Vol. 5 Num 46 Mon. July 12, 2004  
Front Page

Changed history prompts stormy debates, AL's twin walkouts from JS

The main opposition Awami League (AL) walked out of parliament twice yesterday after bursts of heated exchanges, derision and chaos over new additions to Muktijuddher Dolilpatro depicting former president Ziaur Rahman as the proclaimer of independence.

The AL deputies first stormed out of the Jatiya Sangsad in protest against the additions and then over Speaker Jamir Uddin Sircar's cancellation of half-an-hour general discussion at the apparent signal of the ruling party frontbenchers, including Prime Minister Khaleda Zia.

Opposition lawmakers furious at the cancellation of the discussion agreed on by the House earlier gathered in the well, shouted angry protests at the chair for his U-turn and accused the treasury bench of conducting the business undermining the speaker before leaving.

The bedlam broke out when Prime Minister's Parliamentary Affairs Adviser Salauddin Quader Chowdhury stopped Textiles Minister Shajahan Siraj from speaking on the Liberation War and urged Sircar to give floor to the opposition bench first.

Salauddin's request sparked protests in the opposition bench when opposition deputies shouted out "Who is running parliament?"

AL deputies and Salauddin exchanged a wave of heated words in the angry debate that ensued triggering the speaker to use his hammer to restore discipline.

Amid the noise, LGRD Minister Abdul Mannan Bhuiyan, Law Minister Moudud Ahmed, Health Minister Mosharraf Hossain and Deputy Leader of the Opposition Abdul Hamid and opposition frontbencher Suranjit Sengupta picked up a debate on how the 30-minute discussion on the issue would begin.

Opposition lawmakers demanded Shajahan take up the discussion where he broke off. "If you (speaker) shift the debate to us it will prove that the parliamentary affairs adviser to the prime minister dictated you terms. It will create a bad precedent in our parliamentary history," Hamid said.

Bhuiyan countered that the opposition was not ready to discuss the issue and was trying to listen to the ruling party first. "Let us open the debate with their members speaking first."

After a few minutes of debate, Bhuiyan, Moudud and Mosharraf urged the speaker to hold a general debate on the issue to which the opposition members agreed, encouraging the speaker to allow the discussion.

But Khaleda, Finance Minister Saifur Rahman and Bhuiyan repeatedly gestured to the chair apparently to disallow the discussion.

Taking the floor, Saifur said it was high time the House returned to the day's order.

In the meantime, BNP whip Shahidul Haq Jamal sent a note to the speaker from the prime minister, apparently asking him to disallow the discussion.

"If you want to discuss the issue you will have to speak first," the speaker told the opposition lawmakers, and took up the day's business without a pause.

The debate began when AL lawmaker Mohammad Nasim raised the issue taking the floor on a point of order.

He accused the government of distorting history of the Liberation War with new additions to the documents in a clear attempt to establish Zia as the proclaimer of independence.

He said the proclamation of independence by Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was incorporated in the constitution.

Protesting the 'distortion of history', the AL lawmakers walked out of parliament for five minutes.

Countering Nasim's speech, State Minister for Youth and Sports Fazlur Rahman said Sheikh Mujib never proclaimed independence of Bangladesh.

He quoted the proclamation that reads: "Ziaur Rahman, in the name of our great leader Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, announced the independence."

As Fazlur's speech infuriated the treasury bench, he quickened to quote Zia's announcement saying, "Hereby, I major Ziaur Rahman, declare the independence of Bangladesh."

Accusing the AL distorting history, Fazlur said: "If you have courage, come with facts and figures. I can say it boldly that only three lakh people, not 30 lakh as you claim, were killed in the Liberation War at the hands of the Pakistani Army."

Taking the floor next, Shajahan began his speech only to be stopped by Salauddin.

In an impromptu press briefing after the twin walkouts, Suranjit said, "The prime minister's instruction to cancel the debate is shameful and we are shocked."

"It is a shame for the nation that a minister who is a freedom fighter broke his speech after being intimidated by ---."

He said his party would build a movement on the issue in and outside parliament and would go to court, if need be.