Eminent jurist Dr. Kamal Hossain talks with A.B.M. Shamsud Doza of The Daily Star about the recent violence centering Hefajat-e-Islam’s programme.
The Daily Star (TDS): What is your reaction to the widespread eruption of violence that centered on the Hefajat-e-Islam’s programme last Sunday?
Dr. Kamal Hossain (KH): I am very disturbed by what happened last Sunday. Our expectations from a working democracy and an elected government have not been realised, and we find instead that the elected government has itself contributed to the situation. They have not taken the people into confidence and the parliament has not engaged itself in these issues.
It seems that no one was clear about what was going on that day. Whether Hefajat-e-Islam would get the permission or not, whether they would sit in or not. When things got out of hand, the government claimed that they had only allowed a ‘peaceful’ blockade in six places. I do not know of any democratic system that allows a blockade in the capital for an entire day.
What cost does it impact? Apart from an economic cost, what is the political cost? How does the world view this: A government that has been unable to protect its city?
Certain mysteries need to also be addressed. How can you have a minister in the government, where his party supports Hefajat-e-Islam? Government had sent Dr. Hasan Mahmud to sort out issues with Hefajat leaders claiming to have achieved a positive contribution in restoring normalcy. We would like to know from him the subject of his discussions and the intention or objective of the visit which he thought to be a positive contribution. We had not heard of the 13-point demands before. Was this or was it not mentioned to the minister? The home minister instead congratulated them for having come here, acknowledging the permission granted for this blockade. I have never heard of a government-organised blockade before. I wonder under which political and legal context this had been done.
TDS: How do you look at the government’s role in handling this situation? For the time, the government has dispersed the Hefajat-e-Islam gathering, but do you think it is the end of the game?
KH: Prevention is better than cure. Even after the experience of the first visit of the Hefajat-e-Islam, did the government learn any lesson or start working on taking the people into confidence?
If there is any demand to be made to the government, then one should send their representative, have a formal sitting, voice their demands, which, if it requires further consideration, can then be sent to the parliament for further discussions and debates. That is an ideal democratic process. The government should keep citizens informed and aware of the procedures and negotiations.
Given the eruption that took place, the government could have prevented it. They could have not allowed this meeting to take place at all. Regarding the 13-point demands, the government could have addressed it through asking the public. I find that everything which is being done has zero respect for the general public. It is democratic neither in principal not in practice.
The general secretary of Awami League had used some extraordinary language — urging the use of force against the Hefajat people to disperse them — going further to explain that it would be ensured they did not even come out of their homes. It is unimaginable that any citizen, no matter which group he belongs to, should be threatened. How can you call yourself democratic if you force people to remain within their homes and confines? A government working within the constitution cannot function this way. They must respect the constitution and the rights of the opposition.
TDS: Do you think there are forces behind the scene who are trying to manipulate Hefajat’s programme?
KH: What methods does the government use to identify the activities taking place behind the scenes? They never let the public know, but project an understanding that shows everything to be ok. And when things go wrong, they start accusing other forces of being involved against them. But when and how have you discovered that fact? If you cannot figure out the crisis, then you should explain yourself and accept your own failures. Why is it that at the 11th hour you suddenly learn of certain incidents?
The government’s permission to enforce this blockade is what troubles me most. This is where Khaleda Zia too can follow the government: if the government allows a mass sitting then she of course will support it. If Ershad can support it, so can she. In my eyes, they cannot support something like this as such because we are all bound by the constitution and yet they themselves have spoken in different tones encouraging a disrespect of the constitution.
TDS: How can we get out of this violent politics?
KH: Unfortunately, there is no harmony between the political parties, even within the same party and alliance. How unhealthy have things turned that not only do we fail to respect each other sitting in opposition, but fail to do so with those in the alliance. This cannot be called a civilised political behaviour. This kind of lacking in political integrity has become a matter of concern.
I shall not dwell into how they have dealt with the opposition and the dialogue that really needs to be arranged, but this issue had been raised almost a year ago and they have been late in drawing their attention towards it. But we had mentioned this even when the first amendment was made without a dialogue. We had not voted for the 15th Amendment. Can they look back to any of their manifestos and explain where they were allowed to do this?
Do they not know that in a democratic practice they would have a fundamental constitutional issue if you do not have a mandate from the people that you are not supposed to do this? It is a complete mistake to believe that since we have the majority of votes we can do anything. Can they use the majority while setting up a monarchy? Of course not.
Based on the recent tragedy in Savar, and what happened last night, how much more do we really need to take in for a wake-up call? In democracy, we need to to make ourselves heard. If we are source of power and power is with us, with power comes responsibly and we cannot shed away our responsibility. All citizens from all districts, departments and professions and political parties must speak out, and not speak in the language of force but in the language of persuasion through reasons and facts and by appealing to the values we all support in the constitution.