth must revisit the consensus-based democratic notions that guided the budding country in the early 1970s. It is of paramount importance that Bangladeshi youth realize the importance of engagement of people across the political spectrum and the public record of minutes and drafts of the constitution of Bangladesh.

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